Good Friday Morning, especially to the Blue Angel pilots who made a flyover for Nashville yesterday. I’m not sure there’s anything more awe-inspiring than watching those pilots do their thing. It’s pretty typical to find detractors, though, who call that a waste of money when we have “more pressing issues” right now. Those Negative Nancy’s don’t seem to realize we’ve already pushed all resources we have towards getting PPE and other medical supplies, it’s not like we’re choosing flyovers or PPE. Second, pilots need to get in hours right now to stay current (see more here).
Occasionally, I like to get a little weird in what I cover here, mostly based on what I’m reading and thinking about at the time. This piece is going to be one of those times because we’re going to start out talking about the Michael Flynn case and then jump into what this episode has made me think about: the technocratic aristocracy in America. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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This week on the show, host Daniel Vaughan going through the Costco mask issues, the latest on Joe Biden’s sexual assault allegations, the death of Ahmad Arbery, and the latest on the coronavirus.
Values form our decisions, not science and data – The Conservative Institute.
Conserving the rebellious impulse during a pandemic – The Conservative Institute.
The New Aristocracy has the same problems as the old.
Michael Flynn, the former intelligence chief for the Trump administration, had the federal case against him dropped by prosecutors. CBS News:
In a motion filed in US district court in Washington on Thursday, federal prosecutors asked a judge to toss out with prejudice the single count of making false statements to the FBI, saying that “continued prosecution of this case would not serve the interests of justice.”
The Justice Department said the government “concluded that the interview of Mr. Flynn was untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation” and that “it is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis.”
That last sentence was critical because it points to flagrant abuses by the FBI and DOJ investigating Flynn. Like many other parts of the investigations connected to the Trump administration, dangerous failures were made across the board by FBI agents and DOJ lawyers.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators to avoid facing the more serious charge of failing to register as a foreign agent for getting “paid $530,000 for his work lobbying for a Turkish firm with connections to that country’s government during the presidential campaign.” This case is one of those situations where you have to keep two ideas in your head. First, The FBI/DOJ hosed Flynn throughout this process, just like in other Trump investigations. Second, Flynn, a person in the intelligence community, should not be taking money from countries that are hostile to the United States, or making money and appearing in on Russian TV events with Vladimir Putin. There are very few innocent people here.
Some Trump supporters want to make Flynn or Manafort out to be angels now — they’re not. Trump’s administration is better for having these guys kicked out. But that’s not where I want to dwell here. I want to go back to the FBI and DOJ’s conduct, where they targeted Flynn and others not to expose wrong actions, but to go after Trump and protect their power.
It was a case where an unelected administrative branch tried to act as a check against the constitutionally elected part of the government. That’s not supposed to happen in our constitutional system. The administrative state, or technocratic aristocracy, is subject to the elected and appointed branches. They are the ones out of place.
The IC “goes to war” against Trump.
Early on in the Trump presidency, there were clear signs of strife between the administration and intelligence community (we now know these concerns were from the FBI and DOJ). In February 2017, the Wall Street Journal published an astounding story: US spies were withholding information from the Trump administration. The report said, “officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said.”
The story came the day after Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation. Vanity Fair published a story a few months later about the FBI being angry at the Trump administration. Around the same time, John Schindler, a former NSA counterintelligence agent, started publishing columns saying that his sources in the intelligence community were revolting against the Trump administration and sought to bring him down. It’s easy to pass him off as an internet crank — but what he was saying matched up quite a bit with what former CIA head James Clapper was saying at that time. Clapper said all the institutions in the US were under assault and wanted more pushback.
Compare those kinds of stories with what we know happened now. One of the agents involved in the Flynn case left a handwritten note during an interview with him that said:
“What’s our goal? Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Priestap wrote. “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DOJ & have them decide. Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] & he admits it, document for DOJ, & let them decide how to address it.”
The goal was to prosecute him or get him fired. That’s not seeking justice — it’s using the powers of the state to achieve a political end. And that wasn’t all that happened. We know from the OIG report that the FBI and DOJ repeatedly failed to follow FISA warrants’ procedures against those connected to the Trump administration. The OIG report said in the conclusions that “we believe that case agents may have improperly substituted their own judgments in place of the judgment of OI, or in place of the court, to weigh the probative value of the information.”
But why all this effort and war with the Trump administration? Because he was a “unique threat,” as Eli Lake writes in Commentary Magazine:
But Trump was perceived to be such a threat to the republic that resistance was required. That resistance became a permission structure to break longstanding rules and norms. Just consider Clinesmith, the FBI attorney who altered an email from the CIA to make it appear that Carter Page was not assisting the agency when he really was. In a footnote, Horowitz quotes an instant message from Clinesmith to a colleague the day after Trump won the election in 2016. “I am so stressed about what I could have done differently,” he wrote. Two weeks later he tapped out a message that ended with “Viva le [sic] resistance.”
It’s rare that law-enforcement scandals involve officials who acknowledge bad motives to themselves. They are almost always the result of cops and lawyers who justify their infractions and misconduct as a necessary means to a more noble end. From Comey to Clinesmith, the investigators responsible for the Russia investigation really believed that Trump was a unique threat to the republic and that they were justified in taking the steps that they did. The problem is that their theory about Trump and Russia was wrong, and the shortcuts they took to prove the theory true blinded them from seeing their folly sooner.
