09 January 2017

Age of Assange

Michael Gerson notes a recent shift of attitudes among some Americans. Not so long ago, he recalls, Republicans like Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and Donald Trump called for Julian Assange, the Wikileaks impresario, to be hunted down, arrested and killed for crimes against the United States. Now, however, Palin has apologized for her stance, Hannity conducts a fawning interview with Assange and the President-elect takes his side against national intelligence agencies when they claim that Wikileaks received Democratic National Committee emails from Russian hackers. For Gerson there's a simple explanation for this: these Republicans credit Wikileaks with damaging Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and Assange's good works of 2016 eclipse his alleged past treacheries in their minds. This scandalizes Gerson, who blames these reversals on blind tribalism, the tribe being the Republican party. By applauding Assange, he claims, Republicans put party interests before national interests. He accuses them of condoning (or at least forgiving) any real damage Assange has done to this country  because Democrats are his most recent victims. But is no other explanation possible? Could it be that some people's view of Assange has changed because their view of the world has grown closer to his? This may well be the case with Trump, though I'm reluctant to give any intellectual credit to the other two.

To the extent that Assange has an ideology, it seems focused on the abuse of power, with an emphasis on American abuse of superpower in the forms of atrocities and cover-ups. If we can infer from this that Assange would prefer a more multipolar world, or at least a world in which the U.S. doesn't intervene in other countries' affairs so often, you can see some hints of convergence with what we know (or suspect) of Trump's agenda, which includes reducing his country's overseas commitments (or what we spend on them) and presumably conceding some sort of regional hegemony to Russia that the last two administrations could not accept. And if Trump seems less jingoistic in some respects than he used to be, despite the "Make America Great Again" rhetoric, perhaps that's because identifying abuses of American power with an Obama-Clinton axis opens a perspective that Republicans usually refuse, and may make possible a better appreciation of Wikileaks' work apart from its immediate personal benefit to Trump. Some, of course, still refuse that perspective. Since Wikileaks emerged, two groups in this country have held consistent opinions on Assange: the Republican neocons, for whom he is a permanent villain, and the anti-interventionist (or "anti-imperialist") left, for whom he remains a hero. Many other Democrats thought more highly of him back when he exposed apparent misdeeds of the Bush administration than they do now that he has held Obama and Clinton to the same standard. For Gerson, apparently, Assange has always been a villain, because he exposes U.S. abuses of power -- and supposedly endangers U.S. intelligence assets. It's interesting that he accuses recent converts to Assange fandom of tribalism, since a viewpoint that values American hegemony beyond any principle of accountability might well be described as "tribal" compared to how things might be done in a more civilized world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gerson is not incorrect about "tribalism". But then, the left is no less guilty of such charges. What can BLM be if not tribal? Tribalism is an evolutionary offshoot of "family". The earliest tribes of primal humans were little more than an extended family. Nationalism is a further evolutionary step along those lines. And today's Americans have taken a step or two back.

Humanism can be seen as a further evolutionary step - one which most semi-domesticated primates refuse to take, leaving the few in a precarious position.