Strange Critters in Denial

Regardless of the outcome on November 8, the American people are going to be faced with an administration that must not be indulged with a honeymoon. We must be ready to fight either President Clinton or President Trump, but such efforts will be in vain unless we face some harsh reality about ourselves. I have said that the rise of Donald Trump is evidence of moral and intellectual bankruptcy on the right. I have been somewhat less clear that Hillary Clinton’s rise is evidence of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the establishment. Finally, I have hinted that the left is similarly, if not precisely equivalently, morally and intellectually bankrupt 1. The unifying theme to my commentary on this election cycle is that Americans, because we are human, are indifferent to reality2; and that this indifference is the core social and political problem of our time.

On October 28, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress giving a vague update about finding new emails related to the completed investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server. The FBI hadn’t yet obtained a warrant to search these emails (the warrant would come two days later), and so had no idea what was in them. As Comey himself says in the letter, “the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work”. So why did Comey, who was strongly advised against sending the letter by the Department of Justice, send a vague update that could influence a presidential election at a time when many Americans are already voting? The answer seems to be that—pertinent to my point about a widespread indifference to reality; and in addition to pressure from politically motivated members of Congress—James Comey wants to appear to be politically impartial. This is crucial: the narrative about James Comey weighed more heavily in his mind than the reality of the letter and spirit of the relevant law and his responsibilities under that law3.

Consider also that Attorney General Loretta Lynch could have ordered James Comey not to send the letter—why didn’t she? Again, because she didn’t want to deal with the narrative of blocking an investigative step that might implicate Hillary Clinton. A counter-argument might point out that Director Comey is already fighting off a narrative that his letter was motivated by a desire to influence the election (and in fact a complaint has been filed against the FBI for violating the Hatch Act); but Comey can point to his previous decision not to prosecute Clinton. He can live with a narrative in which the Republicans considered him a bad guy in July 2016, and the Democrats considered him a bad guy in November 2016. He can cobble up the appearance of impartiality from those pieces. But what if he had been the FBI director that didn’t prosecute the Democratic party’s presumed nominee in July, and had waited until after the election to report on a development pertinent to that same investigation? Would the reactionary right wing media ever have let him live that down? It seems this narrative was the one Comey couldn’t live with.

This is usually where the analysis ends: politicians and other politically motivated officials are scum because they care more about covering their own asses than preserving the integrity of the law and of the republic. But here’s some harsh reality: why are these narratives of the utmost importance to the politically motivated? That’s easy to answer: because we are more interested in narratives than we are in a complicated, contradictory, and incomplete understanding of reality. A recent BuzzFeed study corroborates my expectation that social media users would be found to be, on average, indifferent as to whether the content they share is true or false 4. Just as the famous Zen koan reminds us that we are the masters that make the grass green, we are the reason our leaders are amoral, hypocritical, vain, corrupt, and increasingly stupid. In a few days, we will elect a president our indifference to reality merits.

3 thoughts on “Strange Critters in Denial”

  1. Damning and spot on.

    I voted for the guy who doesn’t know about Aleppo. Why? I am hoping for an electoral college crisis. Perhaps we might end up with someone that can govern. It is unlikely to happen.

    This election for me can be summarized in one word: trepidation.


    • D G, you’re right that I have taken seriously “Republican lies” about Clinton from the mouths of Noam Chomsky, Laura Flanders, Bernie Sanders, Amy Goodman, Frances Fox Piven, Medea Benjamin, and Cornel West. There’s also the possibility that you’ve swallowed establishment lies.


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