Washington Post Columnist: If This Democracy Is Going To Stay Healthy, We Need To Start Trusting The FBI More

from the buy-into-the-system,-people! dept

Trust and respect aren’t things someone (or something) holds in an infinite, uninterrupted supply. They’re gained and lost due to the actions of the entity holding this extremely liquid supply of trust. Oddly, some people — like Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza — seem to believe trust and respect should be given to certain “venerated institutions,” because to do otherwise is to surrender to something approaching nihilism.

Cillizza starts out with an obvious conclusion:

The FBI has long been an iconic institution in American life. After last week’s announcement by FBI Director James Comey that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server continues, it’s hard to see it staying that way.

The problem is more Comey’s than the FBI as a whole, but neither have done much over their histories to raise their levels of trust and respect. Cillizza notes that several other venerated institutions — from the Supreme Court to the presidency to public schools have all seen steady declines in public trust, according to polls.

This is to be expected. Trust is easy to lose, but much harder to earn. Our government institutions have done very little to maintain the level of trust and plenty to squander it. If that had been the end of it — an examination of continually-diminishing trust levels, it would have been fine.

But Cillizza somehow feels that failing to hand over trust and respect these institutions haven’t earned — or haven’t protected — is damaging to the fabric of society… and democracy itself.

Nothing has cropped up to replace these fallen idols. The foundational pieces of society — the things we always knew we could rely on — are no longer foundational. But, with nothing to replace them, we are left rootless, casting about for a new set of institutions on which we can rely. That casting around causes fear and anxiety — and sometimes even anger.

None of those emotions are conducive to a functioning, healthy democracy.

This is far more conducive to a functioning democracy than Cillizza thinks. This democracy (although actually a Constitutional republic, but pedantry) rose from the ashes of venerated, foundational pieces of society. The system was burned to the ground and rebuilt to better serve the constituents, rather than those governing them. What’s not conducive to a functioning, healthy democracy are government institutions continually and casually destroying the trust they once had. Venerated institutions shouldn’t always remain venerated. They should be questioned aggressively and held accountable for their actions.

Seriously, there’s a long list of “venerated institutions” once present in this “healthy, functioning democracy” that almost no one agrees should be granted the respect they once were. Like slavery. Or voting being limited to white males. Or aggressive land-grabs that displaced the native population when we weren’t actually just straight up killing them. Or how about the draft? It was once respected as well, but back-to-back failures in wars fought more against ideals than enemies turned it into a sick joke that further proved the notion that a supposed nation of equals was just more of the same old multi-tiered favoritism.

If the FBI doesn’t have our trust anymore, it’s because it threw it all away. Decades of shady, if not downright abusive, behavior preceded Comey’s “lone gunslinger” approach to heading the agency’s unofficial political warfare operations.

The decline in veneration for other institutions roughly tracks the increase in transparency and accountability. Freedom of information laws. Citizens with cellphones. A worldwide platform for instant dissemination of information. If trust is at an all-time low, it’s because more people are better informed than they ever have been in the history of this nation. And that’s exactly the sort of thing that keeps a democracy functioning and healthy.

[Final note: the original version of Cillizza’s post contained some rather hilarious inaccuracies about the FBI to buttress his arguments about the agency’s venerability. They’ve since been excised, but the supposed paragons of Bureau virtue included a fictional character and US Treasury agent who never worked for the FBI.]

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Comments on “Washington Post Columnist: If This Democracy Is Going To Stay Healthy, We Need To Start Trusting The FBI More”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Next step is mandatory sentencing for disrespect of...

“The erosion of trust is the end result of the erosion of rights.”

Dead wrong.

Government is made of humans that seek power. The moment you trust it, is the beginning of the erosion of rights. If you must institute governments among yourselves, never trust them. Always keep them under an ever watchful eye, for no institution among mankind has destroyed more, caused more suffering, and murdered more people than Government.

Go ahead…
Make your deals with it, it shall grind you up.
Turn your back, it will strike you down.
Bow to it and it’s boot shall be upon the back of your neck.

K`Tetch (profile) says:

"but pedantry"

yeah, more than you think 🙂

“This democracy (although actually a Constitutional republic)”

Constitutional Republic is the structure, democracy is how the structure is populated.

Just like the UK is a Constitutional Monarchy, but it’s also a democracy, because the legislative aspect of the government (house of commons) is democratically elected.

Agammamon says:

Icon status of the FBI is irrelevant.

“The FBI has long been an iconic institution in American life. After last week’s announcement by FBI Director James Comey that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server continues, it’s hard to see it staying that way.”

Other iconic institutions include the KGB, SS, 6-10 Office, and the Ministry of Intelligence.

Oh, and there’s the Inquisition.

Iconic is . . . irrelevant. Its distracting from what’s important. It is of no matter that the FBI is iconic. What matters is that is it useful to the nation – more useful to the nation than harmful. Not to the people in the upper reaches of the government, but to the regular people of the nation.

Even taking this Clinton thing out of consideration, the answer certainly is not an unequivical yes.

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: Icon status of the FBI is irrelevant.

