In my post of last week, I noted that the mainstream media had finally gotten on to an idea I’ve had for a year and some conservative bloggers have been bandying about for at least a few months: namely that the FBI had planted someone inside the Trump campaign no later than the Summer of 2016. Though Kim Strassel first broached the subject in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times has now taken the lead and tossed up the name of Stefan Halper, an American academic based in London.
That’s not who I had in mind as a “plant” though, based on interviews she’s given this week, it’s evidently who Strassel (and others) had in mind.
I’m sure they’re not wrong about Halper’s role–he’ll have one hell of a lawsuit if they are–but his role is not that of either a spy or an informant. He seems to be a cutout–someone not in the Trump campaign who the FBI and/or CIA could rely on to brace those who were.
Those who were included (but may not be limited to) Carter Page and George Papadopolous, two men who have been in the news quite a lot.
The lengths to which the media (across the board) and the usually more insightful online bloggers have gone to insist none of these were actual “informants” (including the Times, which specifically misused the term to make it seem like Halper is such when their own reporting insists he’s only a handler–someone who, at most, might gather information from an informant) is curious.
It’s been known for months that Carter Page was not only a known FBI asset, but was specifically helping them in a case that involved a Russian while he was “Volunteering” to be part of the Trump Campaign.
It is likely, however, that Page, who was part of Trump’s campaign, was not an “informant” either.
An informant would be someone who was inserted into the campaign for the purpose of uncovering evidence of illegal (or at least unethical) behavior, and reporting back to a prearranged handler.
From the reporting so far available, Halper was not that sort of handler.
He was the sort who arranged to have meetings with low level Trump operatives for the specific purpose of making them appear dirty because why else would they be meeting with the likes of him, a known go-between for both the FBI and the CIA?
If you’re having a little trouble following along, you’re not alone.
In all the sound and fury that’s been building for a year while Team Mueller and Team Trump stalked each other, I still haven’t seen one person suggest the obvious–that Carter Page was placed in the Trump campaign (by the FBI, though possibly at the CIA’s suggestion) not to be a classic informant, but to follow orders and meet with enough sketchy characters (Mr. Halper included) that the FBI could use his presence to get a FISA warrant on somebody–if necessary, him.
Since Page was in fact who they got the warrant on (in October, 2016, after failing to produce enough evidence even for a Star Chamber filled with their own hand-picked judges in June), the only other possibility is that the FBI went looking for someone–anyone–they could produce on the spot as a surveillance subject that would satisfy the court they were on to something…and just happened to find one of their own assets conveniently positioned right where they needed him to be!
Even I don’t think the FBI is so incompetent they’d leave something like that to chance.
Either way, it’s a good thing Donald Trump’s not Hitler.
Because if this clown car was all that was standing between us and the next Hitler, we’d all be better off shooting ourselves in the head while guns are still legal.
As it is, whether anyone goes to jail in the next year-and-a-half will depend on what it always depends on.
But you’re my readers, and a great deal smarter than the average bear–so you already knew that….
This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but certain things can’t really be appreciated, vis-a-vis the world around you, until you are flat on your back for five days in a hospital room where the only entertainment is television, the combination of physical discomforts and necessary treatments and checkups don’t permit you to sleep more than two hours at a stretch, and your powers of concentration don’t extend much beyond attending to the two-minute sound bites on the “news” channels.
–It ain’t news and it sure ain’t journalism. Until you’re exposed to it 24/7 for a few days running, and your spice-of-life variety consists entirely of switching between Fox, CNN and MSNBC, there is no possible way to comprehend the true awfulness of modern journalism. That so many anchors and guests would be able to master the combination of ignorance and arrogance required to repeat comfortably numb talking points ad nauseum and pretend that they are pearls of Socratic wisdom, freshly minted, which must now be patiently explained to the great unwashed (meaning everyone who isn’t either working in “news” or, having been carefully vetted, found safely worthy of being interviewed by same) is truly staggering.
–It is only in the context of this intellectual and moral collapse that the depth and breadth of Donald Trump’s appeal can be comprehended. Whatever else he is or isn’t, he is generally unscripted. In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man really is king…even if that one eye is reptilian. Or, if you like, in the Kingdom of the Mute, the Man With a Voice is King, even if all he does is blather.
–If Trump does somehow win the Republican nomination, he’ll have overcome truly staggering odds. In Florida–the state that will truly make or break his run to the nomination–anti-Trump ads are outnumbering pro-Trump ads something like fifty-to-one. I saw several segments on Friday where entire commercial breaks were taken up with as many as four consecutive anti-Trump ads, all of which were vicious and effective, none of which promoted any other candidate. I’m in the Tallahassee market, but I assume it’s the same throughout the state. I haven’t witnessed anything remotely like this in my lifetime of living in a generally hotly contested “swing” state.