Now, I know it’s common for the Trump supporters to call this a deep state conspiracy. It’s not that. This situation is something different and far older in American politics. It’s not the deep state, its the progressive technocratic aristocracy trying to control the federal government. Trump wasn’t just a unique threat — he was a unique threat to them.
The modern aristocracy
When I say aristocracy, you probably think of the land-owning nobles that surrounded kings and queens throughout European history. That’s mostly true, though the aristocratic class ended up expanding (often against its will). As Jonah Goldberg and others have noted, aristocracies are a natural part of the human condition. You have those at the top, like a king or monarch, those in the middle positions of power, aristocrats, and everyone else at a bottom. You can see it in companies too, CEO to middle managers, to the rest of the employees.
The rich land-owning kinds of aristocrats, while they still exist, are mostly a thing of the past. And that’s by design in America. But that doesn’t mean we got rid of the aristocracy; we just changed how it operated. Thomas Jefferson said there were two kinds of an aristocracy, natural and artificial:
…there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents…There is also an artificial aristocracy, founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.
The natural aristocracy gained their position through hard work and talent — at least in theory. America largely achieved this dream. Though over time, we’ve changed how one accesses the new aristocratic class. Instead of being born into the right family, you have to have gone to the right university or have similar social circles. Amid this pandemic, the value of an Ivy League education has plummeted because it’s not about education, it’s about the social benefits such school opens up.
People of this kind of elite educational class fill up a large portion of the modern administrative state. The overly educated bureaucrats who try to control the levers of power and make society into what they desire by using those levers. It’s the result of the early 20th-century vision of a progressive state that ran the country based on “expertise.” Woodrow Wilson, the Presidential father of this movement, pointed to such a future in The Atlantic in 1901. Criticizing the American form of government, Wilson wrote that “We have declined to provide ourselves with a professional civil service, because we deemed it undemocratic…“
Wilson wanted Americans to cast off the old visions of the 18th and 19th centuries, “There is no masking or concealing the new order of the world. It is not the world of the eighteenth century, nor yet of the nineteenth. A new era has come upon us like a sudden vision of things unprophesied, and for which no polity has been prepared.” He pointed towards an educated, expert class that would become the “professional civil service.” Today, we call it the administrative state, full of technocrats, and it is the new aristocracy.
And instead of building this new aristocracy based on virtue, merit, or talent, it’s constructed on the late qualifications of educational pedigree, and, if lacking that, social connections. Instead of an innovative, merit-based aristocracy, they’ve taken positions and closed the door behind them. The natural aristocracy of Jefferson’s dream has given way to a new form of artificial aristocracy, which is what is fighting for its place in the Trump era. It’s not just that these FBI/DOJ/Intelligence people are wholly concerned about external threats to the United States; they’re worried about losing power.
One of the great projects of the conservative legal movement is reigning in this monstrosity of an aberration in the American government. Finding new ways to argue Congress can’t delegate its power away and stripping these agencies of their power is needed. Shrinking the federal government to remove these people from power is essential. It’s not a deep state, it’s the progressive bureaucratic state that has grown to such an extent, it’s trying to maintain power and frustrate the end of anyone it dislikes. Trump animates this hatred more so than other conservative Presidents, but they’d oppose other Republicans too.
The American government is built on three mountains, the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The administrative state is the fourth mountain, and it is trying to exert influence over the other three, despite lacking democratic legitimacy. It’s like China’s attempts to control the South China Sea by building artificial islands and moving military forces to exert more influence in the region. The administrative is an artificial edifice that a new class has used to provide itself power and control.
The administrative state, and the modern technocratic aristocrats it encourages, remains the greatest internal threat to liberty and democracy. But because it’s grown nearly unchecked for the better part of a century, it will take considerable work to dislodge and restore the founder’s vision. Jefferson is right. A natural aristocracy is a good and noble thing to have in a country. But this new-founded artificial one is soaking up power for itself while trying to stay outside the confines of the constitution. And as the episode with Michael Flynn proves, they’ll break even the norms and rules they do have to protect their position.
Links of the week
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – the data – Our World In Data
Nursing Homes Are Hot Spots in the Crisis. But Don’t Try Suing Them: In New York, 5,300 nursing home residents have died of Covid-19. The nursing home lobby pressed for a provision that makes it hard for their families to sue. – Amy Julia Harris, Kim Barker, and Jesse McKinley, The New York Times
Don’t make ‘flatten the curve’ be a lie – Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner
China Is Exploiting The Coronavirus Chaos To Advance Its Agenda: President Xi wants China at the center of a new global order – Claudia Rosett, The Dallas Morning News
Report says cellphone data suggests October shutdown at Wuhan lab, but experts are skeptical: U.S. and U.K. intel agencies are reviewing the private report, but intel analysts examined and couldn’t confirm a similar theory previously. – Ken Dilanian, NBC News
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Taco Bell Totally Unaffected By Meat Shortage – The Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!