By Bill Mefford
As a fellow liberal, we find ourselves in a very weird place right now (though it has been very weird since the 2016 election). We are watching the most corrupt and immoral occupant of the Oval Office in history, along with his mindless House GOP henchmen, shamelessly and baselessly attack the FBI in order to discredit the investigation of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller into trump's campaign’s collusion with Russia as well as the resulting obstruction of justice, which has been ongoing and well-documented.
In the current age of political entrenchment it is easy for liberals to immediately jump to the side of Christopher Wray and the FBI and vigorously defend both. But, to be fully honest, this has to feel a little odd, especially considering the less than stellar history of the FBI. In fact, when Democrats and others become outraged that trump is politicizing the FBI their outrage rings a little hollow. Didn’t J. Edgar regularly assign his agents to spy on citizens and politicians alike for the political gain of whoever Hoover wanted to impress,including many Democratic leaders?
No, the FBI has always been part of the DC political machinery.
So, what is a liberal to do when trump attacks the FBI, along with any other person or organization that chooses, unlike Speaker Ryan and most of his Republican colleagues, to have a spine and stand up to the bullying and inveterate lying of trump? I would suggest that we rightly point out the overwhelming inclinations of this administration towards authoritarianism and autocracy; this guy hasn’t met a dictator who he hasn’t wanted to emulate. But, in our next breathe, we must continue to call out the fact that in over 100 years the FBI has never accused one of its agents for unjustly shooting someone. That’s right, 100 years without one agent being found at fault of a bad shoot by their internal investigations. We need to remind folks that what trump is doing is, of course, illegal and unethical, but so has been much of the work of the FBI throughout history, primarily to the detriment of people of color.
In other words, we need to do something that is not politically sexy; we need to be nuanced. Nuance doesn’t make headlines – especially not in today’s polarizing and absolutist world. Despite multiple 24 hour news cycles, our news coverage rarely digs below the surface and we end up getting soundbites and not clear and precise information.
Not every situation has a bad guy and a good guy. Some contexts have someone extremely vile (trump) and then others somewhat less vile, but still in need of individual or corporate repentance and restoration. We cannot get lazy and simply stand on the side of the slightly lesser evil. We need to call all sides to repentance and restoration, even when that means we cannot fit our prophetic call into a ten second soundbite.
I remember when President Obama was in office and his administration was steamrolling towards two million deportations. A very small group of us demanded – had been demanding – a total and complete stop to all deportations. The Obama administration refused to listen to us so we did what we knew we had to do to get their attention – we committed civil disobedience in front of the White House on President’s Day.
I emphasize that it was a small group of us because most of the DC-based faith community groups and immigrants’ rights organizations refused to sit in with us. They were worried about it giving too much political leverage to Republicans. Obviously, me and the others who committed civil disobedience didn’t give a damn about political leverage. We wanted the deportations to stop and we didn’t know of a single Republican lawmaker who was deporting immigrants – the 2 million were all from the former Democratic administration. Our job was not to be oblivious to political realities. Our job was not to be driven by those political realities.
It remains true today, perhaps even more so.
Yes, we must resist trump at every autocratic turn he takes. But that does not mean to jump to the defense of every person or organization he attacks. That would be tiresome and self-defeating. We must be true to our vision of a responsive, accountable, and compassionate government dedicated to securing the rights of the most vulnerable from those who would harm them: whether that is trump, the FBI, or the Democrats. It doesn’t matter. We must remain steadfast. We must remain true to who we are and to what we are called whether we get headlines or not.