How do you know Utah politics are messed up? An ex-CIA agent is the defender of democracy, Pyle writes

Former spy Evan McMullin presents himself as one to stop Mike Lee and company from undermining American elections.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Independent candidate for Utah's U.S. Senate race Evan McMullin in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022.

Imagine, if you will, a large gathering of thugs, a few of them armed and supposing themselves to be some sort of freedom-seeking militia.

They are set into a frenzy by a would-be dictator in the service of a darkly funded right-wing plot to overturn the results of a free and fair election, either by violence or by legalistic trickery.

On which side of that conflict would you expect to find agents of the Central Intelligence Agency?

If you are my age, born at about the half-way point of the Eisenhower administration, there might be little doubt in your mind the CIA would be on the side of the coup plotters. The agency could be expected to stand up, not for America’s democratic values, but for its capitalistic interests, by undermining and overthrowing local elected governments.

The CIA was part of a coup that ejected a democratically elected leader in Iran in 1953, stopping him from nationalizing that country’s oil fields. It helped sweep aside all local opposition to American control of Guatemala’s fruit production in 1954. It helped to toss out local governments thought insufficiently subservient to American corporate interests in Africa, Central America and Asia in the early 1960s.

It assisted in the overthrow and murder of the freely elected Marxist president of Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, replacing him with a military junta that kidnapped, tortured and killed its rivals for the next 17 years.

But, if you are somewhat younger than I am, born in, say, 1976, and beginning a career in public service not long before another Sept. 11, in 2001, you might have a different image of the CIA and its role in world politics.

Someone like, well, Evan McMullin.

McMullin, independent candidate for the U.S. Senate from Utah, is proudly running, as it says on his campaign website and many of his press releases, as a “former undercover CIA officer.”

It demonstrates just how topsy turvy Utah politics have become when the former CIA spook is the champion of the democratic process and the long-time Republican lawmaker is trying to live down his clear attempt to subvert the American electoral system to keep a bully in power.

McMullin is running against Utah’s two-term Republican senator, Mike Lee. He ran and lost as an independent against Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election.

Then, McMullin wanted to present Republican and independent voters with an alternative to Trump, whom he and many like-minded conservatives saw as crude, dishonest and appealing to the worst, violent, anti-democratic and anti-constitutional emotions in our nation.

“Serving abroad with the CIA I was exposed to a lot of dictators,” McMullin said, “and this is the way they act.”

Now, he wants to present Republican, independent and the few Democrats on Utah’s voter rolls with an alternative to Lee, whom he and many like-minded conservatives see as too friendly to Trump and the growing far-right movement that is based on race, blood and soil and increasing calls for violence and civil war.

This is not just a difference of political opinion, an argument over health care funding or corporate tax rates. Describing Lee’s obvious anti-democratic behavior to The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board last week, McMullin definitely had a catch in his throat.

“I get choked up thinking about it,” he said. “The American republic is at risk right now, and Sen. Lee has decided to cater to those extremes and become their foot soldier in the Senate.”

Lee’s role in the search for “alternative electors” to throw the election to Trump was, McMullin told us, “one of the most egregious betrayals of our nation in its history. ... For this state to be represented by somebody who would betray his oath to the Constitution in order to override the will of the people, for him and his allies to hold on to power, to spite the will of the people, is absolutely unacceptable.”

McMullin also rightly speaks against other anti-democratic actions, such as what he rightly called the “gross political corruption” of extreme gerrymandering committed by legislatures in Utah and elsewhere.

Overthrowing democratically elected governments no longer seems to be in the agency’s wheelhouse. McMullin says he saw none of that while he was working for the CIA, that his job was fighting terrorism. Of course, even the fight against terror included examples of really bad behavior on the part of the CIA and other American agencies. Water-boarding, black site prisons, kidnapping.

Meanwhile, one good thing many of us saw in Lee was his open suspicion of the post-2001 crush of anti-terror moves, the Patriot Act and the growing security state. Questioning things that might play fast and loose with due process, habeas corpus, congressional oversight, civilian control of the military and other important American constitutional principles.

Now, though, the incumbent senator’s clear allegiance to a would-be fascist dictator negates all that. And Utah’s friendly neighborhood CIA man offers Utah its only alternative.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, decided to channel “The Twilight Zone” even though he found out that Rod Serling never actually said, “Imagine, if you will...”


Twitter, @debatestate