Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ignoring The Elephant In The Room and Why Michael Hayden Has No Credibility To Bring Back The Time of Truth

Through Echidne, I came to read Michael Hayden's New York Times opinion piece, The End of Intelligence, about how all falls to Hobbesian chaos in which only power matters when people don't distinguish between truth and non-truth, truth and lies.   There is certainly a lot in the piece that is worth considering how with Donald Trump "post-truth" has come of age and how with that fruition comes fascism.   I'd like to agree with more of what he says about the origins of this phenomenon, skimpy as it is.   I think this passage carries a lot of his argument, before I go into specific parts of it.

We in the intelligence world have dealt with obstinate and argumentative presidents through the years. But we have never served a president for whom ground truth really doesn’t matter.

For many Americans, this is not a problem. Last year, I met a few of them in the back room of a Pittsburgh sports bar where my brother had arranged for several dozen Trump supporters to meet with me.

I knew many of them, indeed had grown up with several. But we could have been from different planets. They were angry. They work hard, pay taxes and struggle to raise children, but feel neglected by their government. And Donald Trump is still their guy. “He is an American.” “He is genuine.” “He doesn’t filter everything or parse every word.”

They didn’t seem very interested in facts, either. Or at least not in my facts. Political partisanship in America has become what David Brooks calls “totalistic.” Partisan identity, as he writes, fills “the void left when their other attachments wither away — religious, ethnic, communal and familial.” Beliefs are now so tied to these identities that data is not particularly useful to argue a point.

Intelligence work — at least as practiced in the Western liberal tradition — reflects these threatened Enlightenment values: gathering, evaluating and analyzing information, and then disseminating conclusions for use, study or refutation.

I am a lot less impressed with the "Enlightenment" than Hayden is and certainly would question relying on the insights of David Brooks, especially the "both sides" equivocating "equal treatment" that doesn't identify this choice to not care if something is a lie or not where it belongs, with Brooks' and Hayden's Republican Party.   And I would certainly put a lot of the responsibility for that squarely on the areas of life which they value - what has happened generally in society is that the non-ethics of business and the amorality of scientism have pervaded the general way of thinking.  It is the decline of absolute moral standards which led us into this and it is something the ascendancy of which I would start in that very "Enlightenment" and its attack on morals as hard truths. 

That it is a man who has worked in military intelligence and then the CIA who wrote this is remarkable.   Neither of those two professions are notable for telling the truth.  Maybe they've told it to presidents or generals or admirals sometimes, but they're more likely to conceal the truth from the public in order to deprive We The People of information we would need to disapprove or stop their clandestine activities, to hoodwink us out of believing truths, as found convenient or in support of a generally amoral or quite evil campaign of violence somewhere, not rarely for the profitability of American corporations. 

The spy industry, in this case the United States' spy industry not only practiced purposeful lying, they promoted it through the American media, which is where people have been swayed to give up caring about the truth. 

Since the topic is Trump let's set out one very heard truth NEARLY EVERYTHING THAT IS IN DONALD TRUMP'S HEAD WAS PUT THERE BY AMERICAN TELEVISION AND HOLLYWOOD MOVIES.   Trump was created by the American entertainment industry, it created his public persona and image, it created him in the great TV-Hollywood glorification of businessmen and brainless frivolity and crass Mammonism during the Reagan years.   The first time I saw anything about Donald Trump, other than his name, was on the WGBH show This Old House in 1983.  The first thing I remember thinking about him and his Trump Tower were that they were monumentally vulgar, crass and a perfect symbol of the Reagan era and the Republican politics and the media which had lied us into him becoming president.  Whenever I hear a media figure, even those I might generally like invoking the name of Ronald Reagan to bemoan the depths we have fallen to under Trump, all I can do is shake my head because Trump is a culmination of the same forces that brought Reagan to office.

Considering the fact that Trump doesn't read, something Hayden notes in his piece,  is remarkable that a man who was the head of the CIA would mention television only once, and that once is a quote from the very mind of the man under discussion.

He defended his calls for the intentional killing of the Sept. 11 terrorists’ families because “they knew what was happening” and had “watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center,” something for which there is zero evidence.

