Over the years, I’ve been asked to run anonymous letters dozens of times, but I’ve never done so. The explanation is always the same: Our readers have a right to judge the validity of a submitted opinion based on who you are and whether you have an ax to grind against the subject of your letter.
The opinion editors of the New York Times obviously feel differently. On Sept. 5, they ran a hyperbolic op-ed entitled “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration” that the newspaper said was written by a “senior official in the Trump administration.”
The op-ed told us nothing new. It merely confirmed what has been obvious for a long time — that many figures in the Washington, D.C., establishment fear President Donald Trump and are working to undermine his administration. That doesn’t justify giving the op-ed’s author the privilege of speaking under cover of darkness. If there is someone in the White House working to subvert the president’s agenda, the rest of us — the American people who elected President Trump — have a right to know who that is, and the president has a right to hold that person accountable.
Of course, the New York Times could have just turned their anonymous op-ed into one more of their anonymous sources that they quote daily in their own tireless efforts to subvert the president. That would have been more fitting, since at least we already know what the Times’ agenda is.
The smartest thing former grey eminence Steve Bannon ever said was when he called the national mainstream media “the opposition party.” The Democratic Party barely has a presence on the national stage these days; it is CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post that carry forward the left-wing banner these days.
The word treason has been thrown around recently to describe the attempts to undermine the presidency of Donald Trump, and though treason as a crime has a very narrow definition in the United States, it also has a broader meaning that is certainly appropriate to describe the betrayal of the president and the Constitution by various powerful people and institutions.
In some ways, we are living through a new and more intense version of “The Treason of the Intellectuals,” described by French author Julien Benda in his book of that name in 1928. “Our age,” he wrote, “is the age of the intellectual organization of political hatreds.” Anyone who watched the Senate Judiciary Committee’s disgraceful hearing on the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court knows that we are still living in such an age, only more so.
Benda wrote at the beginning of the age of mass communication, and yet he already saw that “political passions have attained a universality never before known. … Thanks to the progress of communication and, still more, to the group spirit, it is clear that the holders of the same political hatred now form a compact impassioned mass, every individual of which feels himself in touch with the infinite number of others, whereas a century ago such people were comparatively out of touch with each other and hated in a ‘scattered’ way.”
The internet has accelerated these changes in ways that Benda could never have imagined, but he did state that these “coherences” of passion “will tend to develop still further, for the will to group is one of the most profound characteristics of the modern world.”
It seems that we are now living out Benda’s worst nightmare — an age of manipulation of the masses by those who think they know better — whether you call them the “deep state,” the “opposition party,” “the national elite,” “the entrenched bureaucracy,” or just “the establishment.”
Benda’s conception of the intellectuals, which he distinguished in the original French text as “clercs,” is in opposition to the laymen or the masses, and thus should be understood as a class of people who envision themselves as superior to what we now call “the deplorables.” It is these intellectuals who envision themselves as the guardians of policy and politics, and who work to protect the status quo against any inversion that threatens their power.
There is no exact parallel between Benda’s assessment of the 1920s and our own situation as we approach 2020, but it is enough to understand that there exists a duality between the common man and the “intellectual,” and that the intellectuals seek to dominate political thought and use political passions as their weapon of oppression.
As Benda put it, “the ‘clerks’ now exercise political passions with all the characteristics of passion — the tendency to action, the thirst for immediate results, the exclusive preoccupation with the desired end, the scorn for argument, the excess, the hatred, the fixed ideas. The modern ‘clerk’ has entirely ceased to let the layman alone descend to the market place. The modern ‘clerk’ is determined to have the soul of a citizen and make vigorous use of it.”
It is the fixed ideas of the establishment against which Donald Trump arose like a modern-day iconoclast, and there is no wonder that the establishment is terrified of him. They conspired against him in the halls of the Justice Department and the FBI before he was elected, and thanks to a fake Russian dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign, they have worked to sabotage him through the Mueller “investigation.” There’s no doubt they could very well destroy him because they see no bar on their authority — not the Constitution, not the law, not common decency.
As Benda described a similar phenomenon in his own time, we “see men of thought, or men giving themselves out as such, professing openly that they would not submit their patriotism to any check on the part of their judgment, proclaiming … that ‘even if the country is wrong, we must think it is right,’ denouncing as ‘traitors of the nation’ those of their compatriots who retain their liberty of mind, or at least of speech, in regard to their country.”
As someone who has been similarly denounced, let me conclude by saying that “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the News Media.” To paraphrase the Times’ anonymous op-ed, I believe my “first duty is to this country” and that the news media “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.” I am not loyal to the news industry but to the truth. Anonymous sources, biased reporting and smirking superiority in the newsroom should be decried by everyone who works in this business. We can only get to the truth by putting aside our personal beliefs and telling stories fairly and without an agenda of our own.
The news media should not be “the opposition party” to Republican presidents; rather, it should be the umpire that fairly calls balls and strikes. Is that too much to ask?
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake for 2 1/2 more weeks. After Sept. 26, you may reach him by personal email at firstname.lastname@example.org.