The New York Times’ deep story details how Bill Barr’s and John Durham’s attempt to stage Stalinist show trials as a cover-up for the actual Russian-Trump connections went…splat.
Much of what the story now tells us we suspected — even those of us who are not conspiratorially minded, i.e., slightly paranoid. How could we not? And now, the story has sparked a critical conflagration among, I guess, those of us who need to be reassured we’re not paranoid. (Years ago, I came to realize your suspicions might be right but at the same time you could be paranoid.)
Maybe I’m a bit crazy in another direction, because after reading the full story, I felt not so much vindicated but optimistic about what it demonstrated about this country.
Beginning in early 2017, as I watched the borderline catastrophe of Trump in the White House, I ached for our government, for the agencies whose more or less tacit work give us what a majority of us want. Of course, the most egregious demonstration of how dreadful things had gotten was Trump himself. Watching him trash the White House with his presence…
And then, one after one after another one, the creatures he appointed to head our agencies! Among the things my brain refuses to retain are all the names of all those creatures, all of the hoodlum activities they engaged in.
Still, in the midst of horror, I was thinking: four years. A mob of dopes and mediocrities is not going to wreck the United States in four years. They’re not competent enough.
The brightest light under all those dark clouds was the news media. Every day, I’d learn what the creatures — aside from Creature One, who did his stuff full frontal all the time (cover your eyes!), even in the middle of the night — were doing behind those closed agency doors. Nothing good, to be sure, but nothing fatal to democracy.
And all those books! Seems to me books digging into and trashing Trump began to be published in January 2017, so many of them I can’t even count. I read some of them; they were all revelatory.
The nightmare of the Trump years would dissipate the way all nightmares do: we’d wake up, take a bath, brush whatever was left of our tooths, change into clean clothes and commence with our lives. All that remained was to indict everyone who committed high crimes, low crimes and misdemeanors.
Throughout all those lousy days, I never believed this country would succumb to the craziness. Even while prominent wise people were issuing public warnings comparing the United States under Trump to the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler in Germany, I was quietly shaking my head.
We are nothing like pre-Hitler Germany. We are not like any other nation in history. For all our good and all our bad, we are an anomaly as far as sovereign nationhood goes. And very few people come close to understanding us.
I don’t understand us. The only (pitiful) metaphor I can come up with is a jigsaw puzzle. In 3D. With curves instead of edges. All layers in flux. Worked while stoned. On hash.
When I take breaks from my various epiphanies, I entertain myself by watching old, strange movies from the 30’s and 40’s, fictionally confronting World War II. (Several of them resuscitate Sherlock Holmes and Watson so they can combat Nazis.)
One movie, in particular, not quite like the others, grabbed my attention. It is The Big Lift, a film released in 1950 and filmed in black and white, drawing its dramatic background from the Allies Berlin airlift.
The movie was shot in situ, post-war Berlin, and employs the apocalyptic Berlin ruins scenically, politically and philosophically.
Two American airmen, played by Montgomery Clift and Paul Douglas, are part of the airlift contingent. During their brief stopovers in Berlin, each gets involved with a German woman. Clift falls in love with a war widow but Douglas, who during the war had been imprisoned in a stalag where he had been tortured by a German commandant, loathes Germany and spends his “romance” in bullying arguments with his lady friend,”teaching” her about the United States.
Although at first I thought it was sort of crude and naive, Douglas’s character makes a lot of solid points about individual rights and freedoms in America as compared to totalitarian regimes. I began to listen seriously.
To me, the screenplay’s finest dialogue — written by its director, George Seaton — in this ongoing promotion about the America advantage comes when the Soviet Union, whose soldiers are at that moment tromping around the city, comes up in the discussion.
Douglas describes a putative American writer, maybe in Kansas, whose latest published book has severely criticized his own country, his president, the culture, the politics. To paraphrase Douglas,”And where is this guy now? He’s sitting there at home. You name a writer in the Soviet Union who criticized his government and is still around? You can’t.”
We still can’t. But that American writer is living on, whether we like what he says or not. If we don’t like it, there will be loud arguments. If our laws don’t like it, there will be public charges, public trials.
And we sustain those public arguments. Everywhere. In major news media, on social media, in books, on TV, in protest marches. And most loudly, at the ballot box.
Nobody, not even Tucker Carlson (no matter how we might wish it), is “canceled,” is silenced. Nobody has been “disappeared.”
At the start of Paul Douglas’s blustering romance with the German woman, she asks him, “What is democracy?” And he fumbles around; he can’t define it. “It’s…democracy!” he says.
At the end of the movie, Douglas demands his German lady get her coat and hat and accompany him somewhere. She says, “No.” He gets furious. “What are you talking about! I’m saying you have to come with me.”
She’s been reading a book about America and, “No,” she repeats. And when he asks her why, she says, “Because I don’t want to.” And in an eloquent little speech, she says she’s demanding her right to decide what she wants to do, for herself, by herself.
He is very much larger than she is and we wonder if he’s going to get violent. No; he is thrilled. “That’s democracy!” he says. “You understand it.”