The Russia probe is making a lot of Americans unhappy for one reason or another: either because they are convinced that Vladimir Putin is an enemy who must be taught a lesson, or because they know the deep state is fabricating a case for war.
One thing I never hear mentioned, however, is the fact that political issues turn into legal issues much more often in the US than perhaps anywhere else. I have lived in half a dozen foreign countries for a total of half my life, without encountering a similar phenomenon.
The United States’ founding by people escaping religious prosecution by a powerful ruler all-but guaranteed a suspicion of everything foreign. It could only be reinforced by our geographical location on the far side of a great ocean:THEY were ‘over there’, in places from which WE had happily escaped, determined to do things differently.
But was it inevitable that government would still be opening investigations at the drop of a hat four centuries later?
The first thing the circumstances of our founding led to was a suspicion of all that is foreign. Our geographical location on the far side of a great ocean contributed to that turn of mind: But did we succeed in that effort? ‘Different’ did not so much lead to ‘more just’ as to an almost maniacal determination to track down the tiniest clue in order to arrive at a conviction. A twentieth century phrase that become a mantra in the twenty-first was “What did X know and when did he/she know it?” Knowledge has become a liability. Take the case of Donald Trump, Jr: US legal principles required him to alert the FBI when he received an invitation to meet with someone who could offer ‘dirt’ on his father’s presidential opponent Hillary Clinton! The nation’s media anchors, one by one, declared solemnly that this is what they would have done: it would have been their duty as citizens.
Why? Because presidential candidates are barred from accepting any aid from a foreign government. This is especially counter-intuitive given the importance we attach to having allies, who are bound by stringent treaties to come to our aid in the case of an attack, but NOT to aid an anti-war candidate to come to office (not because the candidate is anti-war, but because allies, by definition, are ‘foreign’).
To assuage its fear of ‘the Other’, the young republic turned to the law: The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed by the 5th United States Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They made it harder for an immigrant to become a citizen (Naturalization Act), allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798), and criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government (Sedition Act of 1798).[ In 1917, Congress passed the Espionage and Aliens Act intended to prohibit interference with military operations or recruitment, to prevent insubordination in the military, and the support of United States enemies during wartime. in 1918 it passed another Sedition Act, to cover a broader range of offenses, notably speech and the expression of opinion that cast the government or the war effort in a negative light or interfered with the sale of government bonds. Specifically, it forbade the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. Those convicted under the act generally received sentences of imprisonment for five to 20 years. The act also allowed the Postmaster General to refuse to deliver mail that met the standards for punishable speech or opinion. The act applied only to times "when the United States is in war."
A century later, the United States viewed with unmitigated contempt countries that passed similar legislation, from the commanding heights of its “war on terror”, and R2P.
The progressive movement that began with the fight against slavery encountered that foundational fear when the Russian revolution toppled the Tzar. When President Franklin Roosevelt declared that robber capitalism left too many people out in the cold, the corporate-owned media conflated his New Deal with socialism, socialism with ‘foreign’ and ‘foreign’ with ‘Red’. In 1938, Congress created the infamous House un-American Activities Committee, unleashing a witch hunt against suspected Communists ‘beholden to a foreign power’ that became known as McCarthyism — and has been resuscitated following the election of Donald Trump.
In HUAC’s days, only Americans suspected of approving socialism were tracked down, losing their jobs. Today, if you question Russophobia, you are considered ‘un-American’, even if you are the President of the United States!
In days gone-by it was an oxymoron that nations should try to get along with one another through diplomacy instead of resorting to war. War was a last resort, and even then, it had to be approved by the fifteen member United Nations Security Council. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, in Washington, war was anointed as a means of ‘saving’ foreign civilians from evil leaders. On the heels of this innovation came a determination to prevent another nation from seeking to influence the voters’ choice of an anti-war candidate for President. The task was facilitated by the existence of legislation going all the way back to the country’s founding: foreigners bad!
The lengths to which the American judiciary AND the Congress - whose designated task is legislation - are going at present to uncover any ‘collusion’ (a synonym of ‘cooperation’ which however has a negative connotation) on the part of US citizens with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, are all the more astounding that the United States — like any other country — is faced with major real problems ranging from crumbling bridges to runaway health care costs, to racial tensions and wars without end.
Our ‘best and brightest’ devote the greater part of their time and energies to investigating even the lowliest members of the Trump White House in an effort to establish criminal behavior associated with America’s self-defined ‘adversary’. And the way they go about it is, I believe, also unique: they ‘drill down’ to the tiniest details in their effort to build a case against someone. It occurs to me that in doing so, prosecutors go beyond an individual’s conscious decisions, into what may well often be simple reflexes or even “mindlessness”, using small fragments of reality to build castles in the sand.
The people’s representatives consider that it is right for them to parallel the investigations being carried out by the nation’s judiciary — which is ‘independent’ of both the ‘executive’ (the Presidency) and the legislative (Congress), as long as their activities do not affect those of said judiciary, care being taken by both sides not to trample on each other’s turf.
I’ve written in my memoir about the day-long ‘interview’ I was required to have with two FBI agents when, after spending a dozen years in various countries located ‘behind the Iron Curtain, an Assistant Secretary of State had the unconscionable idea to hire me. That was almost fifty years ago, and today, even a lowly policeman who happens to be a Muslim, can be put through a much more damning ordeal.
The September 11th (sic) issue of the New Yorker magazine tells the story of a Muslim American who was considered an outstanding member of the New York Police Department until someone decided that as a Muslim he had to be doing something wrong. Not only was he fired after a judge ruled he was innocent of ridiculous charges fabricated against him (having an affair with a French colleague), he can no longer get any city job, and is back to driving a cab to support his American family, as he did when he first arrived as an immigrant twenty-five years ago.
The details of the investigations carried out by various departments of ‘New York’s finest’ should give every American pause, as they mimic the current wave of Russophobia investigations involving public figures: no one is safe.
P.S. It turns out that if Jared Kushner had discussed touchy issues in the presence of White House employees, they could have problems.
If he discussed such issues with the President without a lawyer present, he could have problems!