The plague of darkness.
January 30, 2023
As I shared last week, I am mourning the loss of a dear friend. As a result, I am in a more reflective mood than usual. I started to write my “Concluding Thoughts” based on comments delivered by a Rabbi at Saturday’s shiva observance for my friend, but my Managing Editor wisely counseled that I start the newsletter with what would have otherwise been my Concluding Thoughts. Fifty percent of the time, I follow her advice 100% of the time, so what follows is a lengthy Concluding Thoughts. I will return to my usual “news” format tomorrow evening, but for tonight, this is how I am seeing the world:
My wife and I continue to observe shiva with the family of our friend who passed away last week. At Saturday’s service, the Rabbi said that the morning’s Torah readings were about the ten plagues visited on the ancient Egyptians for the enslavement of the Israelites. He noted that the ninth plague was that of “darkness spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” The Rabbi said that some scholars argue that the darkness was not a blotting of the sun but a darkness over the hearts of the Egyptians that prevented them from seeing the humanity in fellow countrymen—the same darkness that prevented them from seeing the humanity of the people they enslaved. As one Biblical scholar wrote, “the effects of the ninth plague were social and interpersonal: the darkness cut people off from one another.”
The moment the Rabbi described the ninth plague as the inability of enslavers to see the humanity of their countrymen, my mind turned immediately to the beating of Tyre Nichols—and by extension, the dehumanization of Blacks, Jews, Women, Hispanics, Muslims, Asians, and LGBTQ people that animates discrimination against each of those groups. That dehumanization is part of the playbook of the GOP’s politics of division and hate. By denying the humanity of others, it is easier to deprive them of full participation in the life, liberty, and security our Constitution guarantees to all.
The police who beat Trye Nichols into a senseless stupor did so because they did not see him as a fellow human. He was a “perpetrator,” “suspect,” or “presumptive felon” who (in their minds) did not deserve to be treated with the dignity and humanity that is the right of every person in America. The failure to treat Tyre with basic human decency infected the first responders who were called to render medical aid to a victim of a police beating. As described in The Atlantic
Even after the fire department arrives, Nichols receives little medical attention. For long stretches, it’s as if a human being isn’t even there.
Memphis has suspended two first responders for their inaction in rendering aid. How is it possible that first responders would fail to do the very thing they are trained to do—provide aid—unless it is because they also saw Tyre Nichols as undeserving of respect and dignity?
And while some Republicans may howl in protest at the connection I am drawing between the GOP’s politics of hate and what happened to Tyre Nichols, other examples abound. Trump has been hurling racist insults at former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for months—to the utter silence of GOP leadership and rank-and-file. (Liz Cheney was an exception.) GOP Senator Rick Scott even rose to defend Trump, lamely explaining that Trump “likes to give people nicknames.” While it may be true that Trump likes to give people nicknames, that does not justify Trump’s practice of embedding racist slurs in those nicknames.
Secretary Chao has recently begun to defend herself against those slurs—something her fellow Republicans will not do. See MSNBC, Elaine Chao has had enough of Donald Trump’s racist taunts. Secretary Chao said,
When I was young, some people deliberately misspelled or mispronounced my name. Asian Americans have worked hard to change that experience for the next generation. [Trump] doesn’t seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than it will ever say about Asian Americans.
Trump’s overt racism directed against a prominent American of Asian heritage does not register a blip on the GOP favorability ratings for the insurrectionist president. Why not? The question answers itself.
Readers occasionally tell me to quit talking about Trump, to stop highlighting his repugnant statements because such condemnations “give him what he wants—attention.” He indeed seeks attention in every statement he makes; it is also true that his drumbeat of unanswered racism and homophobia grants permission to others to treat their fellow citizens as “less than human.”
The “plague of darkness” will continue to harden the hearts of many Americans until we shine a light on every instance of dehumanizing conduct and speech by Trump, his supporters, and wannabe replacements.
A story that deserves more attention than it is getting.
