A Tale of Two Traitors: Or, does President Donald Trump even get this betrayal thing?

Posted on January 31, 2017, 2:14 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Donald J. Trump – American Caligula, or just an American idiot? President Trump may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: H.A.R. Philby, as portrayed in a Soviet stamp, and Igor Sergeievich Gouzenko, Cold War side switchers. Sally Q. Yates, fired by Mr. Trump for “betraying” the Justice Department.

Harold Adrian Russell Philby, better known as “Kim,” the British spymaster who turned out to have been working all along for the Soviet Union, denied that he had betrayed his country.

In My Silent War, the 1968 autobiography Philby may or may not have written himself during his residency in Moscow, with or without the assistance of a KGB minder, he made the point he did it, if not quite for England, for mankind then, because of what he called “my persisting faith in Communism.”

Philby died in Moscow in 1988, where he was given a hero’s funeral. He was awarded posthumous medals by the Soviets, and a nice grave marker was erected in his memory.

Igor Sergeievich Gouzenko, the Soviet cypher clerk who three days after the official end of World War II defected to Canada from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, underwent a similar transformation from traitor to hero.

By exposing the efforts of Joseph Stalin’s spy network to get its paws on western atomic secrets, historian Jack Granatstein concluded, “Gouzenko was the beginning of the Cold War for public opinion.” It is hard to disagree.

Gouzenko lived out his life supported by a modest Canadian stipend in a Toronto suburb, where he too wrote an autobiography, This Was My Choice. He also appeared frequently for interviews with a trademark sack over his head and wrote a now-forgotten novel, which nevertheless won the Governor General’s Award in 1954.

Gouzenko died in 1982 Toronto, where he is buried. The Canadian government placed a nice memorial plaque in Ottawa’s Dundonald Park, across the street from the apartment he lived in at the time of his defection.

Heroes, then, both of them, for picking the right ideology, and having the sense to stick with it.

This short historical recitation is recounted only to make the point that one of the peculiarities of the Age of Ideology is that the notion of treason or even mere betrayal has become quaint, if not completely obsolete, in certain circles.

Those who work secretly or openly with their country’s foes at any rate, can do so with intellectual impunity, and perhaps the real thing, if they can claim to serve the ideology of their country’s opponent. Since nations have interests, they need potential foreign turncoats to understand this.

The Soviet government and its Canadian counterpart alike both found their adopted countrymen a challenge to deal with – Philby was a drunk; Gouzenko irritatingly litigious – but the annoyance was deemed worthwhile for reasons that are obvious on both principled and practical grounds.

Would-be future betrayers of Canada, you can count on it, would defend their actions on ideological grounds. Some may already be pondering their defence.

Meanwhile, as the gong show in the District of Columbia grows ever louder – or, as the New York Times would have it, the crisis continues to escalate – it becomes apparent President Trump doesn’t get this essential concept either coming or going.

Either that, or maybe he just doesn’t care about this stuff. A Times columnist, by the way, referred yesterday to his administration as the “Trump-Putin regime”!

The practical meaning, never mind the principled one, of Mr. Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries is that life will be more complicated for America’s Imperial legions in foreign lands where co-operation with U.S. soldiers may be seen by the locals as treason.

The Pentagon is not happy. Where will they find interpreters and other “friendlies” if the promise of a safe haven in America is not part of the deal?

Meanwhile, also yesterday and also part of the same story, Mr. Trump sacked the acting attorney general temporarily bequeathed to him by the Obama Administration.

The swift departure of Sally Q. Yates, who refused to take action to defend the immigration ban against legal challenges, in itself is probably not all that earth-shattering. She would have been replaced quickly anyway, as soon as Mr. Trump’s choice was rubber-stamped by the many Republicans in Congress.

But the president’s language was telling. In a Tweet, he accused Ms. Yates of betraying the Justice Department.

Should an employee who defies an employer’s order, whether out of principle or pure perversity, be accused of betrayal? Or merely failure to do her job?

It sure sounds as if President Trump has confused his own government, perhaps his own wonderful self, with the United States itself – “l’etat, c’est moi!”

Today, a wholesale purge of the State Department may be on the Trump agenda. And after that? The Sun King? Caligula on the Potomac? A Ukrainian-style colour revolution?

In the event of the latter, they say the Hotel Ukraina is very nice if you don’t have one of your own handy. The Ritz Carleton, not so much. There’s a funny smell in the sheets.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

13 Comments to: A Tale of Two Traitors: Or, does President Donald Trump even get this betrayal thing?

  1. Ron

    January 31st, 2017

    We sure ain’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

    Reply
  2. Rocky

    January 31st, 2017

    “Would-be future betrayers of Canada, you can count on it, would defend their actions on ideological grounds. Some may already be pondering their defence.” You wouldn’t have Kellie Leitch in mind, would you? Jason Kenney?

