In a recent white paper, the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy’s Christopher Mott examines a deep realignment in American political ideology, the replacement of "the older rationalizations for primacy, hegemony, and interventionism" with "neo-imperialism with a moral face." Mott finds that this ongoing transition reflects changes in ruling class norms. American elites, more connected than ever with state actors and state power, now see continued U.S. empire, global dominance, and interventionism as clear moral goods. Elites’ Bush-era skepticism of American empire seems to be long gone. Mott finds a new revival of the "Atlanticist tendency to push moralism and social engineering globally." As professional elites have converged on the new state-sanctioned ideology, it has become increasingly important to publicly signal one’s loyalty to it, which has created a feedback loop that favors continued interventionism.
This realignment has revived Cold War McCarthyism, but with an unexpected twist: America’s "liberal" party is now at the loud, obnoxious forefront of denouncing putative traitors and praising the likes of the military, the FBI and the CIA. In a new piece for The Atlantic, for example, political scientist Dominic Tierney makes this realignment explicit, praising the US military as an egalitarian institution and "the world’s anti-fascist insurance policy." To Tierney, in choosing the side of military intervention, American liberals and progressives have chosen the right side.
It’s hard to imagine on its face. Not so very long ago, a strange realignment of this kind was almost impossible to conceive. Happenstance and odd historical contingencies have convinced the American mainstream left (perhaps center-left) that the military, national security, and intelligence apparatuses are the people’s servants, steadfast in their dedication to justice and the rule of law. Russiagate – a batty conspiracy theory founded upon the admittedly understandable desire to sink Donald Trump – created a strange, although not altogether unexpected, alignment between educated, urban liberals (whom we might’ve expected to know better) and a military and intelligence establishment that successive generations of the real left have warned us about. Their warnings have focused on the unaccountable power of agencies whose actions seem to be beyond the reach of our democratic representatives – whose powers extend to spying on and even murdering American citizens without even the semblance of due process. The kind of thing, that is, that we might expect liberals to care about, a little bit if not deeply.
But the Trump realignment has turned anti-authoritarianism on its head: establishment liberals, reacting to Trump’s anti-Washington, anti-federal bureaucracy rhetoric (and it was rhetoric only), have positioned themselves as the defenders of all of America’s military empire and of worst intelligence and law enforcement bodies in our country’s history. Today, somehow, smart, educated liberals don’t want to be perceived as resisting the unaccountable power of the federal government, or of defending individual rights, or of opposing "humanitarian" interventions abroad.
Is it worth asking about the psychological predicates of such a shift. The trend Mott’s paper considers is part of a more general one that has reshaped elite thinking in the United States during the years since Donald Trump became a major force and influence in American politics. Close consideration of these psychological conditions reminds of William M. Arkin’s letter of resignation from his position at NBC News.
Arkin, a real investigative journalist known for challenging Washington power structures and asking big questions, expressed alarm "at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war." For Arkin, it was baffling that supposedly liberal elites in the legacy news media would "yearn for the Cold War" and "lionize" a "historically destructive institution" such as the FBI. The journalism profession seemed to be judging positions based on a desire to signal opposition to Trump, rather than on the merits of argument and evidence. Anyone even the least bit familiar with American history knows that our government, through bodies like the FBI, the CIA, and the armed forces, has perpetrated a continuous war against the American people generally, and the civil rights and civil liberties communities in particular.
If we’re not careful, this new Cold War could surpass the original in its potential for destruction and harm. Just last month, former CIA official Graham E. Fuller remarked on the fanatical Russophobia now gripping the country. Fuller, a Harvard-trained former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, observed, "The bias is extraordinary – I never saw anything like this when I was involved in Russian affairs during the Cold War." Americans are at yet another national moment of reckoning: as we began to react against suicidal interventionism and empire, elites publicly shifted their weigh and crafted a new ideological paradigm for "humanitarian intervention." Let’s not buy it again.
David S. D’Amato is an attorney, businessman, and independent researcher. He is a Policy Advisor to both the Heartland Institute and the Future of Freedom Foundation. He has written in Newsweek, Investor’s Business Daily, RealClearPolitics, The Washington Examiner, and many other popular and scholarly publications, and his work has been cited by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, among others.