A Crisis of Democracy: Trump’s block of Dem Response to Nunes

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s refusal to release the response of the Democratic minority on the House Intelligence Committee to the declassified Nunes memo cherry-picking intelligence reports has been decried as a politicization of intelligence. It has been pointed out by legal scholar Laurence Tribe that Congress could in any case override Trump and declassify the Democratic response itself, if the GOP representatives wanted to. So this controversy isn’t about Trump or Nunes. It is about a Republican Party determined not to play fair.

While these analyses is certainly correct, they miss a crucial problem with our declining democracy in the United States: classified documents are inherently undemocratic and should be rare.

Some 2,000 unelected bureaucrats in the Federal government decide on which documents are classified. They have been ratcheting up the number into the millions during the past three decades. In 2014, the 2,000 bureaucrats classified 77 million government pieces of paper. Impartial outside studies conclude that 50-80% of classified documents could safely be released to the public.

Government officials have many advantages over the public they govern. They have inside knowledge and they often have longevity. Some percentage of them are corrupt. The Federal government routinely is captured by narrow corporate interests and used to advance private profit-making. The Bush Iraq War was certainly wrought up with the interests of US Big Oil. The conflicts of interest in Trump’s cabinet of billionaires would make a person’s head spin. Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency (RIP) is single-handedly poisoning America’s children on behalf of his corporate cronies and will certainly be hugely rewarded.

Democracy in the face of this iron law of bureaucracy is very difficult. One of the few offsets that keeps it viable is constant demand for transparency from the other two branches of government. But most congressmen don’t have a security clearance and neither do most judges, and almost no social activists do.

Government officials often pull the wool over the public’s eyes by appeal to special sources of information. When Dick Cheney went around saying that Iraq was 2 years from having a nuclear weapon (it did not even have an enrichment program at that time), and he was asked if he knew something the rest of us did not, he said “probably so.” But he had pressured the intelligence community to give him the intelligence he wanted and then he used the whole secret process to bamboozle the rest of us.

The block on the Democratic memo by the Republican Congress and by the GOP president manipulates this fetish of classification to deny essential knowledge to the voting public. False news (which ironically is mainly spread around by Trumpies) is only half the problem. Lack of key pieces of information is just as big a distortion of reality. Trump is the ultimate purveyor of fake news, both because he thinks up 25 falsehoods each day before breakfast and because he is gaming the bloated classification system for partisan advantage.

The exponential growth in such hidden pieces of knowledge, generated by the government we elect and we pay for, is unacceptable. That the system should be used to shape the 2018 midterm elections is the most striking evidence that it needs a massive overhaul.


Bonus video:

CBS This Morning: “White House blocks release of Democratic memo”

11 Responses

  1. What Trump is now doing is exactly what the US MSM has been doing for years: Blocking the opposition’s story. That’s how propaganda works best, (of you have the power to impose the blocking).

  2. All true. But one should also add Main Stream Media editors. As far as I can see, reporters in general seem to do a pretty good job, but it is the editors who decide which stories get published and which are omitted or watered down. Seldom do MSM news organizations lie or print fake news _ the build-up to the Iraq war being one notable exception – but events are clearly misrepresented when certain stories are simply not told. Blogs, such as Professor Cole’s here, do much to correct the situation, but there are so many presenting false or unverified stories that cater to preconceived views that it is hard to sort them all. Withholding of important, true information is a very serious and pervasive threat to our democracy.

    • ” But one should also add Main Stream Media editors. As far as I can see, reporters in general seem to do a pretty good job, but it is the editors who decide which stories get published and which are omitted or watered down. ” : Eichmann defense.

  3. As I understand it, there is a way in which a member of congress can read pretty much anything into the congressional record, with immunity from prosecution for whatever “classified” information might be included.

    There’s bound to be fine-print surrounding this idea, and someone better informed might elaborate on it, but I’m pretty sure about the essense of the deal. Another idea would be for the Demos to draft a response, and then, with a wink and a nod, tacitly allow for one of their more courageous staffers to leak it.

    The two papers could be analyzed in a side-by-side manner that exposes not only the substantive differences, but the deceit and hypocrisy surrounding how the administration has handled itself, effectively neutering the outrage and possible retaliation that should be expected.

    There really is entirely too much effete kevitching about The Situation going on, which is understandable given what individuals can do. However, there are those for whom meaningful action is possible. Aside from the above ideas, people should strive to indirectly empower those with more power and access, and this approach stands a chance of success when done strategically.

    The appropriate strategy here is to keep focused on whatever can be done to reveal and spotlight The Truth, with the goal of mobilizing responsible REPUBLICANS who are positively conservative in a don’t screw things up sense. Forget your precious “progressive agenda”; we ALL just need to get out of this thing alive.

    At this point the GOP has been captured by those who are, practically speaking, suicidal. The only real solution, ultimately, for everyones sake, is for the current GOP to implode from within. Otherwise, the momentum gained and the damage done by this gang will carry far beyond whatever might be redressed at a tactical level in the mid-terms.

  4. “Trump has been more comfortable making allegations about others. He led the charge against the Central Park Five, five African American youths wrongly convicted of rape, running advertisements implying they should be executed.
    He has still maintained in spite of DNA evidence that the five are guilty.”
    link to theguardian.com

  5. Unfortunately, support for enhancing the powers of the national security apparatus is bipartisan. Despite the fact that this apparatus is controlled by the Trump administration.

    There is some sort of wishful thinking among so many people I meet, that the various agencies who work in secret to defend the homeland — that they are secretly Democrats and will save the US from being taken over by Republicans.

    Maybe, if conditions reach some kind of perfect-storm ideal, they might kick out Trump. But you’ll get exactly the same policies with a fresh new Republican smiling face, and you will also get a *far* more powerful national security regime that knows it is now in charge of the political system.

    Bipartisan. That’s your take-home here.

  6. Someone very wise once told me that the reason we would not end up with a kleptocratic centralized dictatorship like Russia was…

    …we have elected state and local governments. The state governments are now the main force fighting against the degenerate, corrupt, fascistic federal government. They are very powerful, and they have legitimacy, unlike the current President who got fewer votes than his competition.

    • There is a point to the balance of a portfolio of 50, but the issue is it’s impact on Washington, and don’t forget Marbury v. Madison.

      Were there an effective move to more of a confederation, it’d mean the end of the United States.

    • The far right has been subverting state government for years. Do some research on how the Koch Brothers’ American Legislative and Executive Council acts as a shadow government dictating “model bills” to the rubber-stamp Republican legislatures all over the US.

      Kansas, recently, tried to make a legal distinction between being a “federal” citizen and a citizen of Kansas so that its (Jim Crow) voter restrictions could stop you from voting in a KS election without disqualifying you from your right to vote for President, which would have brought down Washington’s hammer.

      Jim Crow is the essence of why our oligarchy likes state government.

  7. With release of Nunes memo, let alone refusal to release the D response, Reality Winner legitimately may be considered a political prisoner. If she should be jailed, why not the various Congressmen responsible for the release of this memo. Moreover, there is crisis point at which release of all the information overrides security interests warranting classification of any of the intelligence bearing on this question. This article raises a very valid point. Excessive classification enhances the ability of the government to manipulate intelligence to further hidden agendas. Excessive classification is inimical to democracy and legitimate representative government.

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