Friday, February 28, 2020

Is Barr Learning From Trump?

It's easy to forget that it was less than two weeks ago that AG Bill Barr created a media firestorm ... by complaining publicly that President Trump was making the AG job almost 'impossible' by creating regular media firestorms with his tweets.

Barr's remarks were always a bit of a head scratcher. After all, federal judges--and not just Obama judges--remind us on an almost daily basis that they regard their jobs as platforms for overt political activism. That has pretty much been the core of Trump's tweeted critiques of the federal judiciary, and it's almost 'impossible' to believe that a low profile approach would change that situation.

But in the second place, it's not as if Barr himself has avoided controversy. Virtually every public statement he has made has induced a media firestorm. Yes, that was guaranteed to be the case from the start of Barr's tenure at DoJ--the media were always going to be looking to savage Barr. But on the other hand it's not as if Barr has shied away from controversy. If anything, many of his public statements look a bit like deliberate provocations in their plainspoken profession of traditional conservative views--especially with regard to religion. I welcome that, of course.

Barr was at it again, on Wednesday, delivering an address to the 2020 National Religious Broadcasters Convention. That wasn't the act of an AG seeking to avoid a media firestorm. Moreover, Barr offered some fairly pointed remarks directed at the media. While he didn't refer literally to 'fake news,' the substance of that view is clearly what he had in mind. And to top it off, he appealed to the assembled religious broadcasters to play a prominent role in redressing the imbalance of the MSM:

Today in the United States, the corporate – or “mainstream” – press is massively consolidated.  And it has become remarkably monolithic in viewpoint, at the same time that an increasing number of journalists see themselves less as objective reporters of the facts, and more as agents of change. These developments have given the press an unprecedented ability to mobilize a broad segment of the public on a national scale and direct that opinion in a particular direction. 
When the entire press “advances along the same track,” as Tocqueville put it, the relationship between the press and the energized majority becomes mutually reinforcing.  Not only does it become easier for the press to mobilize a majority, but the mobilized majority becomes more powerful and overweening with the press as its ally.  
This is not a positive cycle, and I think it is fair to say that it puts the press’ role as a breakwater for the tyranny of the majority in jeopardy.  The key to restoring the press in that vital role is to cultivate a greater diversity of voices in the media.  
That is where you come in.  You are one of the last holdouts in the consolidation of organs and viewpoints of the press.  It is, therefore, essential that you continue your work and continue to supply the people with diverse, divergent perspectives on the news of the day.  And in this secular age, it is especially vital that your religious perspective is voiced.

Those remarks came near the end of the address, but there was plenty of red meat for the MSM leading up to that. The style may not be Trump's, but the content isn't really any different. Consider ...

On the current state of politics in America:

It seems to me that the passionate political divisions of today result from a conflict between two fundamentally different visions of the individual and his relationship to the state.  One vision undergirds the political system we call liberal democracy, which limits government and gives priority to preserving personal liberty.  The other vision propels a form of totalitarian democracy, which seeks to submerge the individual in a collectivist agenda.  It subverts individual freedom in favor of elite conceptions about what best serves the collective. 

So, the ruling elites are propeling a vision of Man that includes a form of 'totalitarianism,' under the guise of democracy. The aim is subvert individual freedom. Barr offers an historical sketch on how these two different 'visions of the individual and his relationship to the state' arose. Barr's thoughts on this topic will do nothing to reassure his critics, who have accused him of advocating for a theocracy:

These foundational ideas gradually evolved into our current conceptions of individual dignity, personal liberty, limited government, and the separation of church and state.  This process took hundreds of years and involved the amalgamation of many different influences, including those associated with Anglo-Saxon folkways, the common law, the experiences of the English Civil War, the political thought of the English Whigs, the moderate Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the foundation of the American Republic in 1789. 
What has resulted from these centuries of experience is a system that takes man and society as they actually exist.  Precisely because it recognizes that man is imperfect, it does not try to use the coercive power of the state to recreate man or society wholesale.  It tends to trust, not in revolutionary designs, but in common virtues, customs, and institutions that were refined over long periods of time.  It puts its faith in the accumulated wisdom of the ages over the revolutionary innovations of those who aspire to be, what Edmund Burke called, “the physician of the state.”  
But just as our robust vision of liberal democracy came to fruition in 1789, another conflicting vision was taking shape. This has been referred to as “totalitarian democracy.” Its prophet was Rousseau, and its first fruit was the French Revolution.  In the two centuries since, totalitarian democratic movements of both the right and the left have appeared. 

