Fear and Hubris
(First published in The Greenwich Sentinel on June 2, 2018)
Ever since graduating college with a degree in government, I’ve observed with great interest the natural ebb and flow of national politics.
But, I’ve never before seen the tsunami-level flow of almost unreasoning hatred that has flooded our national discourse and threatens to drown out any remaining shred of civility in political dialogue. It makes me wonder: what has happened, what is so monumentally different now than the many other turbulent and divisive times in our nation’s history?
Some seek to make it personal and blame one single individual for causing this phenomenon. It certainly is true that that individual has at times given his critics more than ample reason to criticize, but there have also been some accomplishments to applaud as well. His supporters claim that the one-sided treatment is evidence of an almost medical-grade “derangement syndrome” on the part of his opponents. But none of this serves adequately to explain the intensity and ubiquity of pure hatred directed at one man. There has to be more to all this than personal distaste.
I believe the answer may lie in another emotion: fear. Not fear at what this man and his new administration can or will do, but what it most definitely will not do. Fear that dark secrets, past wrongful misdeeds and other “sleeping dogs” will not be allowed to lie undisturbed and publicly unknown. That business as usual will no longer be the order of the day.
Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Often, when we hear these words, we think of the men and women at the top of a government, kingdom or company. But, power is held by many people, in many different ways and at many different organizational levels. And power, wherever held, is power.
I believe that I can put a firm date on the birth of this highly focused and unidirectional hatred. Its relatively short gestation began in earnest in the summer of 2016 and it burst out into the world, like Kilauea lava, in the waning hours of Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
In my personal opinion, on that date, whole groups of people launched individually and collectively into “DEFCON 1” to save their political skins, careers, reputations and personal liberty.
It had been a matter of faith among government and media circles that the favored candidate for president would win the national election handily.
Much had been done to ensure that result, not all of which was ethical, legal or constitutional. The candidate herself had made some questionable decisions during her time in government, and had taken shortcuts around rules, policies, regulations, and even laws, that her team obviously preferred not to draw public attention to. Efforts were made to ensure her party nomination, and her campaign coffers were filled to the brim.
When concerns were raised that hostile foreign governments may have exploited one of those shortcuts to gain possession of information damaging to both the candidate and the then-current administration, elements of the national intelligence and security community, including the Director of National Intelligence and senior officials within the FBI and CIA, were mobilized to infiltrate the opposing candidate’s campaign to see if any of the information had been shared.
This highly questionable and potentially criminal action would likely have been rationalized by these individuals as “ends justifying means,” secure in the expectation that the infraction would be overlooked by the preferred candidate’s new administration.
All that security vanished the night of Nov. 8. The shock must have been stupefying. The losing candidate was physically and/or emotionally unable to make her concession speech until the next day. The wagons circled. Very Important People were now in trouble, and desperate times clearly demanded desperate measures. Like cornered animals, the group chose aggressive attack as the best defense. Fortunately, they could count on assistance from an entrenched bureaucracy and a compliant media.
The result was an all-out assault on the new president-elect, the legitimacy of his election and the individuals who advised him. Their objective was threefold: drive him from office, if possible; neuter his administration’s ability to discover, investigate and prosecute their past actions; and distract all attention away from those actions, at least until the relevant statute of limitations expired.
The effort had to be intense, coordinated, unrelenting – even personal if need be. Standards of decorum – even in the Senate – had to give way to the struggle. A way had to be found to leak unverified opposition research and confidential conversations to the press in order to support appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate claims of collusion many knew to be false. Opposition to the new administration had to be organized at every level and for every occasion. The fact that this would cause extreme division in the country, destroying friendships and even family relationships, was seen simply as the price necessary to save their very important skins.
Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy once observed that, “Ego is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.” Unbridled ego can lead to hubris, defined by Wikipedia as, “a personality quality of extreme or foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence, often in combination with (or synonymous with) arrogance … it typically describes behavior that defies the norms of behavior or challenges the gods, and which in turn brings about the downfall, or nemesis, of the perpetrator of hubris.”
Hate, driven by hubris, fueled by fear, orchestrated by those sworn to serve the common good, and actively enabled by a press whose constitutionally guaranteed freedom was intended to promote truth as an effective check on the abuse of government power.
How in the name of all that is good did we allow ourselves to get to this point? And what in the name of the future of our country are we going to do about it?