Last week, the former head of the FBI counter-intelligence unit in the New York field office was indicted in two different federal prosecutions. Together, they suggest that the former FBI agent, Charles McGonigal, was working for a foreign country (Albania) while he was investigating Trump’s alleged Russia connections in the 2016 campaign. After McGonigal retired from the FBI in 2018, he later went to work for one of the key Russian nationals in Trump’s connections to Russia—Oleg Deripaska.
The details are mind-numbingly complex, and this seems like ancient history. It isn’t. The fact that the New York office of the FBI seemed to be compromised by foreign nationals with connections to Russia is highly suspicious. I want to add another angle to the story: the New York FBI field office also played a key role in the leaks of information to the media regarding “Hillary’s emails” in the final days of the 2016 campaign.
In other words, the FBI field office in NY inserted itself into the 2016 presidential campaign in two ways: (a) downplaying Trump’s Russia connections and (b) simultaneously selectively leaking information to the NYTimes and WSJ about the email investigation designed to damage Secretary Clinton’s campaign. The prosecutions of McGonigal are a good start, but why hasn’t the DOJ engaged in a full-scale “house-cleaning” in the NY FBI field office?
Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale has published a comprehensive explanation of the situation on his Substack blog, Timothy Snyder, Thinking About, The Specter of 2016. Here is a key paragraph that summarizes the connections between McGonigal and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska:
The reporting on this so far seems to miss the larger implications. One of them is that Trump’s historical position looks far cloudier. In 2016, Trump’s campaign manager (Manafort) was a former employee of a Russian oligarch (Deripaska), and owed money to that same Russian oligarch. And the FBI special agent (McGonigal) who was charged with investigating the Trump campaign’s Russian connections then went to work (according to the indictment) for that very same Russian oligarch (Deripaska). This is obviously very bad for Trump personally. But it is also very bad for FBI New York, for the FBI generally, and for the United’States of America.
As to the FBI field office’s leaks against Hillary Clinton in the waning days of the 2016 campaign, see Mother Jones, The FBI’s New York Office Really Hated Hillary Clinton. As the FBI’s former general counsel explained, James Comey sent a last-minute letter to Congress saying he was “re-opening” the email investigation because he feared that the FBI office in New York would “leak” the information to the media if Comey did not inform Congress:
We were quite confident that…somebody is going to leak this fact. That we have all these emails. That, if we don’t put out a letter, somebody is going to leak it. That definitely was discussed.
The “emails” referred to above were the last batch of emails discovered on the computer of disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner, the husband of Huma Abedin, who served as an aide to Secretary Clinton. The “emails” were inadvertently backed up to Weiner’s laptop from cell phones and communication devices used by Abedin. James Comey later testified that the presence of the emails was unknown to Abedin and the result of an inadvertent backup. See State Dept. posts Huma Abedin emails found on Anthony Weiner's laptop | CNN Politics
In other words, the cache of emails in the last-minute discovery was not a “hidden trove” of emails that Secretary Clinton was concealing from Congress; they existed on other devices; only copies were found on Weiner’s laptop. But the NY FBI field office was ready to selectively leak information to inflame the hysteria surrounding the “Hillary’s email” story. See the Mother Jones article, above.
I do not want to trade in conspiracy theories, but there is evidence in the congressional record and two public indictments that suggest the FBI interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump. Six years later, we have two indictments against one agent. As I said, that is a start, but nowhere near enough. Let’s hope that the DOJ is busily working on additional indictments against agents in the FBI field office who attempted to interfere in the 2016 election by selectively leaking information about an ongoing investigation for the purpose of harming Clinton’s campaign.
The Supreme Court “leak report” just keeps getting worse.