The French Revolution? I remember that--the Reign of Terror!

Totalitarian democracy is based on the idea that man is naturally good, but has been corrupted by existing societal customs, conventions, and institutions.  The path to perfection is to tear down these artifices and restore human society to its natural condition.   
This form of democracy is messianic in that it postulates a preordained, perfect scheme of things to which men will be inexorably led.  Its goals are earthly and they are urgent.  Although totalitarian democracy is democratic in form, it requires an all-knowing elite to guide the masses toward their determined end, and that elite relies on whipping up mass enthusiasm to preserve its power and achieve its goals. 
Totalitarian democracy is almost always secular and materialistic, and its adherents tend to treat politics as a substitute for religion.
As one political scientist has noted, while liberal democracy conceives of people relating on many different planes of existence, “totalitarian democracy recognizes only one plane of existence, the political.”  All is subsumed within a single project to use the power of the state to perfect mankind rather than limit the state to protecting our freedom to find our own ends.  It is increasingly, as Mussolini memorably said, “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

No doubt our elites will recognize themselves, but most will not thank Barr for making these historical connections. Nor will they appreciate his characterization of Progressivism:

Over the past few decades, those further to the left have increasingly identified themselves as “progressives” rather than “liberals.”  And some of these self-proclaimed “progressives” have become increasingly militant and totalitarian in their style.  While they seek power through the democratic process, their policy agenda has become more aggressively collectivist, socialist, and explicitly revolutionary.
The crux of the progressive program is to use the public purse to provide ever-increasing benefits to the public and to, thereby, build a permanent constituency of supporters who are also dependents.  They want able-bodied citizens to become more dependent, subject to greater control, and increasingly supportive of dependency.  The tacit goal of this project is to convert all of us into 25 year-olds living in the government’s basement, focusing our energies on obtaining a larger allowance rather than getting a job and moving out.

Barr then goes on to describe the bulwarks against Left totalitarian messianism. Imagine your typical Prog learning that the AG regards "religion, the decentralization of government power, and the free press" as bulwarks against their agenda. We've already seen what he thinks of the corporate press that supports the Prog agenda. When it comes to the role of religion and limited government, if Progs had any doubt about Barr's views, their worst suspicions will be amply confirmed.

For starters, Barr sees belief in an immutable moral order and in the transcendant Supreme Being from which such an order flows as essential for safeguarding our liberties:

How does religion protect against majoritarian tyranny?  In the first place, it allows us to limit the role of government by cultivating internal moral values in the people that are powerful enough to restrain individual rapacity without resort to the state’s coercive power.  
Experience teaches that, to be strong enough to control willful human beings, moral values must be based on authority independent of man’s will. In other words, they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being. Men are far likelier to obey rules that come from God than to abide by the abstract outcome of an ad hoc utilitarian calculus. 
These fixed moral limits did not just apply to individuals, but to political majorities as well. According to Tocqueville, in America, religion has instilled a deep sense that there are immovable moral limits on what a majority can impose on the minority. It was due to the influence of religion in America, he explained, that no one “dared to advance the maxim that everything is permitted in the interest of society.”

As if that weren't bad enough, Barr goes on to reveal himself as a categorical opponent of the modern administrative state:

The Framers believed in the principle of subsidiarity – that is, that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest competent authority that was closest to the people. That is the level of government at which the individual was most empowered. It is where he or she could play the largest role and have the most direct involvement. The Framers conceived that the vast majority of collective decision-making by the people about their affairs would be done at the state and local level. 
The federal government was supposed to be a government of limited powers. It was primarily supposed to handle two things that had to be achieved at the national level: first, conducting foreign relations and providing for the national defense and, second, integrating economic affairs across the states so we could have a single national economy. 
The Framers included the Commerce Clause for this second purpose, but that provision has since ballooned far beyond its original understanding. Nowadays, it is hard to tell whether a particular measure is regulating commerce to promote integration of the nation’s commerce, or whether it is simply an effort by the national government to regulate a domestic matter within a state. 
Sadly, most restrictions on federal power under the Commerce Clause have broken down. Virtually any federal measure can be justified no matter how much it invades the prerogatives of the states. As a result, the federal government is now directly governing the country as one monolithic entity with over 300 million people.  
I believe that the destruction of federalism is another source of the extreme discontent in our contemporary political life.  We have come to believe that we should have one national solution for every problem in society.  You have a problem?  Let us fix it in Washington, DC.  One size fits all. 
The Framers would have seen a one-size-fits-all government for hundreds of millions of diverse citizens as being utterly unworkable and a straight road to tyranny. ...

