Scott Ritter speaks at SUNY New Paltz (Wikimedia Commons)

By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost

It is not difficult to be astonished these days, given how many things going on around us warrant astonishment. To pull something out of a hat at random, the Democratic apparatus has openly, brazenly politicized the judicial system—weaponized it, if you prefer—in its determination to destroy Donald Trump and now has the temerity to warn in the gravest terms that a second Trump term would mean… the politicization of American justice. 

Again at random, in The Washington Post’s June 7 editions George Will tells us President Biden “has provided the most progressive governance in U.S. history.” Yes, he wrote that. Give in to your astonishment.  

It is interesting in this case to note that, during the reign of Ronald Reagan 40 years ago, our George thought big government was bad, bad, bad. Now it is a fine thing that Biden is “minimizing the market’s role by maximizing the government’s role in allocating society’s resources and opportunities.” Apart from turning his own argument hourglass upside-down, this assessment of our swiftly declining president is preposterously, right-before-your-eyes false.

You cannot tell the AC’s from the DC’s these days. But this is not the half of it in the way of astonishing events, things done, things said and such like. 

Last week, as many readers will have noticed, Scott Ritter, the former weapons inspector and now a widely followed commentator, was about to board a plane bound for Turkey when armed police officers stopped him, confiscated his passport and escorted him out of Kennedy International Airport. Ritter was booked to transit through Istanbul for St. Petersburg, where he planned to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual gathering.

Here is Ritter recounting this incident in an interview with RT International:

I was boarding the flight. Three officers pulled me aside. They took my passport. When asked why, they said, “Orders of the State Department.” They had no further information for me. They pulled my bags off the plane, then escorted me out of the airport. They kept my passport.

No passport, no freedom to travel, no explanation. I have it on good authority that Ritter subsequently advised other Americans who were to attend the St. Petersburg events not to risk it.

I have had countless conversations over many years in which the question considered has been “Is this as bad as the 1950s?” The matter has been especially vital since the Russiagate fiasco began during the Clinton–Trump campaign season in 2016. It was in the ensuing years that the authoritarianism implicit in American liberalism from the first burst upon us like some weird grotesque out of a Dr. Seuss book. 

I always urge caution when invoking comparisons between our corruptions and ideological extremes and those of the McCarthy era. Hyperbole and exaggeration never serve one’s understanding or one’s argument. But the confiscation of Scott Ritter’s passport on the instructions of Antony Blinken’s State Department seems to me a radical step too far. The liberal authoritarians now in command of the nation’s major institutions, the House of Representatives among the only exceptions, have just signaled they are quite prepared to act at least as undemocratically as the House Un–American Activities crowd, the FBI and the rest of the national-security state did during the 1950s to preserve their political hegemony. 

When I think of confiscated passports I think of Paul Robeson, the gifted singer,  the courageous political dissenter, the civil rights advocate—here he is singing his famous Water Boy—whose documents were seized in 1950 because he refused to indulge in the Cold War paranoia that was already prevalent. His performing career collapsed and he nearly went broke before a Supreme Court decision restored them in 1958. Or I think of all the screenwriters, novelists, poets, painters and activists whose papers were canceled while they were in Mexico—or in France or in Sweden or in England—to avoid HUAC and expatriation turned into exile.  

And when I am finished thinking of these people, about whom there is a rich, inspiring literature, I think of how far America descended into a derangement we tend to look back upon in some combination of wonder, derision and contempt.

We can no longer look back in this fashion. The revocation of Scott Ritter’s passport, along with the destruction of the judicial system, the myth-spinning about our purported leaders and all the rest  pushes this in our faces. Let us give this a moment’s thought to see if we can determine what is likely to be in store.  

Why Scott Ritter, I have wondered these past few days. Of all the dissident commentators of too many stripes to count, why Scott? I reply to myself, “Because Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer, a former U.N. arms monitor in Iraq and he enjoys big-time credibility as a patriotic American.” His voice, in short, is the sort that can carry weight in sectors of the voting public that may well prove key in determining the outcome in the Trump–Biden election this Nov. 5. 

