There's Something Happening Here

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Way back at the beginning of all of this before this Administration even came into office, I hoped that the US intelligence and national security communities were strong enough to hold things together when the chaos started to set in.

I had some hopes about some things that could be happening behind the scenes.

I have my suspicions that some of those things that could have been done or put in place were not put in place and have not been done.

We've gotten little tiny hints that point to some of those things that may or may not have been happening. I'm not going to go into them here because it would take a while to explain. People who work or worked in the national security world speak very carefully. It has been possible to discern at least some of what has and has not been going on or put in place behind the scenes when listening to what they say or don't say. Little tiny pieces. Some of it is quite terrifying.

There have been significantly greater indications of the things that have been eroded and that are not holding.

Safeguards erased. Institutions faltering. Institutional knowledge leaving. Pressure applied. Politicization of entities previously fortified against such politicization with robust bureaucracy.

If you are looking for examples, start with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). That thing got corrupted and eroded almost right away. Not a surprise to me who worked in that department for over nine years. It is the youngest federal department, was built with too much political influence in its structure, and was not stable as a department before the transition to the Trump Administration.

The indications of that corruption and erosion in DHS have been easy to discern for someone who spent so much time in that department. Too long of a list to put here. For an indication of the current bunch of stuff, check out the FEMA report that got forced to be publicly released this week about the status of medical supplies and equipment in the US. Basically the report says yeah it's bad... and we're not planning to do anything about it. This is a department that has also not shifted its assets to support this pandemic. Instead, it has prioritized continuing raids and deportations rather than shifting and personnel resources around to support state and local government. It has confiscated medical supplies and equipment paid for by state and local governments. It has turned over federal assets to the private sector for sale and profit back to the very taxpayers who funded those assets in the first place. But I digress.

Over three and a half years, the institutional erosion to the US government has been significant. It hasn't been clear if the formidable federal bureaucracies built as a bulwark against excessive politicization and erosion would hold. DHS was low-hanging fruit for the Trump Administration to pick off. They've made inroads in other departments. Heavy inroads. They've done a significant amount of damage across the board. We know that. Once they figured out how they could make an impact they set to work. Took a while. That bought us some time.

But here we are.

A combination of the pandemic, the last three and a half years, and the last few weeks have pushed deeper into the national security world. More so than ever before. More so than in impeachment. More so than in the Mueller report. More so than what we've been able to determine in Trump's interactions with Putin.

I talked to a few friends last week about all of this. About the moment. Not my national security friends. We don't need to talk. Everyone sees the same stuff. We've all seen the threats. It was clear that a moment like this would come. I talked to my other friends; friends worried that it was as bad as it looked. Yeah. My take is that it was. Because my hope from the beginning in all of this was that the national security world would hold together. Hold the line. Be able to push back on this guy if it had to.

Last week Trump crossed a whole bunch of lines. That's not new. He crosses lines on the Twitter from his bedroom in the wee hours every day before he's even in the office.

What's new is the lines he crossed.

Anyone pushing for more and more and more and more power is going to keep at it. He keeps at it because he keeps being able to. Because there's no real accountability. Because there's been some but not massive pushback from the bureaucracy. Because there's no accountability for ethics violations. Because the Senate refused to remove him after he was impeached. Because he's been able to blow off Congress with no consequences for their many attempts at oversight. Because he has at least some backing from the Supreme Court who he has some funky ties to now.

But last week he took it up a notch. Or several.

The point here is not to list all of the details. Almost anyone reading this will have been reading the news. You know damn well what happened last week.

And then we all kind of held our breath.

But there's something happening here.

I heard someone mention the song with those words a few days ago. The protest song from back in the 60s. It's called "Stop Children What's That Sound" but the line that jumps out is "there's something happening here."

There's a shift.

There's a shift.

It was never going to be huge. That's not how the national security world rolls.

It's quiet. Dignified. A lot of it is behind the scenes. A lot of it is peer pressure. It's years of tradition. It's deep training.

It's oaths of office that matter to the people who took them.

It's oaths of office that matter for a myriad of reasons. Maybe because of those who came before. Maybe because of those whom people fought beside. Maybe because of those who died. Maybe because of the decisions a person made. Maybe because of personal sacrifices. I don't know and none of us know what each oath means to each person.

But I do know that it's bigger than politics. It's supposed to be.

I never served in the military. The 10 years I spent in the national security world were in non-defense departments. I was never in the core of military or intelligence bureaucracies. I was in the core of homeland security. Closer in to policy and operations than most Americans would ever see. It was close enough. I know enough.

I know enough to suspect that what we've seen in the last week since Trump crossed too many lines is that the center might hold. The core.

There might be enough gravity deep inside the federal government to hold this country together.

The US military has pushed back. The National Guard has pushed back. The national security bureaucracy has reiterated and clarified some lines. It's been at a level where you didn't have to have been inside the business to see what at least some of that clarification is, because of what happened in Washington DC. Because of very obvious real-world actions and changes. And now because of some very obvious memos, articles, speeches, and interviews.

