Since ancient times, it has always been scary when moral auditors audit their own. Or as the Roman satirist Juvenal put it of male guardians entrusted to shield chaste girls from randy males, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (“Who will watch the watchmen?”)
When humans sense that there’s neither an earthly nor divine deterrent between them and social acceptance, power, riches, or their appetites, what follows is a foregone conclusion.
Such exemption is precisely the problem with modern American progressivism. It currently enjoys almost a captive mainstream media. It assumes the lockstep approval of the university. The movies that come out of Hollywood pound progressive themes. Most foundations fund race, class, and gender agendas. Popular culture has defined cool and hip as left-wing. In sum, all the secular dispensators of moral approval are hard left.
The result is that progressive actors and institutions understand that even their bad behavior will be contextualized rather than audited. Such medieval-style exemption gives them a natural blank check to overreach and to act unethically, crudely, and even unlawfully — as they might not have if they had expected ramifications.
After all, Johnny Depp, Peter Fonda, Robert de Niro, Madonna, Snoop Dogg, and other exhibitionists factored into their obscene presidential vituperation that the powers that matter to them — movie moguls, film critics, media hosts, neighbors in their tony zip codes, universities — would award their hate or at least nod at it. Far less vitriol aimed at President Obama would have earned social and career ostracism, whether one was an erstwhile birther like Donald Trump or a Missouri State Fair clown wearing an Obama mask. Had Mike Pence hugged, kissed, squeezed, and blown the hair of women and girls in the serial fashion of good old liberal Joe Biden, he would have likely been asked to step down from his vice presidency.
The career of liar, conspiracist, racist, and anti-Semite Al Sharpton took off after his Tawana Brawley hoax — soaring onto cable TV and into the hugs of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The likes of a Bill Maher, Alec Baldwin, Barbra Streisand, Joe Biden, and Harry Reid know they can say almost anything they wish, on the premise that their occasional racist, sexist, and hate-filled slurs were long ago indemnified by cheap progressive virtue-signaling.
Say what one wishes about President Trump, but his first two years were the most scrutinized, audited, and examined of any presidential tenure in memory. It was not so much that Donald Trump’s inner moral voice would never have approved of a Lois Lerner in the IRS, or of his intelligence services and FBI sandbagging a Democratic presidential campaign, or of his attorney general surveilling Associated Press and Fox journalists or flying on a government jet to the Belmont Stakes with his family.
The point was instead that Trump likely could not have gotten away with any of that in his first two years. And that fact was known to Trump — given media coverage that was more than 90 percent negative, a hostile administrative state, and a censorious culture.
The exact opposite geography characterized the governance of his predecessor — and it showed, from Benghazi to the 2016 systematic subterfuge of the Trump campaign and transition.
In the past three weeks, we’ve seen an epidemic of all sorts of progressive exemption.
Christopher Steele, Fusion GPS, Perkins Coie, the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Hillary Clinton herself all assumed that a likely soon-to-be president Hillary Clinton, a 90+ percent obsequiously loyal press, and their own smug moral superiority could trump facts: To allege that Trump was a treasonous Russian stooge was to prove that he was, and thus such allegations need not be convincing or even sane.
I emphasize “sane” because anyone with a laptop, an Internet connection, and a high-school diploma in three days could have mastered the intelligence lingo and the scare capitals of Christopher’s Steele’s silly dossier format. An eighth-grader could have googled all sorts of Russian names, collated social-media conspiratorial websites, and come up with something far better. “Dossier” is a euphemism for Steele’s collected adolescent farces.
That is, an amateur sleuth at home in the basement in his proverbial pajamas would probably at least have double-checked to make sure that Michael Cohen’s wife was Ukrainian not Russian, or would not have claimed that her father (who apparently visited Russia once) was a mysterious leading property developer in Moscow.
In any make-believe scenario, certainly I would not have claimed that Carter Page was in line for a huge multimillion-dollar Russian commission — allegedly a 19 percent stake in Russia’s state oil company. Steele did not need to exhaust all the ways to make up titles and names to authenticate gossip and fabrications, given that within a few pages his anonymous tropes grow monotonous: “former top Russian intelligence officer,” “trusted compatriot,” “a number of Russian figures,” “Trump associate,” “Source E,” “source close to,” “an official close to,’’ “Kremlin insider,” etc.
Still, Steele’s sinister genius was in knowing that the more outrageously sensational his dossier, the more likely it would be read by the influential — as a titillated Clapper and Brennan knew when they first briefed Obama on the crude and salacious details. And in turn, the more daring Steele became in disguising his legends as fact, the less chance his liberal enablers would ever call him to account. And he was right, from his allegations of naked prostitutes to the golden showers desecrating Obama’s former hotel bed.
The former directors of the FBI, the CIA, and National Intelligence, top-ranking officials at the Department of Justice, FISA justices, all the media networks, CNN and MSNBC, and newspapers swallowed Steele’s pseudo–Mission Impossible grammarese and page footers in the mumbo-jumbo capital letters “CONFIDENTIAL/SENSITIVE SOURCE” because 1) they saw his clownish product as useful in ridding themselves of the hated Trump, and 2) they knew there would be no downside to being wrong.
They too were all correct, at least for three years and notwithstanding a lot of damage done to the country. When former Obama official John Brennan swore in May 2017 that before the election he’d had no direct knowledge of the Steele dossier, he knew that he was lying under oath to Congress, as he had in the past, and also that, as in the past, there would be no consequences for his perfidy. Do not underestimate the power of the current apologies that amount more or less to: “Okay, you finally exposed our con. Sorry — so can we now move on to the next one?”
Consequences? Not much. Perhaps the walls will close in on James Clapper’s cable-television gig. Or a contrite John Brennan might make one last televised accusation that his confidential, top-secret, oh-so-covert source misled him.
Would the right-wing doppelgänger of Jussie Smollett in 2019 Chicago even have tried to pull off a commensurate victimhood caper?
In a bizarro world, imagine a diminutive, white, straight, MAGA-hatted Trump supporter who was a minor actor in the reality show Ice Road Truckers who was by chance out walking in his MAGA-friendly, left-wing Chicago neighborhood on a frigid night at 2 a.m.
In such an alternative scenario, he would claim that by accident he suddenly encountered two large, gay, black, Farrakhan-hatted toughs, themselves out prowling in search of just such an obnoxious, white, straight, Trump-MAGA-hatted actor.