Long Knives


Many years ago I worked with a man who before taking up a graduate degree in math at a Related imageGerman university had been a martial arts enthusiast. He had a very slight limp and one day told me the story behind it. While walking along a beach in Honduras with his wife and a British couple the foursome were attacked by a huge man armed with a machete. My friend had a “little camping machete” for defense and seeing the fight would soon go against his shorter weapon stepped inside his assailant’s blade arc and took out his assailant’s arm while receiving in exchange the blow which produced the limp. The Honduran police later congratulated him for subduing a notorious local criminal and took both him and the seriously injured suspect to the hospital.

The story illustrates how in a sword fight, as in politics, the combatants often attack each other’s extremities (sword hand, extended foot, arm) first before venturing into body strike range. To get into killing range you must often risk being killed yourself. So sword fighters usually wait for their foes to weaken or an opening to develop.

The most singular thing about Donald Trump’s wiretap accusation against Barack Obama is how he’s refusing to play the game of extremities — losing a Flynn here and getting a Sessions paralyzed there — and getting right into lethal range. Trump’s gone right past Schumer, ignored the surrogates and gone straight for the former president himself.

The Sunday Guardian writes some believe Trump’s key mistake was believing “in mid-November … that it would be a statesmanlike gesture to (in effect) pardon Hillary Clinton.” He must have expected a reciprocal courtesy. The next thing he felt were his digits being sheared away.

Acting through their contacts in the incoming administration, the Clinton machine … ‘dismissed National Security Advisor Michael Flynn … [and] ensured that the green light got flashed to launch an attack on another known foe of Hillary Clinton’, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose sought after resignation would energize the Clinton machine to move on to their next targets, Counsellors Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Bannon.

Trump’s response to the finger-lopping campaign was not to respond proportionately but to attack Obama himself. CBS News writes: “The White House … is calling for an investigation into the previous administration’s surveillance activities.”

“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling,” read a statement from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued Sunday morning. “President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.”

On Saturday morning, Mr. Trump sent out a flurry of tweets claiming, with no evidence, that Obama ordered a wiretap on him at Trump Tower during the lead-up to the 2016 election. He called the alleged action “Nixon/Watergate,” saying Obama is a “bad (or sick) guy.”

This escalation represents a real threat to Obama. Suddenly everything is out of control. Nobody would have minded much if Trump had gone after one of Obama’s henchmen — which is probably what was expected — but none can foresee how an exchange of blades between principals will end. It is safe to say, however, that unless the combatants disengage, someone will get hurt. It will be a terrible moment for American political civility when a king lies on the political floor. The whole point of a peaceful transition of power is to prevent a clash between kings. Yet the very tragedy the electoral process is intended to prevent is happening before our eyes.

In such a fight anything can happen. “What happened to the rest of your companions on the beach?” I remember asking my German friend. “Well the rest remained rooted to the spot, unable to speak,” he said. “As for me, I was in a place by myself; in a time by myself. I remember the water sparkling around our ankles as we fought. One part of my mind could not help admiring how so very picturesque it was. I remember my opponents eyes especially. They were yellow, like he was on drugs.”

“Then I sensed, more than reasoned that I would die unless I ended this,” he said. “So I stepped in and struck his arm. I didn’t even feel the hit on my knee.” Of course if it had gone another way my friend would never have felt anything at all, not after the first incomprehensible seconds.


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