Abuse of Authority, continued

Two years ago, I wrote about the trend toward the abuse of authority by people in various positions.  The examples I mentioned were:  Teachers and professors, using their jobs to conduct political indoctrination, and even marking down the grades of those with differing views. Corporate executives, using company resources to promote their personal political views. And intelligence officers, using their positions to influence US election outcomes.

The case of the intelligence people is worthy of particular attention at the moment.  The Hunter Biden trial and the introduction of the Laptop into evidence should remove any remaining doubt about the genuineness of the contents of that laptop.  Remember that 51 former intelligence officials signed a letter stating that the laptop story bore the earmarks of a classic Russian disinformation operation…even though they surely knew, or could have easily discovered, that the laptop contents were no such thing. The FBI also participated in this disinformation-about-disinformation story.  Social media platforms were persuaded (and persuaded without too much difficulty, I would bet) to suppress discussion of the story and even to suppress person-to-person messages that referenced the laptop…the contents of which were quite relevant to the question of whether or not to vote for Biden.

It is also time to remember a statement made by Senator Charles Schumer in response to then-President Trump’s criticism of the intelligence agencies.  He said that Trump was being “really dumb” by taking on these agencies, and continued “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

This statement would basically imply that the ultimate sovereign in the United States is the set of senior people in the “intelligence community”, and that the elected government remains in power–or not–at the pleasure of those agencies, similar to the way the militaries in some countries are the ultimate approvers or removers of civilian governments.  And Schumer did not make his statements in a way that implied–“This is awful, and we have to do something about it”….he seemed to be totally comfortable with that situation, and I would bet that a majority of other Democratic senators and congressmen feel the same way.

I also see some disturbing things in a recent interview with four-star admiral William McRaven, specifically: every time you undermine one of our institutions, you undermine America.  “Undermine” in his usage seems to mean criticizing the actions of any of these institutions.  I don’t think that position is consistent with the whole American idea.  It’s true that ignorant and overly-broad attacks are destructive–but it’s also true that institutions that are defined to be beyond criticism tend to get worse and worse.  Does admiral McRaven believe that all court decisions are correct? Even if we constrain it to “court decisions which were upheld after appeal” it seems like a pretty remarkable statement.  When was this level of judicial perfection established?…at some time, presumably, after the Dred Scott decision.

And McRaven’s statement, although focused on the judicial system and specifically the recent Trump conviction, was broader; it applied to “institutions” in general.  Are the Department of Education and the CDC to be viewed as sacred entities beyond criticism? How about those intelligence agencies and the FBI? Indeed, how about the US Navy and its problems with warship construction and ship handling?

Admiral McRaven’s statements may not be precisely abuse of authority in the way that my previous three examples are, but they’re still pretty disturbing when made by an admiral who held such an important command over American forces.

I’m reminded of something that occurred in the UK in 1940, at a time when Churchill was not yet Prime Minister but was First Lord of the Admiralty. He received a letter from a father disappointed that his son had been turned down for a commission, despite his qualifications and his record. Churchill suspected class prejudice and wrote to the Second Sea Lord, saying that “Unless some better reasons are given to me, I shall have to ask my Naval Secretary to interview the boy on my behalf.”

The Second Sea Lord, unhappy with the meddling from above, responded to the effect that it was inappropriate to question the decisions of “a board duly constituted.” To which Churchill replied:

I do not at all mind “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted” or even changing the board or its chairman if I think injustice has been done. How long is it since this board was re-modeled?… Who are the naval representatives on the board of selection? Naval officers should be well-represented. Action accordingly. Let me have a list of the whole board with the full record of each member and his date of appointment.