A Fiasco That's Good for Democracy

Do you prefer republican values or Republican partisanship?

The first thing that should be said about Peter Strzok’s testimony Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee is that it occurred during the workday. For that reason most people didn’t watch it. Most people, I’m guessing, heard about it second- or third-hand. They experienced a mediated version of the FBI agent’s dramatic testimony by way of mainstream media, social media or partisan media.

That’s too bad. Our republic would be healthier if more of us had opportunities to witness fiascoes like this. We saw two worlds collide, worlds that cannot be co-equals in a republic. If more people had a chance to directly witness their collision, I’d bet more would conclude that one is better for democracy than the other.

Who is Peter Strzok? He’s a counterespionage expert for the FBI who’d toil in obscurity if not for the Republicans’ dream of exploiting him. They want to use him to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

How? Strzok was investigating Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election before any of us knew the Russians were interfering in the election (Strzok no longer works with the Mueller probe). During that time, he sent text messages to an FBI colleague that appear to have been sent ironically. Things like, “Oh for sure, we’ll stop this horse’s ass from being president of the United States” (not a real quote).

There were other texts in which he stated his opinion. He felt appalled by Trump’s attacking the family of a dead serviceman. In testimony, Strzok said, yup, I wrote those texts. Yup, I didn’t like Trump’s disgusting smears. But, he said, in no way did that affect my job. There are so many safeguards built into the FBI that I could not have biased the investigation if I wanted to. And by the way, if I wanted Hillary Clinton to win the election, I would have leaked the FBI investigation, but I didn’t.

That wasn’t enough for the Republicans. They took Strzok’s admitting to feeling disgust for a candidate who’d smear the family of a young man who died serving his country as sign of bias so deep Strzok could not have conducted himself impartially. Ergo, Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump’s campaign is rigged.

Strzok said forcefully, look, if you’re willing to claim bias, it’s on you to show evidence of it. Since you can’t show evidence of bias, there’s nothing to your claim. (All of this has been independently verified by a months-in-the-making internal FBI report showing that Strzok should not have sent those text message because of appearances. Even so, the inspector general looked for but did not find evidence of bias.)

Again, that wasn’t enough for the Republicans.

The more Strzok explained the empirical reasoning those goes into the professional operation of a federal law-enforcement agency, the more the Republicans acted like children outraged by the family picnic being cancelled on account of rain.

Kids: Why did you cancel the picnic?

Dad: Because it’s raising.

Kids: But you said we’d have a picnic!

Things went around and around like this for while, like 10 hours.

From that I concluded two things.

One is that the Republicans aren’t making any sense, don’t know that they aren’t making any sense or don’t care that they don’t know that they aren’t making any sense.

Two is that not caring that you don’t know that you don’t make any sense does not matter when you operate from within the conservative media echo chamber, where the demands of empirical reasoning may or may not have relevance. But it absolutely does matter once you step outside the conservative media echo chamber, where claims must be substantiated with evidence, where claimants are held accountable for their claims, and where failure to substantiate one’s claims undermines one’s credibility.

This is not to say that Peter Strzok is an upright citizen beyond doubt. I have no idea who he is. I don’t know anything about his reputation. But I could see that he was taking responsibility for poor judgment while trying to reassure lawmakers that poor judgment did not bias the investigation into Trump’s campaign. That made sense to me given that the Senate had released its own bipartisan report before the Fourth of July holiday saying, yup, the Russians attacked the election to favor Trump.

You don’t have to take Strzok’s side to see that he embodied values like honesty, transparency, and accountability that one wants to see flourish in a democracy, that must flourish in order for democracy to be healthy, whereas the Republicans demonstrated they can’t trust anyone who is not a Trump-loyal Republican.

One is these worlds is better than the other.

I think, when given a chance, most people know which is which.


More news!

As I was writing this, the US Department of Justice announced the indictment of 12 Russians who conspired with someone close to the Trump campaign to tip the election his way. That person was not named, and that person was not alleged to have done anything wrong—in this indictment. But the investigation goes on. Let’s hope!