We've also had a mayor of a district that's not even a state exercise incredible strength and courage. And legal authority. And artistic declaration.

And completely out of left field this week we have the Democratic party nominee for president saying The Thing out loud that so many have feared. Calling it out.

Vice President Joe Biden said this week that he has the full faith and confidence in the United States military that if Mr. Trump chooses not to leave office if he loses the election that he will be escorted away by that military.

That's the kind of deep game that we need. I'm not talking about politics. I'm talking about calling on that core of the federal government to hold it together. I'm talking about calling that out right now in this moment.

Joe Biden didn't just fire a warning shot. The former vice president made a declaration. A call to service.

The weak man holding the office of president won't know how to respond. He does not understand that kind of strength. It's deep and it's subtle and it's nuanced. It's calling on the deepest authorities of this country and of this government.

Joe Biden was not my preferred candidate. That's been no secret.

But what he did this week is to amplify, call on, and recognize very publicly the strength at the core of this government that can help hold it together as we go through this tumultuous time. As we go through what will be in increasingly intense test of this democracy in the midst of a pandemic, civil unrest, corruption in the White House, and what is likely to be a very rough election and transition.

You don't need to be a national security person to understand what Vice President Biden did this week; about what these generals and military people speaking out about what happened last week have done.

But I will tell you as someone who has worked a little bit behind the scenes in some of these worlds that what is showing now is what I have been hoping for since Election Day 2016. This is what I've been hoping for.

Holding the line.

That Joe Biden is activating more of that is incredibly powerful. It's an amplifier. It's a strengthener. It's heartening. Not just for the military. For every American. Or at least for the ones who have not fallen for the cult.

Maybe we can breathe just a little bit differently this week. Just a little bit.

We need to watch it. We need to see how it holds.

And now that Trump has run up against some lines he can't cross, he's going to react. That's not going to go well. Narcissists in a meltdown being told that there are boundaries never behave well. He's going to act out and throw fits. They will probably be pretty big. The fact that he is scheduling his cult election rallies at highly sensitive cultural dates and locations is no accident.

He's going to get nastier. Absolutely. All of the pundits who keep trying to cut him a break would do well to shut the hell up. He's not going to change. It's going to get worse. Hope is not a strategy, and he's not going to have an awakening.

That's not the only thing that's going to get nastier. So is this virus. So is the economic damage, and the cascading effects from complex system interdependencies and interruptions. Food systems. Medical systems. Governments. It's not going to go well.

If you think I'm depressing, you should listen to Laurie Garrett. She was on The Rachel Maddow Show last night talking about how we will have increasing division across the country as the effects of cities and states treating a virus differently set in. Those with very high infection rates may be shunned by those who don't. And so on. This is of course going to add trouble when we need to increase solidarity and teamwork nation wide.

Go back to that FEMA memo that I mentioned above, where FEMA recognizes that medical supplies and equipment are in short supply and have only increased slightly since spring - and they have no real plans to change that.

But they could. The US government has incredible powers at its disposal to handle this disaster better. This president has chosen not to every single day since it started. He's chosen not to use those powers, authorities, assets, plans, bureaucracies, and processes. Some of my connections this week tried to tell me that other presidents have done similar. No they haven't. Nobody ever took the entire federal system for responding to a disaster and threw most of it out as soon as the crisis hit.

We are in the fight for our lives. Just because it might look like things could hold together doesn't mean they will. There's a whole lot of chaos to come between now and November, and November and January.

Trump in his soul is a disruptor. He is drawn to creating chaos. He excels at it. He thrives on it.

There will be more.

There are good reasons to be heartened. There are no reasons to sit back and relax.

To get through this, we will need every bit of connection, community, problem problem-solving, adaptability, and resilience that we can muster. Every bit.

Civic engagement will be a key to getting through the next 8 months. To pulling ourselves forward through trauma, emerging tyranny, and increasing chaos.

To that end, we are rolling out a new nonprofit to build and promote 20 baseline civic engagement tools to help us navigate all of this chaos.

More to come on that in the next days and weeks. It's designed to help people get into some of the systemic and structural changes that the past few weeks, the pandemic, and the Trump Administration all indicate are clearly needed.

Tools to help us hold this country together in the places where we are, to help us evolve as we get through it, and to help us create a society that serves everyone so much better on the other side.

I will put out a list of the planned tools and more info in the next few days. We're building the legal and structural parts of the nonprofit now.

It's a framework to help us build power and strength while we also find our way through.

In the meantime, love your people. Or just love people. It's what we're here for.

And try not to get dead. We need each other.

Light it up.

This website was created for this kind of moment; for a great transformation.  We have free tools + info that can help people + organizations.  We hold virtual events.  We do coaching at inclusive pricing rates; we do consulting & training for organizations.  We help each other navigate disruption & find ways forward.

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This post was originally published on the founder's personal Facebook page here.

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