NSA and the Circling of the Wagons
In these weeks following the Snowden revelations, we are witnessing a coming together, a circling of wagons by the current American elites, both political operatives and pundits, regardless of political persuasion. This abrupt ad hoc unity contrasts with the all-too-familiar and perennial internecine schism that has predominated for decades. This unity, granting unmitigated justification for invasion of privacy and violation of Constitutional precepts, and which denounces and disparages Snowden for daring to confront this established consensus, defies an increasing and virulent opposition as the governed are temporarily stirred from their long somnolence with worthless baubles and silly trivialities.
Thus, Californian Democrat Dianne Feinstein sings sweet duet with House Speaker Republican John Boehner about Snowden’s treason, while Harry Reid (D-NV), John McCain (R-AR) and John Bolton amongst others, act as the choreographing Pips backup. But this must be expected since both Bush and Obama Administrations are now caught culpable with hand in cookie jar. And it bemuses to watch liberal Democrat discomfiture as leading Republican leaders become chief pom-pom cheerleaders for the Obama administration’s continuance and expansion of Bush policy. It is the political outliers (i.e. Udall (D-CO), Rand Paul (R-PA)) or repositioning opportunists (i.e. Eric Cantor (R-VA)), who are on record as outraged to varying degrees.
However, it is the supposed watchdog of mainstream media whose reactions pose a greater fascination. The immediate tenor of initial op-eds reacted to Snowden’s lack of education credentials. Having listened to this evidently thoughtful, intelligent and articulate Snowden, I thought that such cheap ad hominem will only prove counterproductive to the cause of this established political class. For, what does it say about an agency apparatus that hires such “losers”?1 What does it say about the critics, whose intellectual competence and integrity cannot stand up to this “dropout”? What does it say about a nation’s elite who, at least to this point, seems to have been outwitted by this better chess player? The ancient writers were wiser. They praised their adversaries. In vanquishing them, there was much honour to be acquired.
In the following days, the media would expose and flaunt the credentials of his ‘pole-dancing‘ girlfriend. This paparazzi pursuit, symptomatic of modern journalism debasement, serves the prurience of public decadence. It is also, without doubt, a propagandist feint to discredit Snowden through his associations to the religious and moralist segment of society. But this transparent ploy to manipulate moralist opinion loses its impact with overuse over time and jaded familiarity with these practices.
Indeed, the prospect of some shy and reserved bespeckled IT geek, landing such a voluptuous and vivacious babe who likes to philosophize and play chess bare-chested into the night, is just too James Bond! (Whether is true…) Indeed, this 29 year old must symbolize hope to every unemployed and underemployed young male, wasting away in their mama’s basement over porn and games.
One can sense that the elites are starting to regain their footing; beginning to realize the personal stakes that Snowden now threatens. And thus both factions were rustled out of their genuine and faux mutual animosities to paint a unified narrative against this whistleblower. He becomes a “deceitful and dishonest man”2 because he violated oaths in a nation with a 45% divorce rate; with academic cheating by the college student elite in excess of 75%; with Wall Street bankers and real estate charlatans circumventing the letter and spirit of regulations and almost bringing the whole economic and financial edifice down without paying due judicial recompense; with military/intelligence and administrative department heads engaged in bold-faced, unabashed perjury to Congress and the media.
How dare this “grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison”3, subject national security and individual American lives, to that of a higher “call of his precious conscience”? 4 And in what must constitute one of the most disconnected and bizarre ad hominem critiques, an aging curmudgeon suggested that Snowden will be known as a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood”; claiming that “no one lied about the various programs disclosed last week”.5 In that both National Director of Intelligence, James Clapper (congressional hearing) and Director of the NSA, Keith Alexander (American Enterprise Institute press conference) denied holding data on U.S. citizens; now known to be thoroughly untrue, it might be time to put this has-been out to pasture.
Repeating the elitist snobbery of the credentialed obtuse, Snowden is “the slacker who came in from the cold…possessing all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger” 6; irrational vitriol, which can only backfire by undermining the credibility of the judgment of these credentialed elite in the military and intelligence apparatus.
