May 23, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Who Hates America Now?
Brennan, Clapper and Hayden are blazing a trail for the Democrats. They should take it.
As the Democrats prepare for November, they are no longer permitting the president to linger in the background of their “affirmative messaging.” What they’re talking about when they talk about bald-faced corruption is none other than Donald Trump.
This is a major pivot from earlier in the year when Democratic candidates in primaries and special elections avoided attacking him directly for fear of alienating fence-sitting Republicans who don’t like liberals but can’t stand the president either.
But circumstances are forcing the Democrats to take more active measures. In the wake of daily reporting about prodigal cabinet members and pay-for-play, the party leadership released Monday a platform taking aim at corruption, money in politics, and voting rights. The argument, prominent earlier this year, about whether to stand for something or against Trump appears to be over. The answer is both.
I hope the Democrats can see they need not stop there. This president, and this Republican Party, has given them a new opportunity. The GOP has forfeited its previous exclusive claim to patriotism. It’s time for the Democrats take it, and run.
Before Trump, it was normal for the Republicans to accuse the Democrats, especially former President Obama, of hating America. Literally, hating it. The slander was as unscrupulous and unfair as it was commonplace in certain quarters of the country, far more common than liberals care to concede. Even so, it was credible, at least to some Republicans, as long as a Democrat was sitting in the White House and the Republican Party’s post-Sept 11 brand remained synonymous with red-blooded patriotism.
But since Russian flags broke out at the Republican National Convention in July 2016, the Republican Party’s claim to country-above-all has softened. The erosion began slowly, steadily, until news of the Kremlin’s interference turned a trickle into a stream that, after Trump’s fired FBI Director James Comey, blossomed into a torrent.
By the time Rick Saccone, a Republican House candidate, in March told supporters in Pennsylvania that the Democrats “have a hatred for our president … [and] for our country,” it was already understood that “Republican” was no longer a byword for “patriot.” “Patriot” had instead become another word for “Republican.”
The Democrats must capitalize on this, just as they are capitalizing now on this administration’s bald-faced corruption in order to better position themselves for the midterms. But they need not take the lead. There is a path, but will they take it?
Trump’s presidency has sparked a backlash among the old wise men who ran the country’s national security apparatus with mild contempt for petty partisanship, and they are blazing a new trail. At a minimum, the Democrats benefit by simple comparison. While Trump seeks to obstruct justice, the Democrats can win by merely standing with these old wise men, patriots who really did put country above all.
Former CIA Director John Brennan regularly blasts Trump. On Sunday, he wrote on Twitter that if he dares interfere with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will “bear major responsibility for the harm done to our democracy. You do a great disservice to our Nation & the Republican Party if you continue to enable Mr. Trump’s self-serving actions.”
Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper took it a step further in his new book, Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence, accusing the GOP leaders of indifference after learning that Kremlin agents were attacking our democracy. Neither seemed to care as long as a Republican won, he wrote. “I saw that our efforts ended up having all the impact of another raindrop in a storm at sea.”
Former CIA and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden may be the most critical of the three. He said that the president’s demand for the identity an FBI informant embedded in his campaign undermines intelligence gathering as well as public trust. He told CNN: “Whatever it is you might think it does for your short term personal or political needs, it is doing great danger to the fabric of our government.”
In his new book, The Assault on Intelligence, Hayden said: It “is not that civil war or societal collapse is necessarily imminent or inevitable here in America, but that the structures, processes, and attitudes we rely on to prevent those kinds of occurrences are under stress, and that many of the premises on which we have based our governance, policy and security are now challenged, eroded or simply gone.”
Brennan, Clapper and Hayden aren’t perfect allies. As Matthew Continetti rightly noted in a Times book review, Hayden’s “laudable case for the intelligence community does not dwell on the things the community has gotten wrong, from the fall of the Soviet Union to 9/11 to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Nor does he reckon with the questionable practices of officials who leak secrets, misrepresent themselves to Congress and respond in kind to Trump’s outlandish rhetoric.”
Even so, together Brennan, Clapper and Hayden represent for the Democrats a political means of seizing the patriotic high ground that the Republicans are clearly, and eagerly, retreating from. Standing with them is to stand for the United States, and against everything that the United States itself stand against, like autocracy.
All Democrats need do is stand by these sentiments to seize terrain the Republicans once dominated in the months and years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 when it was all but impossible to voice any kind of dissent for fear of being accused of, well, hating America. The difference is that now, post-2016, the party of patriotism, so-called, has pledged alliance to a man more than its country, and the values, norms, traditions, and institutions that, right and wrong, good and bad, make it what it is.
As the Democrats evolve from standing for something, like Medicare for all, to standing against something, like Trump’s bald-faced corruption, I hope they will take the next step on a path already established by the very men charged with the awesome duty of protecting this country. Voters need to hear a story of a nation coming to grips with its past and finding a way to the future. As these men enter their final chapters, they leave behind a new beginning—if the Democrats are willing to take it.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.