Actually, the status of icon is relevant.

The DoJ is the boss of the FBI. The DoJ is run by a political appointee and, frankly, is responsive to politicians. The FBI is supposed to be an independent investigative body. When the FBI ventures into the political arena, it is expected that the Attorney General will take the heat of the decisions, good or bad, and allow the FBI internally to avoid the political repercussions both internally and externally.

That’s when everything works well. But when you have an idiot AG like we do, who shows exceptional stupidity and meets with the spouse of someone under criminal investigation in a private one-on-one meeting bad things happen. That so offends sensibility that AG in this case has to publicly recuse herself of the responsibility of making the decision on whether to prosecute, in a highly charged political case.

That leaves the FBI chief in a terrible position of having to play politics directly. And with a direct report into the DoJ of someone who is intimately linked to the chief of the investigation’s campaign chair.

Like it or not, Comey was screwed, and screwed hard, by Lynch’s behavior. He knew what he had to find, and he knew that there would be bad blood inside the FBI no matter what his decision. Agents close to investigations nearly always believe the worst of their subjects, so there would a hard core of those who supported criminal charges. But there was another core who didn’t believe they were warranted. And Comey had to take the heat directly, meaning both sides would leak like crazy if they weren’t satisfied.

So yes, the image of the FBI has been hit. There’s massive internal damage as the veneer of non-political status has been ripped away by Comey making a political decision in the most half-hearted, idiotic way possible (she broke the law, but she didn’t mean it?! who makes that kind of decision?). The internal FBI damage is Lynch’s responsibility for putting Comey into this situation.

The FBI could have maintained an internal illusion of non-political status if Comey had wimped out and said that there was enough evidence for grand jury. But Comey picked the worst of all possible paths available post-Lynch and has damaged any chance the next president has of uniting the country, has damaged the FBI internally, has brought open politics into an agency that should never have politics govern its actions, and has screwed this country massively for some time to come.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Wrong target

If the problem is that the public doesn’t trust the FBI, that’s not the public’s fault, it’s the FBI’s. They are the ones who have made it clear that they aren’t trustworthy, so instead of chastising the public for not trusting them and… hurting democracy or something maybe go after them for undermining public trust.

Anonymous Coward says:

"The FBI has long been an iconic institution in American life. After last week’s announcement by FBI Director James Comey that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server continues, it’s hard to see it staying that way."

Oh, I dunno. For a lot of people, it’s never been a good icon. Not when it engaged in the "Palmer Raids" of 1919. Not when it engaged in COINTELPRO attacks on peace groups and civil rights organizations, and tried to blackmail Dr. Martin Luther King into committing suicide. Not when its stooges induce pissed-off immigrant kids to take part in bogus terrorist plots.

I think Comey’s attempt to tamper with the election is notable only for its incompetence.

Catman says:

Which FBI?

Is he talking about the FBI that was behind the first WTC bombing where agents found some dullard Arab patsy’s and set them up as a ‘jihadist’ cell, with money and resources to bomb the WTC?
The plan was for the FBI to give them an inert device, then rush in, press in tow, to ‘rescue’ Americans, except they gave them a real bomb to use.

No respect for that kind of willful stupidity, if not treason.

shanen (profile) says:

Nobody expects the Email Inquisition

Not even Hillary, evidently. Apparently the FBI is also broken internally, but the best spin I can imagine is that the FBI just wanted Email-Inquisition parity with the NSA and CIA.

There’s an obvious reason the FBI hates email privacy. It’s like a contagious disease. If you’re going to protect anyone’s email privacy, you have to protect Kevin Bacon’s email privacy, too, and all of the email of the people in between. Really inconvenient for the FBI agents if the default is “email is private” and they actually have to get a warrant with some kind of probable cause.

One obvious conclusion is that Hillary might like to increase the privacy of email. Hers and yours. A big victory might have included enough Congressional support to do something, while the now likely narrow victory means 4 more years of partisan deadlock.

In contrast, if Trump wins this election because of the intervention of the FBI (and possibly supported by Putin), then he certainly owes the FBI big time, and it seems more likely his first executive order will take the leashes off. The FBI says they need copies of ALL your email, forever and ever, even including your spam, just in case some of the spam has secret encoded messages that might be decoded someday.

Attempted deletion of email will be a criminal offense and a free one-way ticket to the glorious new Gitmo City paid for by Cuba! Maybe you can get the cell next to Hillary?

Nobody expects the Email Inquisition.

David says:

You know, I actually agree.

Washington Post Columnist: If This Democracy Is Going To Stay Healthy, We Need To Start Trusting The FBI More

And yes, I think he’s right about the direction we need to be going here. I’d just recommend to put the horse back before the cart as this makes it easier to get there.

If this democracy (actually, republic) is going to stay (actually become again) healthy, the FBI has to start being trustworthy a whole lot more (and it’s not like there isn’t a whole lot potential for that…).

discordian_eris says:

The FBI has spent too much time showing that they are not trustworthy. Until they actually clean up their act and stop their unconstitutional behaviours they deserve trust from no one. It doesn’t help though that the Republicans have spent decades making sure that a rather large percentage of the country will never trust the feebs. Which is truly ironic since the FBI, like almost all cops, is overwhelmingly Republican-minded.