–The clearly related and heavily coordinated attempts to pretend that Marco Rubio (a man with no discernible convictions and a thirty-something approval rating in his own state) is somehow a viable candidate with a recognizable base anywhere outside of Puerto Rico’s inmate population is mind-blowing. It’s now apparently a job requirement that anyone who works for the Wall Street Journal, in particular, be prepared to challenge you to a duel if you suggest, even mildly, that Rubio a) won’t be the last man standing against Trump and b) won’t then proceed to clean his clock. If you try to point out that, outside of a four-day window between the Iowa caucus and Chris Christie eviscerating him in the New Hampshire debate, Rubio has never been anything remotely resembling a serious candidate, their heads actually explode. If we still had real news organizations in this country, “Journalists’ Heads Explode” would be a big story right now.
–If Mitt Romney had not decided to remind me, I really believe it would have been possible for me to forget what an act of pure contempt it was for the Republican “establishment” to push him on their own party, let alone the rest of America in 2012. Running against a sitting president whose basic message to a drowning middle class was “Keep treading water!” Romney’s own message was “Hey, let’s throw some chum in there!” Thanks Mitt, for not letting me forget your basic vileness.
Explanations below, but, for starters, a salute to the late Ms. Robinson, who died of cancer in 2000 at the age of forty-five (complete with a Paul Williams intro that demonstrates just how far Show Biz hadn’t come while the culture was moving at light speed):
Now to the main point:
A few days ago, Terry Teachout posted a link to his current Wall street Journal column in which he opines on the “limits” of popular art. You can read the whole thing here but the gist is about what you would expect from a cultural conservative and he’s certainly not entirely wrong.
But it’s funny that no one ever seems to say much about the limits of High Art. I mean, one reason so-called popular art has taken up so much space in the Post-War era is that High Art has been failing so miserably.
And, of course, I spend a lot of time around here arguing that the point of “culture” at any level called “art” is to engage. That means history, politics, sex, religion, love, hate, war, poverty and so on and so on and skooby-dooby-doo.
See, there’s Popular Art giving me a voice. Engaging.
Believe me, I’d be very happy if what passes for High Art in the modern age managed to do the same.
Now, I didn’t want to stack the deck, so rather than respond to the ideas in Teachout’s essay by specifically seeking the safest available high ground (something like the Rolling Stones in 1969, or Robert Johnson in 1937, or Raymond Chandler in 1952, the first and last of those being things Teachout has evinced a limited understanding of in the past which suggests he probably hasn’t quite thought this thing all the way through) I decided I would just weigh in on the next thing that happened to pop up in the course of my day…see how far that would take me.
So, from a few nights ago, when the “next thing” happened to be a mix disc I had just assembled as a copy of an old mix tape (Volume Fourteen of a twenty volume set, and, please, believe me when I say, social relevance was the furthest thing from my mind at the point of original assembly, unless “social relevance” means imagining just how far my Theory of Shindig and Hullabaloo Dance could stretch), here goes (original recording dates in parens):
Soul Survivors “Expressway to Your Heart” (1967)–Epochal black producers (Gamble and Huff) have their first hit guiding a white group imitating a white group imitating a black group while Philly International was still a gleam in somebody’s eye.
Young Rascals “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” (1965)–The specific group the Soul Survivors were imitating. They happened to be white boys signed to a record label owned by white men who specialized in selling black music to, first, Black America and, later, White America as well, but weren’t above selling white acts to black people or white acts to white people if they could smell a profit. Would have made Beethoven’s head spin, I tell you, but they made it look easy.
Candi Staton “Young Hearts Run Free” (1976)–An exemplar of one of mid-period disco’s deeply mixed messages. These days, slick magazines are full of articles with titles like “Can Women Really Have It All.” Then as now, the answer was Yes and No. Sorry but I’d rather listen to Ms. Staton work out the ambiguities than read what our modern Platos have to say on the subject.
Wilson Pickett “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” (1970)–A black man, who sounds like he knows he’s caught in a trap, begs–and begs, and begs–for a black woman not to leave him at the first historical moment when it was possible for her to even think about doing so.
Abba “SOS” (1974)–Swedish woman sings “I tried to reach for you but you had closed your mind” back to the man who wrote the lines for her to sing. He happened to also be her husband at the time. No, really.
John Waite “Missing You” (1984)–Okay, this is just a nice, pop-obsessive record about pretending not to miss someone who kicked your heart to pieces and who you would take back in a second if they would have you. Nothing High Art couldn’t handle in other words.
Cher “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” (1971)–A major star, singing in the voice of one who never got the chance, spits back at everyone who ever spit on her.
Cher “Half Breed” (1973)–Ditto. Only more so.
Styx “Too Much Time on My Hands” (1981)–I’m actually not sure what this is about. Possibly unemployment but I’m not gonna stake my reputation on it.