He believed that because Trump's mind is a mind formed on American television, especially the deregulated propaganda led television that is the same source of the thinking of his hard-core, post-truth believers.  And every single thing that was put on American television was put there by choices made by the owners, producers, directors, writers and on-air personalities, it came out of them.  Remember the use of media and other propaganda by the CIA and military intelligence, such as in Iran in the overthrowing of the democratic ruler Mohammad Mosaddegh.  We are still living with the aftermath of that CIA use of lies to defeat democracy, just now in Trump's imminent destruction of the Iran deal, though the American Intelligence Community would seem to have realized that would be catastrophic, it's also mentioned in Hayden's article.

Trump and the Age of Lies his elevation to the degraded presidency of the United States symbolizes, has a much longer and far more complicated history though it is largely the product of allowing the media to lie, to blur the distinctions between a careful telling of the truth and the PR techniques of show-biz production in the enormous number of hours of our lives spent watching TV and movies and other electronic entertainment - the CIA and other intelligence agencies have certainly had their hands in that, the entertainment industry has always been a participant in selling lies and dissuading people of the truth and encouraging them not to care about those distinctions.   The New York Times has certainly been part of that, need I mention its bragging about getting legal protection for media lying in the Sullivan decision again? 

The general protests too much.  Maybe if he'd spent more time on moral theology during the course of his Catholic school education instead of concentrating on football and his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, he'd be able to discern that he doesn't have clean hands when it comes to constructing the Age of Lies we are now enduring.   But, then, he's also a man who has asserted that torture is useful as a means of obtaining the truth.   His current act as seen in this New York Times piece is a bit of post-truth, or caring about the truth.  Here's some hard truth from the Columbia Journalism Review.

ON THE SUBJECT OF DONALD TRUMP and his relationship with intelligence agencies, there’s one commentator you are bound to see quoted more than anyone else: Michael Hayden, the former NSA chief and CIA director under George W. Bush.

It doesn’t matter what cable channel you prefer (CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News), what talk show you watch (The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Real Time with Bill Maher), or website you read (The New York Times, Washington Post, or The Wall Street Journal), Hayden is everywhere, commenting on the day’s news, while inevitably being portrayed as Mr. Reasonable: a post-partisan straight shooter who will tell you How It Really Works.

But members of the media who play along with this fantasyland portrayal of Hayden should be embarrassed. Hayden has a long history of making misleading and outright false statements, and by the estimation of many lawyers, likely committed countless felonies during the Bush administration. It is something of a wonder that someone responsible for so many reprehensible acts is now considered a totally above-the-fray, honest commentator on all issues intelligence.

It’s easy to see why television bookers keep calling his phone. Hayden smiles and tries to tell jokes (like when he “joked” about putting Edward Snowden on a kill list—so funny!), he uses clever turns of phrase (he called the NSA’s massive metadata surveillance program “dipping our toe” in domestic collection), and occasionally overshares about US intelligence activities (Comparing US and Russian cyber aggression, he said: “A foreign intelligence service getting the internal emails of a major political party in a major foreign adversary? Game on. That’s what we do.”)

These days, Hayden is the go-to authority on Trump’s on-again, off-again war with US intelligence agencies, and most recently, Trump’s discredited allegation that President Obama ordered Trump Tower “wiretapped.” No example could be more perfect to show what a fraud Hayden is.

Now, it’s clear Trump was living in his own warped reality when he falsely tweeted that Obama himself “ordered” a “wiretapp” on Trump Tower. But Hayden gets away with commenting at length on the topic with nary a mention that he himself actually did carry out a wiretapping program on Americans directly ordered by a president.

I would call your attention to the part that TV is playing in the reinvention of Michael Hayden.

1 comment:

  1. The ironic bit, because I don't think this is quite intentional (but in another way it is) is how much this apes the typical stance you get from reporters interviewing people in Russia: complete distrust of the state, strong willingness to accept any number of conspiracy theories, the more outlandish the better, and if they contradict each other, who notices?, and a willingness to believe any damn fool thing because they've never had any real political power (the Communists were just the Czars without the family lineage, and since Gorbachev, what really has changed about the way things are run from Moscow?).

    It's perfectly in-line with totalitarianism, of course; so it isn't so much that it's a po-mo world where Foucault unleashed monsters (I read something on those lines earlier today, from someone trying to sound clever), but just the same old "2+2=5" of Orwell's Big Brother dystopia. Nothing new under the sun, in other words, and no need to blame it on "new" strains of thought.

    And yes, it is a serious problem.