On the other hand, another pundit, David Brooks of the New York Times, will not deny the obvious (“obviously terrifically bright”7), despite Snowden’s lack of credentials. Brooks prefers to dabble in psychobabble by suggesting that Snowden represents “the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments”7. The problem with this psychological profile from afar is that Brooks is prejudicially projecting a perhaps valid general sociological observation upon a particular individual for whom it does not readily fit.
The prophet, whether spiritual or secular and social, is driven into lonely social isolation by his/her scrupulous, perhaps ‘pathological’ commitment to truth telling and social conscience. But the greater mass of humanity easily and quickly compromises on truth and cannot long bear the prophet except in ornate sarcophaguses, long after the applicability of his declamations and predictions.
In David Brooks’ parallel universe, betraying an oath to the secret perpetuation of dangerous lies is the equivalent of betraying honesty and integrity. In the logic of David Brooks’ parallel universe, exposing the global Star Chamber betrays open government because it will only make the Star Chamber even more Star Chamberish. In the sophistry of David Brooks’ parallel universe, an insistence upon the plain rendering of the meaning of the Constitution is a betrayal of the Constitution.
And on and on it goes, with most of the political and pundit elite piling on, with rehearsed shibboleths, pompous opprobrium and specious argument and evidence. And many a blogging outlier exhibit incredulity and resentful disgust with these supposed watchdogs of government malfeasance and power-lust.
However, it ought not to surprise that the current elites so adamantly and seemingly unreasonably defend the status quo. One ought not to deny that there are legitimate concerns raised by the elites and their courtiers. If there were not, their message would not have had sufficient resonance to have hitherto so well deceived the general public. And thus, one’s own cause and ability to persuade the persuadable will be undermined if one does not acknowledge and address those concerns.
Nevertheless, there is another dynamic involved in this circling of the wagons by the elite members of both sociopolitical factions. It is less a matter of principle than that of vested and venal self-interest; that of concern for continued social prominence in the upper echelons and regard by general society. And because many of the members of both sociopolitical factions are on record with having supported the travesty that is this modern surveillance state and ‘architecture of oppression’, their only credible line of defense for existential social survival is to defend the indefensible.
“The poor you will always have with you.”8 In this, Christ intimated as did other apostles, that the rich also, however a given society defines that, will likewise persist. All revolutions, even if they purport a new beginning where “ev’ry man will be a king”9 merely supply a changing of the guard, an overthrow of the ranking members of society with that of another. And there is real and present danger and legitimate fear by current elites that their social prominence is at stake.
Radical revolutions, which do not necessarily lead to bloodshed, abound in history. In America, the First Great Awakening of the 1740s largely involved a changing of the sectarian guard from those denominations associated with the first and second threads of the Reformation, the established church sects (i.e. Congregational, Anglican, Presbyterian) to the third wing (Baptists, Methodists, Quakers etc), which later became the core of Evangelicalism. The fullness of that religious revolution in America was completed by the Second Great Awakening, (for good or for ill).
Jacksonian democracy (1830s) has been similarly deemed as a toppling of the gentrified generations of the Revolutionary elite for a more vulgar set of democratic ruffians. One could observe in the Russia of the 1990s, an old Communist guard, whose claim to legitimacy discredited, persisted out of resentment to loss of position to the new Russian oligarchs.
The present American situation is more reminiscent of the later stages of Roman Republic. The aristocratic patrician families were quite willing to tear down and destroy their opposite numbers in factionalism through the organs of society (i.e. scandal mongering, judicial prosecutions, proscriptions and exile). And there was a definitive ideological difference between the values of the old austere conservative Republican Guard and the Hellenized aesthetes. However, when the Social (class) and Servile (slave) Wars erupted or dictators overstayed their welcome, there were temporary ceasefires in the internecine schisms between factions and a unified circling of their aristocratic wagons.
There are very few politically astute and slippery historical characters of the likes of Ambassador Talleyrand, who could survive extreme and abrupt shifts of political opinion, from the Ancien Regime, through Robespierres Terror, Napoleon’s autocracy and again to the French Restoration of Monarchial rule. (On the one hand, one must admire such finesse, even as one detests the lack of conviction that such finesse requires.) Most human beings lack that chameleonic capacity; much more than they lack the ability to compromise their convictions.
