As a Baltimore Republican who is a child of Manhattan, I am twice a politically homeless person. Our president has told us that the first species is nonexistent, while New York County gave Governor Kasich his only county-level primary victory outside of Ohio. But not only Baltimoreans have seen H. L. Mencken’s famous reflection on the politics of the 1920’s quoted in recent months: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
In today’s America, where presidential tweets do battle with Democratic flash mobs, it is not only executives who can be morons. Exhibit A for this proposition is the letter signed by 22 Democratic members of the House of Representatives on July 19 asking the acting FBI director, the arbiter of all political destinies in their view, to review Ivanka Trump’s security clearance with a view to banishing her from public life or even subjecting her to the felony sanctions helpfully set forth in the letter, “punishable by up to five years in prison.” The focus is on her security clearance form: “Did she declare her brother’s and husband’s meetings?”
This is grim evidence of the extent to which the security clearance and document classification culture of the McCarthy era has been embraced by today’s Democrats. Gone are the days when Harry S. Truman characterized his loyalty-security order of 1947 as his worst mistake while President. Forgotten are the warnings about that order of the liberal lawyer Lloyd Garrison in the University of Chicago Law Review in 1955 decrying “the building up of a large establishment of secret police, the creation of a new profession of security officer with vested interests in perpetuating the existing regimes.”
Also forgotten are the cautionary words of Mencken’s friend Alistair Cooke about practices which “gave the FBI an unparalleled inquiry into private lives that…could open up for generations of mischief-makers a wholesale house of blackmail. It tended to limit by intimidation what no Western society worth the name can safely limit: the curiosity and idealism of the young…a high premium would be put on the chameleon and the politically neutral slob.”
The attempt to portray Ivanka Trump as a security risk makes one wonder about the fate of other less-decorative White House ladies under the Democrats’ desired security regime. What would have become of Eleanor Roosevelt, who consorted with many communists and ex-communists, including her estimable biographer Joseph Lash? What of the feminist Betty Ford and her “rad-lib” friends from Bennington? The pacifically-inclined Nancy Reagan might have been separated from public life due to her association with an astrologer, a potential American Rasputin, as would Hillary Rodham Clinton, because of her summer association as a law student with the firm of the charming and avuncular Robert Treuhaft, former chairman of the Communist Party of California, and his communist wife Decca Mitford.
Each casual scribble by a bureaucrat is now classified for 20 years as though it was the plans for the Normandy invasion. Each applicant for a low-level position in the Department of Agriculture must provide a list of his college landladies. What do the FBI counter-intelligence vetters expect to find? “I remember him well. He used to beat his wife regularly every Wednesday evening. The screams were just terrible!” As for the longevity of restrictions, this writer has devoted the last four years in a thus-far vain effort to have the CIA explain its failure to disgorge the suicide notes of James Kronthal, an official who died 64 years ago, in 1953.
At the time of the second Iraq War, the Democrats, with the honorable exception of the late Senator Robert Byrd, fled to the nearest political bomb shelter. Like George Wallace, who vowed not to be “out-segged,” they vowed not to be outdone by their hawkish Republican counterparts. Trump and the Republicans are now to be depicted as stooges for the dreaded Russians, whose decrepit regime of crony capitalism has succeeded Osama bin Laden as the new world menace.
The Congressional demands for evacuation of the Crimea much resemble the American demand that the Japanese evacuate Manchuria (as distinct from the rest of China) before World War II. It is a demand which will not be acceded to in any conceivable Russian government. The Ukraine, whose borders were defined by the late President Nikita Khrushchev, was never a unified or viable state, and was not intended to be one. Sessions of its parliament resembled a football match more than democratic deliberations. The United States was not blameless in its disintegration; it fostered the so-called Orange Revolution, gave its corrupt politicians half a billion dollars a year, and sent its fleet to swan around the Black Sea, not an area of vital interest to the United States. Whatever Russian Ambassador Krysiak’s sins, he was not found on the Washington Mall giving cookies to demonstrators seeking to overthrow the American government.
The fearless twenty-two who seek to strip Ivanka Trump of her security designation deserve to be immortalized. They are Democratic Congressmen Don Beyer (Va.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Jackie Speir (Calif.), Jamie Raskin (Md.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Peter Welch (Vt.), Joseph Kennedy (Mass.), Barbara Lee (Caifl.), Frank Pallone (N.J.), Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.), Pramila Jayapul (Wash.), Alcee Hastings (Fla.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), Alma Adams (N.C.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Donald Payne Jr. (N.J.), Bonnie Watson Gleanen (N.J.), and David Price (N.C.)
Like the Emperor in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado the Republicans now “have got a little list/ And they’ll none of them be missed.”
What would Mencken say? His three great political causes were opposition to Prohibition, to lynching, and to the Red Scare of the 1920’s. His view of today’s non-Red Scare would be that morons can also inhabit the Capitol end of the National Mall.
George W. Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer and Senior Academic Visitor of Wolfson College, Cambridge is the author of Diplomacy Between the Wars, The Last American Diplomat, and The Fall of the House of Speyer (I.B.Tauris), among other works.