And there's plenty more where that came from--believe me! I urge you to read it all.

Barr's style may not be the stuff of mass political rallies, a la Trump, but when it comes to getting right in the face of the elites he has little if anything to learn.


  1. Terrific post. This is red meat for the soul. Sounds like Barr just put down his copy of All the King's Men (among other pivotal items). And yet. Will thinking like this lead somewhere, or will he end up like L. "no fly zone for the Turks" Graham, all bark and no bite? Time will tell, as you regularly point out.

  2. Trump is not eloquent, but so what. He is persuasive.

    Barr is eloquent and he is persuasive.

    I personally think Trump and Barr are mostly on the same page, but our social media muddles things up.

    Trump gets his views out via Twitter. It is a platform of quick thoughts that invite not just spelling and grammatical mistakes, but is truly a way for people to see Trump's thinking and views tweet by tweet.

    This is not helpful for criminal cases. This makes Barr's job harder as Trump admitted.

    Judging from Barr's speeches, he is aligned with Trump. The issue is the lack of action. Granted, Barr is still in a the middle of his investigation and you really do not want it out there to the public, but this issue is that what the public already knows.

  3. My guess...

    With Judges, and their giant egos, and ability to make his job impossible, Barr needs to be a bit Obsequent. The comments of the Bush appointed DC Judge Walton were a warning shot.

    Luckily, resistance judges overplayed their hand with Trump. The judge association and Stone Judge actions showed that Trump was right, again, and unmasked their biases/ politicalization.

  4. I felt demoralized reading that speech knowing in my gut it's all just words, and nobody is in fear of any action forthcoming from the DoJ that might follow the words. How many "decline to prosecutes" has Barr's DoJ issued?

    The Queen of corruption cackles at Barr's speech from Chappaqua. I used to think the AG could do something about enforcing the laws against people like her. I was wrong.

    1. Right now, that is an appropriate feeling.

  5. Barr did shut down the Mueller Investigation, which is a huge improvement over the previous DOJ Management.

    On the actions we are all waiting for, the next few months should tell if he's mostly talk, or takes some actions.

    My guess is he needs to be careful, so his actions can't be fairly labeled as partisan. He is always going to be unfairly labeled.

    >it's all just words

  6. And yet Barr also spoke almost simultaneously calling for complete compliance with the law enforcement organs of state, for the Individual to offer no resistance whatsoever to police. He was addressing law enforcement and suggested — wrongly — that disrespect for law enforcement has grown as a result of anti-police attitudes. The reality from which Barr seems disconnected is that the general decline of respect for law enforcement has come about as a result of decades of "color of law" misconduct with comparatively very little accountability. Furthermore, Barr's comments contrast sharply with prior SCOTUS affirmations of the citizen's right to resist unlawful police conduct with deadly force if necessary — not that it's advisable in practice.

    Maybe the AG needs to come down from that ivory tower a little more often, walk around and get to know the peasants who see the routine constitutional violations police commit every day.

    1. Yes, police all over all effed themselves.

      What is sad and tellinf is that the head of premier law enforcement agency lied under oath, admitted to such things, along with participating in election interference and a coup of a US President and nothing happens except he gets to opine on social media, the same the victim, Trump, is supposed to not comment on.

    2. I agree. But it's a large and complex case. Accordingly, so would be the investigation. Certainly nothing has happened as yet, either to Comey or any of the other conspirators. I suppose we'll find out soon enough whether Barr is a hero or a zero.

      However, his remarks in Miami...

      "One of the things that has distressed me in recent years has been this attitude that it’s OK to resist police officers."

      Not a great message. He should have been talking about the need to root out bad cops to restore public trust.

    3. I imagine that that was an oblique reference to the Black Lives Matter movement ginned up by the Obama admin. As you suggest, there's more to be said and better not to express oneself in ambiguous terms.

