SUBORDINATING EVERY VIRTUE TO POWER*
Untitled, Engraved Printmaking Plate, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Within the purview of the executive branch, Individual-1 has set out to crush and dismember anyone who served or threatens to serve as a legal or institutional check on his criminality and that of his campaign. The same is true of anyone within that branch who is foolish enough to resist his abuses of power. As the centerpiece of her July 5, 2019 show, Rachel Maddow replayed her May 10, 2019 interview of former FBI general counsel James Baker. The Baker interview poignantly reminds us that with Individual-1 the focus of applied power turned away from serving its constituents to amassing, consolidating, protecting and preserving itself. Individual-1 succeeded in recruiting people who willingly subordinate every personal virtue to that power.
Baker was among those in charge of overseeing the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. He and others in leadership at the FBI became targets of Individual-1’s wrath and public attacks, resulting in their terminations or demotions and in the case of Andrew McCabe the loss of his pension within hours of its vesting, to the sadistic delight of Individual-1.
The attorney general, who applied for the job by declaring his allegiance to the unitary executive, while paying only lip service to the Constitution, began a pretextual investigation of the investigation. I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Vice where Cheney explains to Bush-2 that whatever the CIA chooses to do to enemy combatants, by definition, can’t be torture because . . . well . . . the United States doesn’t do torture. See! Likewise, whatever the president does to interfere with an investigation of his own misconduct and criminality, by definition, doesn’t qualify as obstruction of justice because, well, the president doesn’t do obstruction. He can’t. It’s right there in the Constitution. Plain as day.
Going forward, any dedicated professional in any investigative, intelligence or prosecutorial agency within the executive branch who conducts an inquiry that could somehow implicate Individual-1 (or someone close to him) and who reports his/her findings is on notice that his/her livelihood and reputation will be annihilated. Do we even need to ask what, if any, chilling effect that could have on career professionals’ willingness to undertake such an investigation when the facts scream for it? Ms. Maddow did. Mr. Baker aptly responded that anyone who does his/her job under those circumstances is now assured that s/he will lose her/his job and suffer daily public humiliation.
The same is true of anyone who has the gall to challenge Individual-1 on facts, common sense or reason.
Over time and of necessity, these people are being replaced with persons of lesser backbone, resilience and self-respect, weakening the institutions and reducing the likelihood that Individual-1 will be held to account. That’s the point. Mr. Comey did not misinterpret Individual-1’s intimation that continuing employment in the administration was conditioned on loyalty to him.
Then Congressman Amash did something honorable, patriotic actually, for which he, too, was stood against a wall and executed — figuratively. I praised him on social media, not for his tea party affiliation and polices with which I strongly disagree, but for the courage he exhibited in refusing to accede to the immoral directives of party leaders to attack both the messenger (the Special Counsel) and the message (the Mueller Report) in the face of an executive whose rise was ably abetted by a Russian conspiracy and his own crimes against the United States.
Amash read the Mueller Report. I suspect no one else in Congress who claims affiliation with the party of Individual-1 has actually done so. Many will boast they did and claim “no collusion” and “total exoneration” which means they didn’t read it, are incapable of understanding it, are liars, or all of the above. As difficult as it must have been to read the Report in the face of extreme party resistance, Amash seems to have understood it. He appears to understand what it means to the sovereignty and integrity of the country when foreign influence infiltrates and compromises the highest levels of the United States government. He also seems to understand the damage to the rule of law when the chief executive, the person responsible for its impartial implementation, engages in serial, flagrant attempts to undermine the investigation of foreign interference his campaign welcomed. On this point, Amash transcended politics all the way to the Constitution.
Setting aside politics and refusing to subordinate personal integrity to party loyalty, Amash concluded that the Report detailed conduct of sufficient gravity to necessitate impeachment. He, too, became the target of Individual-1’s wrath and public attacks. He went it alone. No one from within the party of Individual-1 was willing to commit political suicide by publicly stepping forward to defend Amash or his position. The rest of them continue to subordinate personal integrity and courage to power. The Washington Post reported that some so-called Republican House members privately reached out to Amash to offer encouragement and support when he called for Individual-1’s impeachment and again when he left the party. Amash said, “they’re not saying it publicly, and it’s problematic for our country and the Republican Party — and the Democratic Party — when they’re not allowed to speak out.”
What happens when people are unwilling to exercise any moral courage and maintain any personal integrity? In this administration, they get a paycheck. They get praised on Twitter and Fox. The people who willingly compromise themselves by attempting to defend, justify or explain Individual-1, too many now to count, are disgraces, betrayers of their country, and national and international embarrassments. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that history will remember them as such. I don’t believe in karma but if there is such a thing, it’s going to be a bitch.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard’s list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers