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Ending democracy, one good person at a time

There is a Cherokee legend in which a grandfather tells his grandson of a fight between two wolves. The one is evil, angry, envious, arrogant and inferior. The other is good, hopeful, benevolent, compassionate and honest. The grandson asks which wolf will win. The grandfather’s reply? “Whichever you feed.”

On Friday, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III fed everything depraved in the current administration. He fired former Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe, late at night, 26 hours before McCabe was due to resign with a full pension and benefits.  

According to The New York Times, our very own American Solon fired McCabe for a “lack of candor.” Sessions explained that “the F.B.I. expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability.” If Sessions is so enamored of candor, where was his own candor in Judiciary Committee hearings? “I do not recall” rang out as his ungodly refrain. Germans had a joke about Nazi leadership: the perfect Aryan is tall like the diminutive Hitler, blonde like the black-haired Goebbels, and fit like the corpulent Goering. Historically, administrations which don’t practice what they preach are up to nothing good.

The circumstances of this dismissal wreak of all things dictatorial. This firing comes amidst political attacks against law enforcement officers who are simply doing their jobs. Robert Mueller had the unconscionable gall to cross our fragile President’s “red line,” subpoenaing the Trump Organization. According to The Guardian, the Mueller investigation may even turn against favorite child Ivanka. This news broke before the firing. The firing itself comes at the end of a smear campaign against McCabe (per Politico). Jeff Sessions made the termination late on a Friday night. Despite his prattling-on about due process and fair review, Sessions did not fire McCabe in keeping with democratic openness. This was no dismissal. This was an execution.

And what motivated this attack? What did Trump’s junta use to send McCabe packing? What else but Trump’s favorite pretense for childish behavior, the Hillary emails. Fox asserts that “multiple federal probes and reports showed that [McCabe] lied to investigators reviewing the bureau’s probe” into Clinton’s use of emails. But Sessions said McCabe was fired for “unauthorized disclosure” and “lack of candor”—so which is it? 

Let’s hear McCabe’s side, per his statement. What McCabe disclosed, he disclosed by proper channels and with approval. Where there was confusion, McCabe did his utmost to address it. This is nothing new from Trump: using Hillary Clinton’s moronic mistake to axe those who oppose him. Per the Guardian, Trump all but asked Putin for help in ferreting these emails out. And now that Trump is in office, the emails are no longer something to be gloried in—they’re serious government business. They need to be investigated. People need to be fired. Heads must roll. Trump raised the hue and cry over these emails, crying out “No fair!,” and now uses them to oust his opponents. Hypocrisy, thy name is Trump.  

We should ask the same question asked by the Roman jurist Lucius Cassius: cui bono? To whose benefit is this? Let’s consider this through the eyes of Jeff Sessions. He knows the knives are out for him. According to CNN, Trump has tried to edge Sessions out ever since Sessions had the unholy nerve to recuse himself “from any probe related to the 2016 campaign.” In a wild irony, even Robert Mueller investigated this fraught relationship, per The Washington Post. What does Sessions think he stands to gain? The admiration of a childish imposter who hates him? A few more days or weeks or months of service in the Trump administration? By the count of Business Insider, Trump has forced out 20 federal officials, friend and foe alike. Did Jeff Sessions really gamble upon Trump’s loyalty?

There is something about Trump which corrupts. Men who think themselves principled, like Jeff Sessions, become fawning sycophants. The Office of the Inspector General and Attorney General become pawns in Trump’s game of debasing our democratic institutions.

But why should we care? Why should we, Duke University students, care about another official being sacked in Washington? We did care, once. I can remember November 9, 2016. A gray day, and a rainy day, when our campus was eerily quiet. We lit up Facebook with posts about resisting, about Trump not dividing us. We’ve fallen quiet since then. In the meantime, our whole system of governance has been eaten away from the inside. Trump and his cronies pervert everything they touch. Government is not government to them, but one more means to their selfish, crooked, shameless ends. The plum internships we seek on the Hill or in the intelligence community, our hoped-for careers of influence, are cheapened and perverted when people like Trump and Sessions drag government away from its proper purpose. The consequence is damage to the system and the odd character assassination. 

Think of Andrew McCabe: a career civil servant who was not looking for trouble. Trouble found him. If we allow rank abuse to become the new normal, it’s only a matter of time before we too fall victim to its excesses.

I close with a thought from the great democratic theorist Charles de Montesquieu. “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” What happened in Washington on Friday night is not just another firing in a string of firings: it is another step away from democracy and towards corruption. You know best how you can feed the goodness and kindness and honesty in this country; but however you can, you must do it. Nothing else protects us. There is no cavalry. There is no knight in shining armor. There is no “someone-somewhere” about to make a revelation worthy of impeachment, and Robert Mueller’s success is anything but guaranteed. The responsibility of safeguarding our nation’s future rests with “We the People.” It never for a moment left us.

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity junior. His column runs on alternate Mondays.