    Reply
  3. Lorenzo

    January 31st, 2017

    We should be thankful Joseph Stalin’s spy network got its paws on the West’s atomic secrets, as you put it. Without that espionage success, no matter how distasteful the Soviet government may have been, we surely would have had an American-administered nuclear holocaust – or two, or three, or more – by now. One would certainly have been in Russia. Can you imagine how President Trump would behave if only Americans had atomic bombs?

    Reply
    • Val Jobson

      January 31st, 2017

      I just hope somebody has hidden the nuclear button where he can’t find it. He’s so unstable, he’s more like Caligula or Nero, a performer who people have to praise, no matter how bad..

      Reply
      • Val Jobson

        January 31st, 2017

        And darn you David for making me hear “l’etat, c’est moi!” spoken in Trump’s horrible voice. Yuck.

        Reply
  4. Val

    January 31st, 2017

    if Sally Q. Yates isn’t in agreement with Trump policies, why didn’t she resign immediately but used her power to act against and waited to be fired? i wouldn’t call it betrayal but rather conscious sabotage.
    i think that’s true that media too much exaggerate everything in regards of Trump’s steps. i don’t see any sort of religious discrimination of refugees as long as not all muslim countries got banned for immigration to USA. list contains only seven with most spread over them terrorist organizations, which after all does infiltrate their members among mass of refugees and that’s proven fact.
    as for you David, you always critical about right wing journalism and their biased position but perhaps don’t noticed quite often your articles isn’t less biased, just on opposite pole.
    there were been less than two weeks since Trump moved to White House. Obama has had 8 years to appoint top officials in government. new president was elected on promise to radically change all political establishments in USA, thus should be obvious – smooth transition can’t be expected. of course there will be mistakes and confusions but does it gives right to immediatly jump to conclusion?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 1st, 2017

      Sally Q. Yates, like all senior U.S. officials, has sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States. When Mr. Trump implemented what is pretty clearly an unconstitutional action as a moral person she had no choice but to do the right and honourable thing. He fired her. As for my posts, they are opinion pieces – my opinion. The journalism I complain about purports to be reporting. Mr. Trump’s policy on immigration will create more refugees for Europe to deal with, of course, although that may be part of a plan to drive voters in those countries to the alt-right as well.

      Reply
      • Val

        February 1st, 2017

        well, she was appointed to do her job as Attorney General for government and president of USA and not to question rightfulness of orders and legislation and to order to her subordinates to sabotage those. thanks God USA do still have Constitution (frankly very good one) and Constitutional Court, which has obligation and duty to monitor correspondence to Constitution of the passing laws.
        again, if she couldn’t agree. she must resign and after that as a private citizen or member of right watching organization can rise awareness about breaking the Constitution by president.

        Reply
  5. Dave

    January 31st, 2017

    Who are the betrayers? They might not be the obvious ones. I think in many ways Trump is betraying US interest by doing things that unnecessarily antagonize friends/allies and provoke potential adversaries. It might have some short term political benefit for him, but in the long term the US will face much more hostility in the world.

    The only world leader that seems to be cozying up to Trump now is in Britain and that is mainly out of desperation because of their own stupidity they have almost made enemies of their 20 some former European allies.

    Reply
  6. David

    January 31st, 2017

    Wouldn’t it be nice if governments behaved democratically and their servant had no incentive to expose their doings? Wouldn’t it be nice if governments who had the ‘whistle’ blown on their doings honoured their own whistle blower legislation and actually reformed their practises rather than prosecuting whistle blowers?

    Reply
  7. Brett

    January 31st, 2017

    The challenge is so many politicians are weak and so many civil servants are utterly drove dent on their jobs in order to support their families.

    One reason why I admire Michael Chong is that he stood up for the honourable course. It cost him his Cabinet job. He knew it round but he could not let any more nonsense pass him by as a member of the Executive Council.

    Reply
  8. Student

    February 1st, 2017

    “The practical meaning, never mind the principled one, of Mr. Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries is that life will be more complicated for America’s Imperial legions in foreign lands where co-operation with U.S. soldiers may be seen by the locals as treason.”

    The practical meaning which deserves first mention is that life will be much more difficult for innocent people who have been displaced by war and misery and seek a better life.

    Reply
  9. Monte Irvin

    February 1st, 2017

    The United States was once “The shining beacon on a hill” for the rest of the world when it came to freedom and civil liberties.
    I don’t believe that the Trump Administration understands the international damage that they are creating to their countries reputation around the world.
    We saw how dangerous the world became for American’s abroad under George W. Bush. I now fear for my American friends living and traveling outside of their country.

    Reply

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