I am loath to make mention of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, but the bizarre times and the historical record demand it.
Friedman is a marquee member of America’s technocracy – the men and women in corporate media, politics, economics, diplomacy and the so-called intelligence “community” who run the show in Washington, DC and beyond.
The chat-show-friendly scribe is read and feted by other members of America’s technocracy who treat his musings about America and the world, particularly the Arab world, in print or on TV with a reverence usually reserved for pontiffs.
Lately, Friedman has been writing about the imperative of impeaching US President Donald Trump to save democracy. This recent column, like his antipathy towards Trump, is a facsimile of countless other columns by countless other members of the technocracy who insist the impeachment of a diseased presidency will not only rehabilitate American democracy but the, by now, sullied institutions that gird it.
This aching nostalgia for democracy and its once pristine apparatus is flagrantly ironic since the same technocrats who want to evict Trump from office helped put him there.
That a liberal technocrat would seriously suggest that House Democrats voting to impeach Trump will magically restore America’s phantom democracy is not only predictable but amusing. Any lucid undergraduate political science student knows that the United States has long been an oligarchy where the interests of the few are championed at the expense of the interests of the many.
Freidman’s folly is that he still fails to acknowledge publicly the blatant role he and other establishment technocrats played in discrediting the very institutions they now seek to rejuvenate with all the bluster they can muster against the destructive residue of Hurricane Donald by endorsing wars conceived and sustained by lies and deserting the rule of law when politically expedient.
The late philosopher Richard Rorty understood the subversion of democratic institutions was already well underway in the 1990s and predicted in his collection of essays, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-century America, that a despairing working class – largely abandoned by its traditional allies on the academic and political left – would turn to a strongman for succour and to balm their resentment and bitterness at being left behind and adrift.
“At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots,” Rorty wrote. As long as “the proles can be distracted from their own despair by media-created pseudo-events, including the brief and bloody war, the super-rich will have little to fear.”
Rorty was right. The super-rich had nothing to fear. Something did crack and a strongman surfaced from the Pan-American swamp of disillusionment and despair to offer easy answers to complex questions.
Another liberal technocrat, Barack Obama made sure his administration was, as Rorty wrote, “not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or jobs from being exported” and, in the apocalyptic aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, that no one, beyond a few insignificant tadpoles, was held to account for the looting committed by America’s untouchable gilded class.
The crack liberal technocrats would have heard back then – if they had bothered to listen – was the remnants of America’s already tenuous faith in near-sacred institutions like the Justice Department to uphold the rule of law collapse.
So, I chuckled after reading a column published in the Washington Post by yet another liberal technocrat and Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder, excoriating Trump’s servile attorney general, William Barr, as “unfit” to serve.
Holder’s indictment would have been slightly more convincing if the Justice Department he led under Obama had prosecuted the bankers who profited handsomely from the sub-prime mortgage implosion they engineered which triggered the Great Recession and the suffering and angst of so many ordinary, hardworking Americans.
Holder needs to put away the rod and finally accept that his signature failure on this count fatally undermined the credibility of an institution he now wants to save from Barr and his rule-of-law allergic boss.
Of course, post 9/11, Friedman and his legion of fellow liberal technocrats joined hands with their Republican brethren to launch calamitous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – where the lethal human consequences are still being endured almost two decades later.
Those wars were predicated on the lies authored by technocrats inside the US intelligence community. Friedman et al hoped to “liberate” Iraq and Afghanistan from the talons of Islamic extremists. Their geopolitical designs failed, bankrupting America and the institutions that assured Americans the wars would be fast, easy and winnable.
Here is Friedman offering penance as a “consenting adult” and on behalf, I suppose, of the battalion of technocrats who now express their mendacious “regret” over the loss of life and treasure to war-exhausted Americans.
What is absent from Freidman’s qualified mea cupla is any recognition that the cost of the lie-propelled wars in Iraqi and Afghan lives has not only rendered Trump’s lies trifling, but palatable, in comparison.
The fact is that many like-minded technocrats were party to the assault on the truth that presaged Trump’s pathological lie-telling.
After the quagmires that Iraq and Afghanistan inevitably turned into, the other crack that technocrats should have noted was that the lecturing know-it-alls knew nothing at all.
To compound their ignorance, the liberal technocrats decided not to indict any of the architects of the systematic torture regime set up by George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their compliant lawyers.
Their failure to do so established that the president and his cabinet are immune from the law – domestic or international – and it provided the template and license for Trump to treat the rule of law and the constitutional checks on the executive branch as a quaint anachronism.
Still, liberal technocrats inside and outside the New York Times will, no doubt, celebrate the impeachment of a “rogue” president by the House of Representatives when it takes place. Forgotten amid the euphoria will be how and why Trump became president with the implicit and explicit aid of the technocrats cheering his comeuppance today.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.