JustShutUpAndObey says:

Re: Trust considered harmful

The whole reason we have a constitution with checks and balances is that the founding fathers KNEW that NO government, including the one they were creating, could be trusted.

Also: People often forget that the Presidential oath of office is to protect and defend the CONSTITUTION. There is no oath to protect the citizens.

Elain says:

Spookily, Cillizza’s comments echo those of a few suspected pro-government trolls that I’ve encountered online… which only makes me MORE mistrustful of the FBI, now that I’ve read this piece. Only a completely untrustworthy institution would hire sock puppets to create the illusion of a trusting citizenry. As you say, if they can’t earn actual trust from real, living people then they don’t deserve it. Browbeating us won’t help.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the FBI is buying advertising from the post now?

The Amazonian post isn’t going to give Comey a tuggy behind the dumpsters at the hoover building, without first getting some monetary consideration for their efforts. That is just how the post is.

So exactly how many tax dollars were spent, restoring the public image of a public agency, that could have better been spent actually demonstrating the integrity they have been broadly criticized as lacking? And/Or spent on safety, training, or any myriad of other valid callings?

Whatever says:

This country gets the government it deserves, and the surveillance it deserves. Comey knows what’s good for criminals who only have their selfish interests at heart, and that’s why the government needs to keep an eye on you.

Of course, an upstanding intellectual like me wouldn’t come under this scrutiny. But sometimes, when I’m feeling especially horny, I take off my shirt, pinch my nipples, and wish Comey was watching me.

Michael Rivero (profile) says:

Trust in the FBI is a tall order

For those of us old enough to remember COINTELPRO from the 1960s, asking us to trust the FBI is a tall order. Then there was Ruby Ridge, Waco, the framing of James Earl Ray, the career-wrecking of Jean Seberg, and on a personal note, the wrecking of my career in Hollywood when I went public with the problems with the official story on Vince Foster (which have now been validated by the FBI’s own release of their Vince Foster file).

I will start trusting the FBI when I see Hillary Clinton in handcuffs, and not one second before!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hillary's email server is best example of FBI entrapment

Just look at addresses and dates. Gov and com in one chain. Everybody knew, including Obama. Comey started to act only after this hit the fan. Now comey saving his own arse because looks like president trump will appoint special prosecutor, and there can be only one outcome then.

Personanongrata says:

Question Everything Trust in Your Own Eyes/Ears

Trust is easy to lose, but much harder to earn.

If the bureaucrats and political appointees at FBI were concerned with their institutions tarnished public image they could begin to rebuild it by reading the US Senate report: Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program


Highlighted paragraphs below were excerpted from theintercept.com a December 2015 report titled One Year After the Senate Torture Report, No One’s Read It and It Might Be Destroyed

That shunning of the torture report appears to be ongoing and very much by design: It turns out the Department of Justice has “refuse[d] to allow executive branch officials to review the full and final study,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy wrote in a letter last month to the attorney general and FBI director, urging that they or their “appropriately cleared” underlings read the full report.

“The legacy of this historic report cannot be buried in the back of a handful of executive branch safes, never to be reviewed by those who most need to learn from it,” they added.

Elizabeth Beavers, a policy coordinator focusing on torture at Amnesty International, believes that no one in the Obama administration, including at the Department of Justice, has read the full report. “They appear to be taking a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ [stance] with regards to the proof of criminal acts it may contain,” she said. But “for the administration not even to read the whole report, and to look the other way while it is possibly buried or even destroyed, sets a dangerous precedent by excusing major crimes like torture and forced disappearance.”

Instead the bureaucrats and political appointees infesting US government institutions hide their heads in the sand pretend the evidence within the senates report does not exist and allow war criminals to walk free in the name of political expediency.

There are a myriad of examples of US government institutions abdicating their regulatory/oversight duties such as: How many persons were referred for prosecution in response to the trillions of dollars stolen during the massive control fraud schemes that were perpetrated by US banks/insurance companies in 2008?

This is a government that wants what amounts to it’s citizens blind unquestioning trust while at the same time unconstitutionally is surveiling/storing every last citizens communications.

These US government institutions acting in such an indifferent/unconstitutional manner to the plight of hundreds of millions of American citizens are not deserving of our trust rather they are deserving of heaping portions of scorn and ire.

Fat Cat Burecraut says:

Re: Question Everything Trust in Your Own Eyes/Ears

Sorry, did you say something? I couldn’t hear you since I was sitting here with my fingers in my ears saying, “NANANANANANANANANANANANAN” as loudly as I could.

This is what I always do and then I stamp whatever is in front of me with my big “YES” stamp. I think there is another stamp in the set, but I’ve never had to use it.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:


There does not seem to be a link to the column.


Chris Cillizza, “The FBI controversy is the latest example of how we don’t believe in anything anymore,” Washington Post, Nov 3


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