Viewed in this context, I take the full-frontal suppression of Ritter’s rights last week as very likely tied to the liberals’ political prospects, other than brilliant as they are at this point. Censorship, suppression of various kinds taking various forms, “canceling”—these are nothing new, of course. But I sense things may get a great deal worse from here on out.  

This is a year of global elections, as has often been remarked. The Associated Press counted 25 major national elections in a piece published at the start of the year. Taiwan, El Salvador, Indonesia, Russia, Slovakia, India, Mexico: These are among the big ones that have already taken place. The European Union is holding parliamentary elections June 6–9, cited in liberal quarters as the most important in decades. When Americans vote Nov. 5, it will be in this context.

In many of these elections—not all but many—the core issues are variants on a theme. The liberal order, such as we have it, is cast as defending itself against the onslaughts of—take your pick—populists, authoritarians, here and there a dictator. This is certainly how liberal media encourage American voters to view the Biden–Trump contest. And it is for this reason I think we must all brace ourselves for what may turn out to be a very major disaster for what remains of American democracy—and by extension the West’s. 

Cast your mind back to 1992, when the Soviet Union was no more, an incipient triumphalism was taking hold in the U.S. and Francis Fukuyama published his famous (or infamous) The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press). Fukuyama, then a middling bureaucrat at the State Department, made the case that liberal democracy had won out and would stand as the ultimate, unchallenged achievement of humankind. A sort of happy political monoculture was destined to prevail eternally across the planet. 

However sophomoric you may find this thesis, and I find it almost juvenile in its silliness, it came to define the expectations of all righteous American liberals. There was the Bush II administration, a major setback for the liberal narrative, although at the horizon this was merely a variation on the liberal theme. Then came the Obama years. And the Obama years set up the Democrats for a kind of fateful consummation in 2016. Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy that November was incontrovertibly the surest of outcomes because it was… what is my phrase?… a matter of historical destiny. 

This is why Clinton’s defeat landed so hard among the mainstream Democrats. It was more, much more, than a loss at the polls. Trump’s victory contradicted what had become a prevalent consciousness among American liberals. Biden’s win in 2020 was a kind of salvage job: It put the liberal narrative back on track. But something had happened in the years after Clinton’s November 2016 loss. Liberals had assumed an uncompromising ideological righteousness such that we can now legitimately call them authoritarians—soft despots in de Tocqueville’s terminology, apple-pie authoritarians in mine. The cause is upside-down to the Cold War cause, but these people are at least as dangerous as the McCarthyites, and, as I have suggested, maybe more so. 

We learned something important during those years. Deprived of what they considered their right as conferred by the force of history, liberals demonstrated that they would stop at nothing in the cause of retrieving it. Even those institutions that must stand above the political pit if a democracy is to have any chance of working, notably but not only the judiciary, were intruded upon in the liberal authoritarian project. Nothing was off limits.  

Here we are again. We are headed into another confrontation of the kind that set liberals on the path of destruction they began to walk in 2016. We are already seeing a new wave of preposterous, utterly unsubstantiated charges of Russian or Chinese interference. Trump will turn America into a dictatorship. Trump will go on a rampage of retribution. Trump—we hear this already, as noted—will corrupt the courts, our courts, the courts we have kept pristine. 

The Scott Ritter affair astonishes me yet more than any of the other astonishing developments of late. I read it as a warning of how extreme things may get, what irreparable damage to the American polity may be done, if liberal authoritarian cliques determine that a broad campaign to suppress dissent will be necessary if Biden is to have a chance of winning a second term and they are to fulfill their end-of-history destiny.  

Let me put it this way. Liberal media now routinely bait Trump to say whether he will automatically accept the outcome this Nov. 5. One would have to be naïve in the extreme to make any such commitment as things now stand. 

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Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His new book, Journalists and Their Shadows, is out now from Clarity Press. His website is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site

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