by James M. Wall
In the Prologue (below) to Shakespeare’s Henry V, The Chorus speaks:
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Has there been a moment in recent history like the “swelling scene” which struck with such force May 9?
The headlines shouted, “Trump Fires FBI Director”.
The Chorus speaks of France and Henry’s England. We speak here of the American states, red and blue. We speak of Rachel, Chris and Lawrence against the Mighty Fox. We speak of the Times and the Post. We speak of The Nation confronting Breitbart and Conway.
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls.
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
The chorus knows you can’t re-enact a battle within a “cockpit” (theater), and so he calls upon us to rely on imagination.
. . . can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?”
We seek our muse here among the experienced, the respected, and the learned.
Muse the First, the Editorial Board of the New York Times:
By firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has cast grave doubt on the viability of any further investigation into what could be one of the biggest political scandals in the country’s history.
The explanation for this shocking move — that Mr. Comey’s bungling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server violated longstanding Justice Department policy and profoundly damaged public trust in the agency — is impossible to take at face value.
Muse the Second, the more conservative Chicago Tribune editorial board:
President Donald Trump took office with half of Americans expecting greatness and the other half gravely suspicious of the presidency that would unfold. Generously feeding that suspicion: an FBI investigation of Trump’s moot presidential campaign. That probe is ongoing, but James Comey will not be the FBI director who completes it. And whatever its conclusions, droves of citizens will see them as dubious. All because on Tuesday the president fired Comey — a drastic, legal but highly problematic action.
No matter the justification from the White House, this looks like a politically motivated hatchet job, designed to purge the investigation of the official who ran it and owned it.
Muse the Third, David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group:
We have all the makings of a banana republic. But worse, we are showing the telltale signs of a failing state. Our government has ceased to function. Party politics and gross self-interest has rendered the majority party oblivious to its responsibilities to its constituents and the Constitution of the United States.
On a daily basis, Republicans watch their leader violate not only the traditions and standards of the high office he occupies, but through inaction they enable him to personally profit from the presidency, promote policies that benefit his cronies and his class to the detriment of the majority of the American people, and serially attack the principles on which the country was founded — from freedom of religion to the separation of powers.
Muse the Fourth: Dan Rather, veteran CBS broadcaster, now retired, who wrote on his Facebook page,
Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn.
President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey is a matter that should deeply concern every American, regardless of party, partisan politics or ideological leanings.
The independence of our law enforcement is at the bedrock of our democracy. That independence, already grievously shaken under the brief tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now shattered by uncertainty.
The firing of an FBI Director is always a very serious matter in normal times. But these times aren’t normal. Far from it. The Bureau is engaged in one of the most important and perilous investigations of this or any other presidency—the investigation of connections between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.
Muse the Fifth: Garrison Keillor, the long-time NPR star now a syndicated columnist, wrote shortly before what he anticipated as the “next shoe to drop”,
What is so remarkable this spring, as we all wait for the next shoe to drop, is how completely the Republican virtues we grew up admiring — caution, respect for history, attention to the fine print — have been thrown to the winds and the party has united behind an aging New York playboy with no fixed principles except an insatiable urge to be on the front page every single day including weekends and holidays.
Muse the Sixth: Jay Michaelson, writing in the New York-based Jewish Forward.
It’s clear what Donald Trump got rid of in his “midnight massacre” firing of FBI Director James Comey: an investigation into his ties to Russia that is somewhere between pesky and a prelude to impeachment.
Less well observed is what he gained: the weaponization of the FBI, soon to be headed by a Trump loyalist, which will further cement the power of the president to investigate enemies, settle scores, and replace the truth with alternative facts.
At what point, one wonders, will some Trump supporters jump ship? We should force them to say so now, before we normalize, bit by bit, the erosion of our democracy and societal norms. . .
The Jewish tradition is quite familiar with tyrants, and quite suspicious of them. From Pharoah to Ahasuerus to Nero to Hitler and Stalin, we have suffered under the yoke of authoritarians unrestrained by law.
Moreover, the notion that no one is above the law is perhaps the single greatest contribution of the Jewish civilization to the human race. No one: not a prophet nor a king nor a judge nor a wealthy man.
We close our journey with our chosen muses by asking, how might this weaponization proceed?
One model may be found in Israel where at times the weapon of choice is the computer. If you do not remember Tom Cruise in the 2002 movie, Minority Report, this report from Israel’s Ha’aretz should jog your memory:
Channel 10 reported earlier this month that the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service had arrested 400 Palestinians who were seen as lone-wolf terrorists. They were “arrested before they set out to carry out terror attacks.” The suspects were identified through the use of a computerized program that analyzed social media posts.The station’s military correspondent, Or Heller, attributed the drop in the number of terrorist attacks to the cyberprogram.
Stephen Spielberg’s 2002 film, Minority Report, was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. In the film, Tom Cruise is John Anderton, chief of the Department of Pre-Crime in the District of Columbia, where there has not been a murder in six years.
The film is set in the year 2054. “Anderton’s job is to preside over an operation controlling three ‘Pre-Cogs,’ precognitive humans who drift in a flotation tank, their brain waves tapped by computers. They’re able to pick up thoughts of premeditated murders and warn the cops, who swoop down and arrest the would-be perpetrators before the killings can take place” (Roger Ebert).
What happens in Israel does not stay in Israel. Think American border walls, religious and ethnic border restrictions, and airport security procedures. Then remember to ask if your local police chief has had his or her way paid to study security procedures in Israel.
Shakespeare’s Chorus anticipates what is to come with the warlike Harry:
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment.