Essays by Herb Meyer
An Unearthly Analysis of American Politics
Ricochet — February 28, 2016
Our country’s politics has become so partisan, so horribly toxic, that it is nearly impossible to find an objective view of the current situation. At least, here on Earth. That is why the Ricochet Intelligence Service has expanded its covert operations beyond our own planet. As usual, our spies have performed brilliantly. We are pleased to make the following Top-Secret document available to Ricochet readers on a one-time, eyes-only basis. This means you are authorized to read the document, but not to discuss it with, or forward it to, anyone else. If you are unable to accept these restrictions, you must stop reading now. Or else …
From: The Director of Martian Intelligence
To: His Magnificence the Leader of Mars
Re: America’s Political Establishment
At yesterday morning’s daily intelligence briefing, you asked a question my colleagues and I have been pondering for months: “What on Earth is going on?”
In our conversation after the briefing, you explained that you were especially interested in the large country they call the United States. As you are aware, for two Earth centuries now, the US has been our primary intelligence target on that promising but primitive planet. We have placed more agents in the US than we have placed in all other Earth countries combined and — if I may be allowed to brag about the service I am privileged to lead — not a single one of our US-based agents has ever been caught. (There was one close call some decades ago. If you’re interested in learning more, I can send you my own classified monograph recounting this operation, The Roswell Deception.)
In any case, this memo is in reply to your new query about America, and it reflects the co-ordinated judgments of our own most senior intelligence officials.
Simply put, the American political establishment is collapsing. This establishment comprises leaders, officials, and consultants of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Its headquarters lies in the country’s capital, which has, in recent years, become less a city than a profession. Young people settle there, then deal themselves into the profession of politics. The cleverest of these young men and women move smoothly from one position to another, always increasing their power, their influence, and their incomes.
Of course, Republican and Democratic members of the establishment differ on specific issues, such as tax rates and defense spending. But they agree overwhelmingly that it is they who should set the country’s political agenda; they should decide what issues should be talked about and dealt with. In this sense, Washingtonians’ attitude today resembles that of Earth’s Romans at the end of their empire: This is where we run it from. We have no interest in your ideas and opinions. Your only purpose in life is to keep sending money. And do not for one moment forget how lucky you are to be ruled by us.
The remarkable thing isn’t that America’s political establishment is collapsing; it’s that the establishment has survived for so long. Americans are an independent people; they grudgingly accept the need to be governed, but they aren’t willing to be ruled. The establishment has crossed this line — apparently its leaders never even realized there was such a line — and now ordinary Americans in both parties are protesting.
In a sense, what we’re watching is a massive intelligence failure by the entire American political establishment. The Democrats never saw coming the rise of Bernie Sanders; they just assumed their chosen candidate, Hillary Clinton, would coast to the nomination. (By the way, have you ever read emails from a foreign minister of any country — on any planet — that are more boring, or more unintelligent, than hers? Neither have I.) And the Republicans never saw coming the rise of Donald Trump; they failed utterly to understand the range and depth of anger and frustration among the grass roots. If there was just one thing that all these Washington DC-based, highly paid political professionals should have grasped, and presumably contained, it was the growing discontent within their own parties. They missed it completely, and it is this failure which has led to the political insurgencies that are now roiling both parties.
Our agents in America report that the mood among its citizens, and especially among Republican and conservative activists, is one of pessimism bordering on despair. Even their most popular, widely-read websites and blogs are filled with essays and articles bemoaning the results of their primary elections and predicting that the country itself is on the verge of irreversible decline. Indeed, it is the overwhelming judgment of my own colleagues that in the near future, America will no longer be the greatest power on Earth, but merely one of that planet’s largest countries.
I dissent. With respect, you and I are both old enough to remembers that this isn’t the first time we have predicted the irreversible decline of America. Back in the period the Earthings refer to as the late 1970s, everything that could possibly go wrong for that country was going wrong. The economy was stalled, with an 11 percent unemployment rate, interest rates at a crushing 17 percent, and the cost of fuel at record levels. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan made it obvious that it was on the verge of winning what was then called the Cold War. Adding insult to injury, the lunatics in Iran had captured American diplomats and were holding them hostage in Teheran. The only response from America’s leader — a feckless, self-righteous peanut-farmer-turned-politician — was to go on television and tell his people to turn down the thermostats in their homes and bundle up.
In what we now recognize as our own greatest intelligence failure, the then-chief of this service and his colleagues sent your predecessor an Intelligence Estimate predicting “with extreme confidence” that the United States was finished.
Then the Americans elected Ronald Reagan. (I was a young intelligence analyst at the time, and I can tell you that not one of us saw this coming. Without exception, our agents in the US — reporting what they’d been told by their sources in Washington DC — described Reagan to us as an amiable idiot. Years later, after he had ignited the greatest economic boom in US history and won the Cold War without firing a shot, the chief of our service resigned in disgrace.)
Let’s not make this same mistake again. I’ve been watching these Americans for decades, and there’s something about them my colleagues keep missing: Americans never give up. Just when you think it’s too late, they pull themselves together and produce a miracle. There is something in what the Americans call their DNA (a scientific acronym referring to their primitive biology) that no other people on Earth seem to possess. Americans don’t get into gear at the last possible moment. They get into gear after the last possible moment has passed — after every respected analyst and observer concludes “with extreme confidence” that it’s too late.
At this point in the campaign, we are unable to predict who will become the Democratic and Republican candidates. Nor can we say with confidence who the Americans will elect as their next president in November. But it is our unanimous judgment that the collapse of the American political establishment has begun. Its leaders won’t go down without a fight, which means the coming election cycle will be exceptionally nasty, even by Earthling standards. And it’s possible that the political establishment will survive the current election cycle, and possibly even survive through another cycle four years from now and perhaps even another cycle after that. Revolutions sometimes take time and, as you well know from your own career, in politics things often go backwards even as they move forward. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching these Americans, it’s that once they get going they keep going until they succeed.
I hereby request an exemption to the mandatory five percent budget cut you have imposed on all agencies, including this one. We must have sufficient funding to expand the covert action called Operation Grass Roots. This is the program to disperse our agents in America from Washington DC, where nearly all of them have been based, to states, cities and towns throughout the US. Some of our younger agents have already re-located, and the reports we’re receiving from them are intriguing. They tell us that at the local level Americans are meeting, holding what they call “caucuses,” talking about candidates, arguing about policies, and electing what they call “delegates” to state and even county political conventions. They do this while consuming vast quantities of stimulants including caffeine and sugar.
More importantly, our agents at the grass-roots level are telling us that behind the obvious signs of anger and despair, just below the surface, there is a rising spirit of hope. Newly elected politicians whose names we have never heard before — Ben Sasse, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, and Jim Jordan to name just four — have begun speaking out and are starting to restore among voters those uniquely American qualities of optimism and confidence in the future.
Allow me to conclude with a personal note for your eyes only: I’ve been in the intelligence business for a long time now, and my career is nearing its end. I hope I have served our planet well. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that in the intelligence business sometimes — not often, but sometimes — you must ignore the facts and go with your gut. I think these Americans are going to pull it off. They’re going to replace their country’s political establishment with a new establishment, and by doing so they will once again astonish their world. This time, they may even astonish themselves.