By Guy Page
Liberals are conflicted about the FBI, Vermont pundit Kevin Ellis wrote recently in his blog, “Conflict of Interest.”
The object of fear and loathing during his liberal adolescence in New Jersey for its perceived racism and political persecution under longtime director J. Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation – yes, those guys – somehow have become to Ellis and other liberals fear may be the last line of defense against the criminal takeover of American democracy.
“What are we to make of the FBI?,” asks the Montpelier resident, Vermont Journalism Trust (VTDigger) board member, former Vermont State House lobbyist, housing advocate, and high school mentor. “For that matter, what are we to make of all the American institutions that many Americans have feared, distrusted and mocked for the past century? Growing up I was taught to treat the police, the FBI, pharmaceutical companies, banks, and big institutions of almost any kind, with skepticism. It was the same for many liberals. But today – because of Trump and his MAGA followers – we rise to their defense?”
Kevin’s not kidding about the being raised to Fear The Man part.
“Credit my skepticism to my mother, now 91,” he writes. “A former film reviewer and newspaper columnist, she preached to her children the sacredness of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the right to privacy.
“When I was 14, we watched the Senate Watergate hearings together while she painted the kitchen in our New Jersey home. In the 70s, she headed back to college to earn her long-deferred degree and wrote her final paper on the CIA and its director Richard Helms, later charged and convicted of Watergate-related crimes. Her constant speeches on privacy and the dangers of Richard Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover laid the foundation for my thinking today.”
So that’s where he’s coming from. And – like many of us, liberal and conservative alike – he’s noticed the rapid shift in political allegiances to the federal police agency.
“Fast forward to 2022 and everything has turned upside down. The FBI is now the favorite whipping boy for Trump and his conservative supporters. Republicans condemn their Gestapo tactics for their seizure of national security documents Trump illegally took after losing the election to Joe Biden. Republicans who spent entire careers praising law enforcement and attacking Democrats for being soft on crime have now turned on the FBI with a vengeance.”
The real problem, as Kevin sees it, is the political emergence of the Disempowered, Angry White Man.
“It is a singular fact of the (soon to end) Trump era that he came to power by giving voice to the anger of Americans who felt (and still feel) powerless and shut-out of democracy. The angry white man who lost his job in the rush to embrace global free trade, who was audited by the IRS while Amazon pays nothing, who lost his house when the bank forecloses. That guy is so angry, so powerless, so embarrassed by his lot that he will do anything, vote for anyone who gives voice to his rage, his fear. That’s how Trump won the election. And that’s why the FBI is being attacked.”
Speaking for many white men, white women, black men, black women and countless other Americans who are admittedly sometimes angry at the direction in which the country is headed, and the FBI’s role therein, I think Kevin is missing a key point.
We Deplorables (my word, not his) oppose the FBI being used as a potent political tool to influence the outcome of a presidential election. But when FBI agent Peter Strzok told Lisa Page (no relation!) “we’ll stop” the 2016 election of Donald Trump, he wasn’t kidding. It’s not supposed to work like that. The Bureau’s participation in the banana republic-style raid on Trump’s home is just the latest example.
We’re worried about the future of American democracy, too.
But I get the weird feeling, Kevin. What if I woke up tomorrow and discovered that the American Civil Liberties Union was the last defender of a criminal government takeover of my First and Second Amendment rights?
I guess then I’d be singing the praises of the group co-founded by Burlington native and beloved actor Orson Bean. Perhaps, then, arm-in-arm in solidarity with your mother’s love of “the sacredness of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the right to privacy,” you and I would stand together.