Roxette “The Look” (1988)–Pure confection. No discernible higher meaning except it was the-best-Prince-record-made-by-somebody-other-than-Prince, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.
The Who “Who Are You” (1977)–English rockers lament/celebrate their escape from the lives the system had planned for them. Self-destruction caught up with the drummer shortly thereafter. Whether this record would still sound like it’s chasing him if he’d somehow never been caught is one of those nice existential questions that should be mulled in Philosophy 101 classes everywhere….but probably isn’t.
AC/DC “Get It Hot” (1979)–A salute to rock and roll. Good topic. Well played.
Heart “Straight On” (1978)–An epic blues played, sung, conceived and executed by seventies-era white people from the Pacific Northwest (who many sardonics of ill repute believe are the whitest people who have ever lived so go ahead and have your snicker) and also a late-feminist sequel to the Shangri-Las’ proto-feminist “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” that demonstrates just how far the earth had turned in a decade. If there’s been a novel or play that did as much, I missed it. If I happen to run into one somewhere, I bet I’ll have the bring up the fact that it doesn’t get the job completely done in four minutes.
Randy Newman “I Love LA” (1982)–Love and mockery, joined at the hip and permanently reinforcing each other.
Randy Newman “It’s Money That Matters” (1988)–The History of America in the New Gilded Age. (The ethics of which were so thoroughly and seductively appalling/appealing that, unlike the first Gilded Age, they have survived the inevitable economic bust. More than one in fact. Goodbye us, in other words. Thanks Randy!)
Jackie Wilson “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” (1967)–A call-and-response Top Ten hit and permanent radio staple that perfectly captures the last historical moment when it seemed possible for the Civil Rights movement to become a lasting social triumph as opposed to a purely legalistic one.
Steve Miller Band (1976) “RockN’ Me”–A rocker’s ode…whether to groupies or to the One Left at Home, I’ve never been quite certain.
Huey Lewis and the News (1983) “Heart of Rock and Roll”–A promise that rock and roll would keep on a goin’. Naturally it was already a bit ill, though a few years from being terminal. The song works because it is completely devoid of irony, self-awareness or any other complicating factor. Well that plus it has a good beat and you can dance to it.
Standells “Dirty Water” (1965)–The eternal, existential struggle between Puritanism and its discontents, distilled to one hundred and sixty-eight perfect seconds.
Blues Magoos “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” (1966)–“Nothing can hold us, nothing can keep us down.” I bet High Art never manages to go anywhere that line doesn’t when it finally does work up its nerve and get around to explaining either the successes or the failures of “the Sixties.”
Tommy Tutone “867-5309/Jenny” (1981)–Stalker pleads with the Object of his Affection not to change her phone number. In other words, 7,000 guest shots on the Law and Order franchise, explained well ahead of time.
The Jacksons “Enjoy Yourself” (1976)–Or, as the full line goes, “Enjoy yourself, with me…You better enjoy yourself.” Question for the class: Whose enjoyment is more important? His or hers? Hey, that’s Michael on the lead. Does that make it any clearer? Or the “better” any more disturbing?
Vicki Sue Robinson “Turn the Beat Around” 12-inch Version (1976)–Broadway chanteuse speaks in tongues over a History of Poly-rhythms so complete it proves conclusively the inherent funkiness of the flute. In direct response to Terry’s essay, I consider this aiming very high indeed. (And just as an aside, I’ve never quite been able to forgive Gloria Estefan for later deciphering the lyrics. And I’ve really, really tried. And just as another aside: I once heard a music critic explain the superiority of seventies music over sixties music–and express complete contempt for anyone who might have even thought of disagreeing with him–by using the name of this record, plus the words “Come on!” as his entire argument. As an unabashed lover of the music of both decades, I’m an agnostic in that particular debate, but I’ll just say I did know what he meant.)
Ohio Players “FOPP” (1975)– “The rich can Fopp and, uh, so can the po’, you can Fopp until your ninety-fo’” Hey, it took a while (decades or centuries depending on when you prefer to start counting), but when Democracy finally started producing Manifestos like this, the Soviets were basically toast, regardless of who we elected President.
Rick James “Superfreak Pt 1″ (1981)–The groupie as Goddess. No ambiguity about this one.
The Doobie Brothers “China Grove” (1973)–Flannery O’Connor weirdness with a slightly better sense of rhythm and no room for the abiding contempt of the human species that intellectuals of all stripes seem to find so comforting.
Of course, each of these responses amounts to only one of several possible responses. No point in making High Art’s head spin trying to keep up.
BTW: High Art, I feel like I should give you a hug. You lost this round, but a week earlier and you might have come up against Volume Twelve. Bad, that. Would have meant dealing with “Kung Fu Fighting” and “Brother Louie.”