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K.T. McFarland’s Revolution in Tamerlane’s Shadow

Over the last week I have read the K.T. (Kathleen Troia) McFarland’s Revolution: Trump, Washington and ‘We the People’ (2020). I was led to this book by the remarkable case of injustice perpetrated on General Michael Flynn. K.T. McFarland was Michael Flynn’s deputy, Deputy National Security Adviser in the first months of Trump’s presidency, and was herself subjected to the persecutory prosecution of James Comey’s FBI as part of what increasingly appears to be a very modern American coup by the police and intelligence agencies in collaboration with political mercenaries.

I saw McFarland interviewed about her experience, which traumatised her through days of harassing questioning and bogus threats aimed at intimidating her into a guilty plea for a process crime. The aim of this intimidation was clearly to further the resistance and to derail the new Trump administration. The effect on Flynn and McFarland was profound. McFarland resigned or was forced out over the concocted legal and media scandal. Flynn was and is still being subjected to persecutory justice in the form of a judge who seems to want to make himself both prosecutor and arbiter, as well as protector of the Obama legacy.

In the interview, McFarland talked about how she had to leave the country for a time, and spent the time writing this book to make sense of her experience. Only now, with the recent disclosures of the documented truth about the Flynn case (that it was a fit-up right from the start) has she begun to speak again on the panel shows and news programs.

The account of this experience in her book is haunting, and surely must present a shock to the liberal mind that such Kafkaesque trials occur in the great merchant empire of democracy. To McFarland her experience with the FBI, Office of Special Counsel (Mueller) investigation and related Congressional investigations:

“illustrates how dangerously perverted the system has become… these politically-motivated investigations have unintended consequences. They shove our very real problems to the sidelines while those inside the Beltway remain obsessed with scandals that the rest of the country doesn’t really care about. But they also cast doubt and suspicion on our governmental institutions when some powerful people in the Washington Establishment attempt what amounts to reversing election outcomes if they don’t like the results. Investigation after investigation, impeachment effort after impeachment effort serve to paralyze our elected officials. They also gnaw away at our people’s faith in the democratic system itself. Furthermore, they put our national security at risk, as our adversaries exploit the madness of our internal divisions and political paralysis to their own advantage.”

KT McFarland, Revolution, loc, 3788-95.

It is a damning and revealing judgement from an exceptionally insightful insider of the American national security state. McFarland’s career stretched back to Kissinger and Nixon, and included periods in the Reagan administration, as a mother and carer, as a television commentator, and speaker on the circuit, before peaking as a central member of Trump’s transition team and Deputy National Security Adviser. Throughout the book she offers genuine insight to the new Presidential administration and exceptional glimpses into the mode of operation of key figures of the administration. She highlights some of the flaws in Flynn’s personality that may have contributed to his downfall, and identifies the particular demands of Trump’s briefing style that left Tillerson and McMaster as too proud grandees unable to adapt their communication style to the needs of their new boss. She is no naive Trump admirer, and is clearly an astute and balanced observor of the great theatre of power.

McFarland also gives an account of the intellectual transition of this former protege of Henry Kissinger to become a believer in Trump’s populist (and nationalist – that is less explicitly acknowledged by McFarland) revolution. She devotes one chapter to Washington’s failed economic and foreign policies, and presents a convincing diagnosis that this elite failure is behind the populist resurgence:

“for nearly twenty years we have pursued economic and foreign policies that worked well for some of our people but failed miserably for others. It didn’t matter whether the Republicans or Democrats were in charge in Washington. The average, hardworking ‘commoners’ turned to Trump because they felt ignored or ill-treated by everybody else.”

KT McFarland, Revolution, loc. 227-231.

The latter part of her book is a statement of faith in democratic populism – the “we the people” of her title. I found this section less compelling since it suffered from the peculiar American blindness to their own belligerent nationalist reinterpretation of their empire of democracy. It becomes ultimately a restatement of American exceptionalism.

“America is a great nation for many reasons. But we are an exceptional nation for only one – that we have within our hands the power of regeneration. We can reinvent ourselves as a nation, just as we can reinvent ourselves as individuals.”

KT McFarland, Revolution, loc. 5744-47

So in this view, America’s empire of democracy is immune to decline.

“We may decline, for just a little while, but then we do what we have always done throughout our history. We reinvent ourselves and rise again. Perhaps Lincoln said it best, in the darkest days of the Civil War, that our country has a ‘new birth of freedom'”

KT McFarland, Revolution, loc. 5768

Ultimately, this statement is merely a profession of faith, complete with the invocation of the sacred words of the democratic rites, and this profession of faith cannot insulate another grand empire from over-reach, cultural decay and decline. America does not have an exclusive claim to democracy, populism or national regeneration. It is not the fount of democracy in the world, but one deep stream of those political traditions. It is not exceptional, and not immune to history, and the forces of conflict and disorder. It cannot stand outside Tamerlane’s shadow, as the the great historian of empires described it. It is clear from Darwin’s seminal work, After Tamerlane: the rise and fall of global empires: 1400-2000 (2007), that many nations and many empires have the power to regenerate. But none can stand as the sole and exclusive beacon of the world. As Darwin writes at the end of After Tamerlane:

“What we call globalization today might be candidly seen as flowing from a set of recent agreements, some tacit, some formal, between the four great economic ’empires’ of the contemporary world: America, Europe, Japan and China. For them, and for all other states and societies, the challenge will be to reconcile their internal cohesion with the disturbing effects of competition. The strain will be great; the outcome uncertain. But if there is one continuity that we should be able to glean from a long view of the past, it is Eurasia’s resistance to a uniform system, a single great ruler, or one set of rules. In that sense, we still live in Tamerlane’s shadow – or, perhaps more precisely, in the shadow of his failure.”

John Darwin, After Tamerlane, pp. 505-6.

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