Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Advance hints about the conclusions of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation into the abuses of the FISA process are starting to trickle out. Rather than the “historic,” as Trump put it, bombshell exposing deep-state miscreants gaming the system to take down the president, the report, to be released December 9, will document mere “sloppiness” and “mistakes” on the part of lower-level functionaries. But more important, it also will absolve more highly placed officials of any political bias.
The 500-page report may not confirm this preview. Perhaps it will address what Andrew McCarthy identifies is the real question:
On four separate occasions, the FBI and the Justice Department solemnly told the FISC there were grounds to believe that Carter Page and others in the Trump campaign, potentially including Donald Trump himself, were complicit in a criminal conspiracy with the Kremlin. The question is: What was their compelling basis for making that explosive representation, which breached the American norm against government intrusion in our political process?
We’ll have to wait for the answer to that question.
But these leaks are grounds for suspicion. Back in June, Horowitz made a similar determination about James Comey––incompetent at following proper protocol, but not “politically biased.” Given that ample evidence of Comey’s political agenda had long been public, common sense suggests that those of us concerned about the politicization of our judicial and investigative agencies have some reason to worry about Horowitz’s new report.
Equal justice under the law is the bedrock of constitutional governments. This principle was serially violated during the Obama years, when those responsible for the abuse of the IRS for partisan political gain, and for the ATF’s Fast and Furious operation, which was basically running guns to Mexican cartels, were never punished, despite the death of an American citizen by a gun provided by the ATF. Then there’s Hillary Clinton’s ongoing immunity for patent crimes related to violating security protocols with her private server, and running a pay-to-play State Department to enrich the Clinton Foundation.
If more members of the Democrat managerial elite get away with crimes for which ordinary people would be prosecuted, confidence in that principle, and in our government’s commitment to our Constitutional rights, will erode further.
The problem, however, goes beyond political preferences and passions. What we are seeing is the fallout from the progressive idea, over a century old, that governing should remain in the hands of a technocratic elite housed in federal bureaucracies, and staffed by unaccountable functionaries who in the main are invisible to the sovereign people, never facing accountability through regularly scheduled elections and public audit. Such agencies develop a guild mentality that creates “professional deformation”: the shaping of activity to benefit the agency and its staff rather than serve the larger function it was created to perform. This in turn fosters guild solidarity and loyalty that are more important than truth or justice.
Medieval craft and trade guilds were associations that promoted the economic interests of guild-members. They were hierarchically organized, membership carefully guarded, and activities sheltered from scrutiny. Internal loyalty and solidarity with the guild’s interests and procedures were nourished. Yet their monopolistic practices and insularity were inimical to the conditions of free trade and entrepreneurship that would lead to free-market capitalism and much more dynamic and effective economies.
A similar guild mentality exists in our public agencies, joined to an unexamined institutional “paradigm” which our federal bureaucracies assume to be definitive and beyond question. Thomas Kuhn’s influential study The Structure of Scientific Revolutions shows how the “scientific community” develops a “paradigm” comprising “received beliefs” that go unexamined and unchallenged. The consequence is to shut out new paradigms and theories, thus inhibiting scientific progress.
The paradigm upon which our modern federal agencies were founded is the progressive notion of technocracy. As progressives claim, modern, technologically advanced societies can no longer rely on the Founders’ ideal of rule by virtue, common sense, practical wisdom, and tradition, which are acquired through experience rather than formal training or the mastery of data. In contrast, government bureaus and agencies, trained in the “science of administration,” as Woodrow Wilson put it, and staffed with the “hundreds who are wise” empowered to set policy for the thousands who are “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish,” would guide Congress in determining laws and policies. After all, progressive Walter Lippman said, these agencies are the beneficiaries of “the great triumph of modern psychology, its growing capacity for penetrating to the desires that govern our thought.”
Indeed, today our Congress passes general directives and aims, but the specific policies are interpreted and supervised by federal agencies armed with judicial and enforcement powers, thus endangering the idea of separated powers that is one of our most important guards against tyrannical abuses of power. Yet more dangerous is that this mentality dominates the investigative, surveillance, and justice agencies sanctioned to use lethal force and spying apparatuses. This power, just as the Founders feared, can have a corrupting effect, one magnified if malefactors do not fear accountability or punishment.
We do not necessarily have to posit a conscious conspiracy to account for the behavior of the FBI, DOJ, and CIA in surveilling and investigating Trump and his administration over the last three years. Some of these agency personnel may sincerely believe they are serving the country, for that ideal of noble “service” is one of the guild’s most important self-definitions, as we saw in James Comey’s claim to a “higher loyalty.” That this notion may be self-serving, careerist, or politically biased is no more apparent to them than being wet is obvious to a fish. It’s the medium they swim in, reinforced by institutional authority and guild solidarity, and protected by unaccountability. The frequent claim of no political bias, moreover, is belied by the fact that 95% of federal workers’ political contributions in 2016 went to Hillary Clinton. Nor should we be surprised that government-funded bureaucracies favor the party of big government. After all, they are the big government.
We have reams of public evidence for this institutional arrogance and professional misbehavior in the words and deeds of Comey, Brennan, Clapper, McCabe, Page, Strzok, Ciaramella, most of the witnesses in the recent impeachment hearings, and numerous other federal employees who clearly have been trying to undermine their boss, who was duly elected by the citizens these “public servants” are supposed to serve. Those words and actions are all we need to demand accountability.
But for three years, investigation after investigation has led to a few minnows being forced to resign with Cadillac pensions and lucrative jobs at MSNBC awaiting them, while the whales are still swimming freely. The American voters who supported Trump are not going to continue playing Charlie Brown to the investigative Lucy serially jerking the football away. We need to see indictments and trials or punitive plea-bargains, not meaningless slaps on the wrist for “sloppiness” and procedural corner-cutting. Even if juries acquit these rogue bureaucrats, most people will be satisfied that justice has been done.
But relying on members of the guild to investigate fellow guild-members makes it harder to achieve such justice. For example, as Roger Kimball points out, “One reason that it has taken so long for the Horowitz report to see the light of day is that key figures who are named in the report are given a chance to review a draft and to request redactions. Since many of the figures who are central to this story are part of the anti-Trump fraternity in government, we can expect to see, over the next few weeks, numerous leaks and other efforts to spin the contents of the report.”
The integrity and privileges of the guild will often trump what’s best for the people and their freedom. We have seen signs of this in some of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decisions that aim to protect the institutional integrity and prestige of the Supreme Court rather than the Constitution.
Finally, we need a “paradigm shift” in order to reform our hypertrophied federal agencies and discard the worn-out paradigm of technocratic rule, which has led to deficits and debt, and needless regulations that inhibit personal freedom and economic growth. With some obvious exceptions, determining policy is not a subject for science, but for prudence, common sense, and practical wisdom based on a knowledge of human nature and experience as recorded in history. Data provide the means for achieving political ends, but cannot determine those ends. Those should be determined politically through elections and public deliberation by the sovereign people, and subject to Constitutional boundaries, the most important of which is protecting freedom.
And the cornerstone of freedom is equality under the law. The Democrats’ attempts to delegitimize President Trump and disenfranchise his 63 million voters represent the best opportunity to begin shifting our government back to the Founders’ vision of popular sovereignty and practical wisdom as the best guarantor of political freedom.