Hannah Arendt On The Rehabilitation Of George W. Bush

In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Classics, New York, p. 144-145, [1963], 2006), Hannah Arendt, making note of Heinrich Himmler‘s ‘change of heart’–as German defeat loomed in the Second World War–with regards to the Final Solution, as he considered suspending the mass killings at Auschwitz, writes:

It was about at this time that a “moderate wing” of the S.S came into existence, consisting of those who were stupid enough to believe that a murderer who could prove he had not killed as many people as he could have killed would have a marvelous alibi, and those who were clever enough to foresee a return to “normal conditions,” when money and good connections would again be of paramount importance.

George W. Bush is making a comeback, and he is being welcomed back with open arms. He has defended the media, under fire from Donald Trump as the ‘enemies of the people,’ he has bemoaned the ‘racism’ present in the American polity’s discourse; he has received hugs from First Ladies; he has been talked up by stand-up comics and liberal talk-show hosts. Welcome back, Dubya; we missed ya. (Even though you walked back your ‘criticism’ of Donald Trump.)

Love means never having to say you are sorry.

Apparently, we love George W. Bush, a mass murdering war criminal, who oversaw torture on his watch, who having bided his time during the Obama Presidency, has now chosen to speak up during the Donald Trump years, all the better to take advantage of an ostensible dramatic contrast with a crude buffoon. George W. Bush remembers only all too well that the scorn that that is now directed at Trump was once sent his way; he is grateful for the cover our Great Orange Leader has now provided him, especially as he count on the fawning admiration of the same commentariat and pundit class that saw fit to deem Donald Trump ‘presidential’ once he had provided proof of his ability to read a prepared speech for television and indulge in the oldest political clichés of all time, that of paying homage to ‘our troops.’

It is unsurprising that George W. Bush’s stock would rise on stepping down from the Oval Office. Our nation’s memory is short; we are all too eager to believe that everything that happens is sui generis and ab initio (and any other Latin phrases you’d like to deploy to make the same point), that all is unprecedented, extraordinary, novel, utterly lacking in historical provenance. Donald Trump is a singularity, appearing suddenly, dramatically, out of nowhere, posing a radical disjuncture with all that preceded him. We appear unwilling to consider that he is the product of a particular political party with an established track record, one whose leaders waged an illegal war and tortured, who were not prosecuted by the Obama Administration, which then went on to wage more war, and further expand the powers and reach of the executive branch, which now provides a veritable arsenal of loaded weapons to Donald Trump. (To his credit, Trump has not as yet ordered illegal war resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of ‘furriners,’ though he might be sorely tempted to do so, given the standing ovation on Monday night.)

Why wouldn’t we forgive and forget? All the better to prepare ourselves for the next unprecedented moment in American history. The loss of memory is the best way to ensure novelty.

Orin Kerr Thinks Executive Branch Searches of The Press Are a ‘Non-Story’

Orin Kerr suggests the story of the US Department of Justice seizing AP phone records isn’t one, wraps up with a flourish, hands out a few pokes at anti-government paranoia, and then asks a series of what he undoubtedly takes to be particularly incisive and penetrating questions:

Based on what we know so far, then, I don’t see much evidence of an abuse. Of course, I realize that some VC readers strongly believe that everything the government does is an abuse: All investigations are abuses unless there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt to the contrary. To not realize this is to be a pro-government lackey. Or even worse, Stewart Baker. But I would ask readers inclined to see this as an abuse to identify exactly what the government did wrong based on what we know so far. Was the DOJ wrong to investigate the case at all? If it was okay for them to investigate the case, was it wrong for them to try to find out who the AP reporters were calling? If it was okay for them to get records of who the AP reporters were calling, was it wrong for them to obtain the records from the personal and work phone numbers of all the reporters whose names were listed as being involved in the story and their editor? If it was okay for them to obtain the records of those phone lines, was the problem that the records covered two months — and if so, what was the proper length of time the records should have covered?

I get that many people will want to use this story as a generic “DOJ abuse” story and not look too closely at it. And I also understand that those who think leaks are good things will see investigations of leaks as inherently bad. But at least based on what we know so far, I don’t yet see a strong case that collecting these records was an abuse of the investigative process.

This summation and dismissal of the ‘non-story’ of a major news organization having its phone records seized by the legal wing of the executive branch is remarkable for its straightforward intention to treat the questions above as merely rhetorical: Of course, the DOJ is not ‘wrong’ to investigate aggressively, using all means at its disposal, whistleblowers providing information to the press. It should therefore seek to identify them relying on problematic doctrines of search and seizure of personal information provided to third-parties. These searches should be broad and extensive, casting as wide a net as possible.

In this conception of executive power, there is a visible asymmetry: the threat might be perceived dimly, but the response is clear and powerful, with few limits on its application.

For Kerr, therefore, it is a ‘non-story’ when a massive exertion of executive branch power is directed at a component of the polity vital to its information gathering and reporting functions, one of whose central functions has been exercising vigilance and oversight on that same power; it is a ‘non-story’ when exercises of executive power directed toward dubious ends such as prosecuting whistleblowers might result in an attenuated and impaired  domain of political discourse. This is of little concern to Kerr in his reckonings of whether legal propriety has been kept, of whether there has been an ‘abuse of the investigative process.’ But how could there be one, when the context of the ‘investigative process’ matters so little?