Robert Azzi: Robert Mueller and ‘the appalling silence of the good people’

For the Monitor
Published: 7/27/2019 2:00:27 PM

In our quest for a more perfect union we often deceive ourselves into believing that America can rise – because we allegedly share common values and ideals – above traditional societal markers – race, class, gender, wealth, privilege – in pursuit of self-evident truths.

In pursuit of a yet unrealized truth that all men are created equal.

Traditionally, when America has been attacked by external enemies – Pearl Harbor, 9/11 – it often robustly, if not always justly, responds with a united voice. Historically, we debate our differences but stand as one against threats to our homeland.

Today, with our homeland paralyzed by political division and self-serving ambitions – where Democrats and Republicans too often mobilize in defense of parochial interests rather than in defense of the nation – too many Americans stand silent.

Today, with our homeland under siege by enemies both foreign and domestic, enemies attacking our elections, exacerbating racial tensions, empowering plutocrats, and malevolently dismantling societal and environmental safeguards, too many Americans are silent.

In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

Today, “the appalling silence of good people” is deafening.

Today, too many Americans, especially the “adults in the room,” are silent. These “adults” are a pantheon of mostly privileged white males with respected institutional experience and memories who – perhaps also intimidated, betrayed and broken – betray their oaths by remaining silent.

I write today about the failure of Robert Mueller and others – including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and ex-secretary of defense James Mattis – to respond with passion and courage to the current administration’s assault on American institutions, values and security.

I write today to demand they stand and speak truth to power, that they confront bullies, intimidators and apologists and speak.

I write today because I believe that last week Robert Mueller was being called upon to defend the nation – not just to defend the integrity of his Russia investigation – and he failed.

He failed.

He failed to rise above his privilege and the threats to that privilege, above his institutional life to challenge the false narratives that America’s enemies, domestic and foreign, have weaponized to try to diminish our very soul.

It’s perhaps oxymoronic to put “passion” and “white men” in the same sentence, but I’m done with protocol and politeness; I’m done with so-called paragons of virtue and service just fading away into comfortable lives supported by corporate partnerships, board directorships and consultancies, of comfortable lives with secure pensions.

Oaths don’t expire upon retirement.

Few Americans have the power – should they choose to exercise it – to defy subpoenas, to defy those who lie, intimidate, marginalize and delegitimize other Americans.

“The real political task in a society such as ours,” Michel Foucault writes, “is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”

It’s time to fight against them; it’s time to speak truth to power.

Few Americans have authority to speak of Russian interference in elections, to speak transparently of clandestine relationships with enemies of this nation, to speak the truth about Jamal Khashoggi, about genocide in Yemen, about coddling dictators and tyrants, about children in cages, about minorities and communities of color being devalued.

These men once took oaths not to protect a president but to protect a nation. Today, through silence and inaction they become complicit with those who are rending asunder the sacred fabric of this nation.

Today, they betray their oaths.

They know the truth: They have heard intercepts, read transcripts, witnessed testimony. They know we confront an existential crisis, confront a president with a well-documented history of racial animus who, with collaborators, is demonizing Muslims, Mexicans, congresswomen, black athletes, LGBTQIA peoples, refugees and brown asylum seekers from “shithole countries.”

They know, too, that they have the power to confront that crisis.

That we will listen.

They know, too, that what patriots do is rise to action, not rest on protocols and institutions, not cower to intimidation, not rest on privilege and pensions.

Today, I am having trouble believing that all men are created equal in America as I witness men of privilege fail to directly confront America’s existential challenges of racism, xenophobia, nativism, and white nationalism.

Whatever the outcry, they will remain unscathed.

I’m slowly slipping into my dotage as my country – the country to which my father immigrated from Lebanon (then Syria) at age 9 or 10 to work in mills along the Merrimack River – slips away from its storied moorings. I’m not sure which will lose contact with reality first, but part of me says: “Let me go. I don’t want to witness the loss of all that so many generations sacrificed blood and treasure for.”

I want no part of it.

“What I would ask every American to do is, again, stand in front of that mirror and say, “What are we about?”

Retired General Stanley A. McChrystal said in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz: “Am I really willing to throw away or ignore some of the things that people do that are pretty unacceptable normally just because they accomplish certain other things that we might like? … If we’re willing to do that then that’s in conflict with who I think we are.”

It’s time for Robert Mueller, and others, to stand in front of that mirror.

That’s what good people do.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at His columns are archived at

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