It’s a strange time to be alive. Last week, prior to the release of the Nunes memo, the New York Times ran an editorial bemoaning “the Republican plot against the F.B.I.” The editorial board claims that Donald Trump and Rep. Nunes were “cynically undermining the nation’s trust in law enforcement [and] fostering an environment of permanent suspicion and subterfuge.” Well, shut the front door. It wasn’t that long ago that the director of the FBI admitted that (a) a presidential candidate had serially and recklessly mishandled highly classified information, and (b) the government wasn’t going to do anything about it. That’s trust, right?
Are we supposed to assume that the FBI has some sort of bottomless well of good humor with the American body politic—that the average American citizen doesn’t already regard the bureau with wariness at best and more likely outright cynicism? I do not mean to, er, “foster an environment of permanent suspicion,” except that, well—sort of I do. This is the American republic; our animating principle is more or less exactly what the New York Times editorial board is afraid of, i.e. reflexive mistrust and skepticism of the central government. The crown jewel of our Constitution—the Bill of Rights—was put there precisely because a bunch of gentlemen farmers and revolutionaries, and a large-enough portion of the public standing behind them, were repulsed by the centralized authority that the constitution put in place.
I want my fellow Americans to be suspicious of the FBI and the CIA and the ONI and the FDA and the USDA and the VA and the DMV and the executive branch and the legislative branch and the judicial branch and anything else that might go on up there. It is a healthy thing, and a good one.
This sort of mistrust is not the norm of modern Western civilization; apart from Italy during tax season, most citizens of the West tend to see their government, in varying degrees, as a cross between a sugar daddy and a dominatrix. There is something so quaintly pathetic about it all. A number of years ago, around the time of the budget battles near the end of Barack Obama’s first term, a lot of people—most of them Democrats—were saying lots of very stupid things like, “Government is just the name we give to the things we choose to do together,” and calling the federal government the “federal family,” probably the saddest and most richly contemptible re-branding effort in American history. I remember this because at the time these slogans seemed so transparently desperate, the grasping ruse of people who recognize that Washington is a cesspool of dysfunction and thievery and unconstitutional usurpation but who were either too ashamed or else too avaricious to admit it.
This is wrong. The government is not your family, and we only do things “together” through it because if we don’t then big men come to our houses with handcuffs and throw us in prison. It is good to mistrust the massive, bloated, corrupt, inefficient, grossly expensive and wasteful federal leviathan; indeed it is among the most American things you can do. Is it all bad? No—not all of it, and “reflexively” be suspicious of your government is not the same as being obstinately suspicious of it. But still, the obvious truth remains: most of it is rotten and wholly worthy of your contempt, a stinking circle-jerk of graft and political opportunism designed to take money from you, burn it on useless crap, and enrich people who do not deserve it. And as Nunes’s memo aptly showed, the American intelligence apparatus is among the institutions that do not deserve our intrinsic trust. Don’t feel bad about looking askance at your government; it is your birthright as an American.