It is amusing to watch Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wi), the useful idiot who introduced the Patriot Act, attempt to backtrack against his legislative initiative; suggesting that interpretation of that law has been so contorted to abuse its original intentions. This criticism would have, of course, been more credible before the scandal exploded in his face. If the surveillance state regime suffers a major (if temporary) reversal, Sensenbrenner will likely go down with that raft. A change of mind at this point of time is not likely to hold much credibility. That reality cannot be lost on others who have previously been sycophant toads of this architecture of oppression. Defense of the current realm will stiffen.
Except for those amongst the current elites, who positioned themselves to avoid manifesting great commitment to the Patriot Act and other policies of Bush’s and Obama’s apparatus of sociopolitical tyranny; if the current bipartisan regime goes down, virtually every supporter and benefactor of that current regime loses their current social prominence. Therefore, we witness collusion between the elites of these hitherto ‘mortal’ sociopolitical factions against a general political uprising, led by a yet undetermined new set of elites.
For those who desire change, whether or not they be part of the vanguard that takes over, it is wise to remember that one is confronting not only principle, but vested and venial self-interests. The latter may be more powerful a motive for continued resistance by those ruling elites.
It is not a given that this revolt will succeed. The elites, unified mostly by mutual self-interest, face a disparate ragtag of opposition groups; many who normally detest each other more than the elites. A temporary marriage of convenience will be inherently weak and subject to internal contradictions and divide and con tactics from the existing Establishment. The elites could seduce one ‘extreme’ faction to lose their principles with a larger voice at the table; just as members of the Democrat Party suddenly slackened their similar concerns about civil rights when they came into power.
The ends of the political continuum would need to construct a political framework, which would allow both sides to live amicably after the ‘overthrow’. Otherwise, the society would be governed by even more schismatic factionalism than exists presently. And the civil conflagration, which I have anticipated for a quarter century, will come that much closer.
Most probable, however, and something that the despairing cynicism that Snowden shares with this writer and others; this current generation lacks the ideological framework, moral fortitude (and perhaps moral framework) and civic courage to confront this unified front of vested interests that support what will invariably become a global totalitarian tyranny.
Operation Wall Street lacked a substantive and coherent idea and ideal upon which the subterranean rumblings of the underclass could rally around. In that ideological desolation, revolts are one night stands. The folk hero of the day soon becomes universally declaimed by all as soon as the Establishment has found the right key to turn a fickle public. From Hosanna to Crucifixion within a week!
- Farhad Manjoo, “If the NSA Trusted Edward Snowden With Our Data, Why Should We Trust the NSA?” Slate, June 9, 2013, accessed http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/06/09/edward_snowden_why_did_the_nsa_whistleblower_have_access_to_prism_and_other.html on June 15, 2013.
- John Bachman, “Interview with John Bolton (from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.”, Newsmax TV, June 11, 2013. Accessed http://www.newsmax.com/newswidget/bolton-snowden-nsa-leaks/2013/06/11/id/509318?promo_code=11102-1&utm_source=11102Real_Clear_Politics&utm_medium=nmwidget&utm_campaign=widgetphase1#ixzz2WIIjoEGf on June 15, 2013.
- Jeffrey Toobin, “Edward Snowden Is No Hero”, The New Yorker, June 10, 2013, Accessed http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/06/edward-snowden-nsa-leaker-is-no-hero.html on June 15, 2013.
- Matt Miller, “Edward Snowden’s grandiosity”, The Washington Post, June 11, 2013, Accessed http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/matt-miller-edward-snowdens-grandiosity/2013/06/11/b87876e6-d292-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_story.html on June 15, 2013.
- Richard Cohen, “The NSA is doing what Google does”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2013, Accessed http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/richard-cohen-nsa-is-doing-what-google-does/2013/06/10/fe969612-d1f7-11e2-8cbe-1bcbee06f8f8_story.html on June 15, 2013.
- Roger Simon, “The slacker who came in from the cold”, Politico, June 13, 2013, Accessed http://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/the-slacker-who-came-in-from-the-cold-92534.html#ixzz2WJGqqyCM on June 15, 2013.
- David Brooks, “The Solitary Leaker”, The New York Times, June 10, 2013, Accessed http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/opinion/brooks-the-solitary-leaker.html?_r=0 on June 15, 2013.
- Matthew 26:11
- William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude- Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, “One More Day”, Script: Les Miserables, 2012.