    4. Police conduct and misconduct is not black and white, in all cases. I witnessed, many years ago, a handcuffed young man pushed down a concrete staircase by a policeman for smart-mouthing the cop. To my regret, I didn't go to internal affairs. I was 18 at the time and maybe not mature, confident or possessed enough knowledge that I should've spoken out. I don't believe in disrespecting the police, but if I do, I don't expect them to overreact.

      Then there's the "on the other hand" where I see video of young men getting right in the faces of cops and cursing at them. They can be especially tough on black cops, accusing them of being Uncle Toms. Being so close to the cops faces is illegal in my mind, although I am not claiming that the law regards it as illegal.

      That said, if a cop wants to arrest me, I'll comply and I can get a lawyer or go to the media if he violates my civil rights.

      There are great cops, good cops, bad cops and terrible cops. They are mortal men. I'm sure most do their best. I wouldn't want to be one. There's the Black Lives Matter movement, Antifa, anarchists, etc.

  7. I've probably pounded on this idea too often, but it bears repeating. What media produces is not so much "fake news" as it is entertainment. Fake news is a good insult to push in their face against their arrogance to presume that news is what they produce. Unfortunately (for them), news is what happens, not what they say it is.

    (If a tree fell in the wood, and the NYTimes didn't report it, did it make a sound...)

    Yet the media business model is based on advertising revenues, which means they need eyeballs--viewers and readers. So every program hour of every day, and for every column inch of ink or pixels, there's a (so-called) news hole that has to be filled with the content media uses to chase an audience.

    Maybe, in the 1960s when middle-aged men in gray suits sat at a desk and read the news of the day, it really was the news. But that was so long ago, it might as well been a foreign country.

    To get in-depth news and information of topical interest, readers have to engage in sites like our host's. And I can't recall a link our host has provided to anything so mundane as the mainstream media.

    As an aside, I probably have 20 tabs regularly open on my browser for checking in on various sites for similar news and information. Not one of them qualifies as mainstream media--which is where to go if you're looking for entertainment (or fake news).

    1. I would say they offer a mix--a little news for those with the proper filters, a little entertainment, but a lot of propaganda. Of course if you're entertained by propaganda, it's pretty much entertainment all the way down.

  8. Barr's speech resembled a football coach talking to his losing team at halftime. The speech isn't a pep-talk or plan of attack. It's an explanation for losing.

    Hey Barr - how about we enforce the law? I mean, I'm no lawyer, but is that beyond consideration?

    Wiping a server of emails? Smashing cell phones? Does DoJ mean Department of Jokers?

    1. Yes exactly. Every GD law, no matter how minor. Bleed them dry, using every legal means, until they're all bankrupt.

      Isn't that what they're trying to do, and have been doing, except they use any means, fair and foul.

      Don't only focus on the big crimes, use every legal method on the books. Surely he can hire a couple dozen more lawyers and get it done.

      So what if MSM screams, they're already screaming.

  9. In addition to the fact that the MSM is largely in the 'entertainment' business and not the 'news' business, which I acknowledge, consider that the internet and related technologies have utterly destroyed the business models of the traditional 'news' outlets.

    As a young man I read The New York Times, notwithstanding its biases, every day because there was no other place to get the daily news. And advertisers filled each edition with advertisements because there was no better way to reach potential customers. The newspaper was very profitable.

    Technology has destroyed this model and the (Failing) New York Times is in an existential fight for its survival.

    No wonder the former newspaper of record panders to its shrinking reader base.

    And with cable, and now streaming video, who watches network television, let alone network news, anymore? That leaves so-called cable 'news'...aka 'entertainment'.

    1. Start enforcing antitrust. Put a stop to vertical and horizontal acquisitions. For example, a major backbone communication company like AT&T buying the owner of CNN or the old Southwestern Bell (now AT&T) buying up Ameritech, Bell South and Pacific Telesys.

    2. Yeah, Joe, AT&T is fine with CNN losing $$, as long as it pukes out the right propaganda.

  10. @Forbes

    I just re-read your comment above and mine immediately above and realize I have just paraphrased your, I guess I whole-heartedly agree w you!

  11. I'm very disappointed in the DOJ not prosecuting all the bad actors, starting with Hillary. There should be at least 10 or so in prison right now.