When the draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, Chief Justice Roberts appointed the Marshal of the Court to investigate the leak. Put mildly, the investigation was beyond the capabilities or responsibilities of the Marshal of the Court. When the Marshal reported that she could not identify the leaker, the Court also released an “attestation” from a private security firm, The Chertoff Group, that had been asked to “independently review and assess the thoroughness of the investigation.” The fact that the Court added the “attestation” of a supposedly independent third-party investigator was weird but was seen as a gratuitous effort to bolster the Marshal’s inexperience in conducting investigations.
Late last week, we learned that the Supreme Court had previously paid The Chertoff Group approximately $1 million for unrelated security and consulting work. See CNN, Supreme Court did not disclose financial relationship with Michael Chertoff, the expert brought in to review leak probe.
It is doubtful that someone who has been paid $1 million for previous work is “independent,” but at the very least, that prior financial relationship should have been disclosed when the Chertoff Group offered its “independent” attestation regarding the investigation. As Professor Laurence Tribe wrote on Twitter, “There is an awful stench about this whole business.”
My wife’s “photo app” has a feature that offers up “memories” of photographs taken the same month and day in earlier years. Today, her app offered up a picture from January 29, 2017, of me holding a sign that says “Unite.” It was taken at Los Angeles International Airport as Jill and I marched with thousands of others in the middle of the inner roadway that connects the terminals at LAX. Here is the story:
We visited our middle daughter in San Francisco for her birthday. On our return, we stepped out of Terminal 7 to catch a cab at the curb. Instead, the street in front of the terminals was filled with thousands (tens of thousands?) of people marching to protest Trump's “Muslim ban”—his decree limiting inbound travel from countries with a majority Muslim population. We stepped into the crowd (pulling our luggage behind us) and did three laps around the half-mile loop. Somewhere along the way, someone gave me the sign that I am holding in the picture. The police eventually diverted the crowd into the parking structures and onto the sidewalk. Jill and I then walked out of LAX on foot in the middle of Century Blvd to Sepulveda Blvd (a dangerous trek for those familiar with traffic patterns in the area).
It was quite an experience, especially so because of the passion that motivated the crowd. Recall that one of Trump’s first acts was to engage in an act of discrimination against the Muslim people by banning travel from countries with majority Muslim populations. His ban was not based on the safety and security at airports in those countries, merely on their religious majority. Trump’s message could not have been clearer—that Muslims were not “trustworthy” or were likely “terrorists” because extremists in their countries advocated violence. (Applying that same logic, all Americans would be banned from entering other countries because of MAGA extremists who advocate political violence.)
So, we end where we began: Trump and his supporters sought to dehumanize Muslims in one of his first acts as president. When he did that six years ago, it was so shocking and beyond the pale that thousands of protestors closed down LAX for the better part of an hour. Today, Trump uses racist slurs against a former member of his cabinet of Asian heritage, and his hate speech is ignored, excused, and chuckled at as an object of mild amusement.
To repeat: Trump’s drumbeat of unanswered racism and homophobia grants permission to others to treat their fellow citizens as “less than human.” The “plague of darkness” will continue to harden the hearts of many Americans until we shine a light on every instance of dehumanizing conduct and speech by Trump, his supporters, and wannabe replacements.
Talk to you tomorrow!
Thank you Robert. I love the sign.
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Robert, it is very admirable that you and your wife have sat shiva in honor of your friend. In Orthodox Judaism, relatives are not to listen to music and the mirrors are to be covered so that individuals will concentrate on mourning and grief. It is meant to “prevent selfish thoughts”. When my dad died, my mother felt we were too vain, so the mirrors weren’t covered. I found that amusing rather than sacrilegious.
The Plague of Darkness started when Trump illegally became number 45. The clouds over our heads were lifted when Biden won the presidency. But lo and behold, they appeared again when the Dems lost the House and Qevin McQarthy became speaker. Everyday, we are subjected to new evidence, new indications that something’s afoot. Fani Willis will let us know her intentions. Letitia James also appears to be sharpening her tools and then there’s Jack Smith and Merrick Garland. Are those guys waiting in the wings, ready to pounce? Gawwwd I sure as hell hope so!