‘Sullivan’s Travels’

September 26, 2021 Updated: September 27, 2021


In 1941, Preston Sturges—one of the greatest of Hollywood directors from the days when Hollywood made entertaining movies—debuted a picture called “Sullivan’s Travels” that has become something of a classic.

If you haven’t seen it (you should), it’s a satire of the film industry in which John L. Sullivan, a highly successful, replete with butler and valet, director of shallow comedies, sets out to prove he can make a serious film—“Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?”—by joining the downtrodden to see how they really live.

Much levity and some eventual insight about himself for the director ensues.

Eighty years later, another Sullivan, not John L., has popped up in the news. This one is not fictional—Jake Sullivan, currently United States National Security Advisor to President Joe Biden—and it is unclear whether he has gained any insight from his “travels.” It may have been the other way around.

The estimable Paul Sperry wrote in the Sept. 23 NY Post:

“Last week, Michael A. Sussmann, a partner at Perkins Coie, a law firm representing the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of making false statements to the FBI about his clients and their motives behind planting the rumor, at the highest levels of the FBI, of a secret Trump-Russia server.

“The indictment states that Sussmann, as well as the cyber experts recruited for the operation, ‘coordinated with representatives and agents of the Clinton campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.’

“One of those campaign agents was [Jake] Sullivan, according to emails that special counsel John Durham obtained. On Sept. 15, 2016 — just four days before Sussmann handed off the materials to the FBI — Marc Elias, Sussmann’s law partner and fellow Democratic Party operative, ‘exchanged emails with the Clinton campaign’s foreign policy adviser concerning the bank’ as well as with other top campaign officials, the indictment states

“Sources close to the case confirmed the ‘foreign policy adviser’ referenced by title is Sullivan.

“They say Sullivan was briefed on the development of the opposition-research materials—which tried to allege that a ‘secret’ server of the Trump organization was communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank. The conspiracy theory, pushed by opposition firm Fusion GPS, was later dismissed, as the ‘communication’ was likely marketing emails.”

Paul Sperry goes on to say that Sullivan denied knowing anything about Fusion GPS’s involvement before Congress, which, assuming Sperry’s sources are correct—and he has a good track record—would make the national security advisor a likely perjurer.

This is the same Sullivan, of course, who has been keeping us up to speed on the administration’s Afghanistan’s policies, such as they were or are.

But it is not that extraordinary fiasco that interests me here.

Sullivan has the kind of pedigree that many would envy and is often seen in our highest officials in the State Department and elsewhere—Yale bachelor and law degrees with distinction, Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, on the second place team at the 2000 World Universities Debating Championship in Sydney, Australia, no less, and so forth.

How could such a person get involved in activities that at best are extremely shady and at worst actually treasonous?

I imagine, or in any case hope, that if you asked the young Jake Sullivan while on his Rhodes at Magdalen College whether he believed in “the ends justify the means,” he would give an educated disquisition on the subject but end by saying a clear no. The ends justifying the means is immoral and an idea that, taken to its logical conclusion, allowed Stalin and Mao to become the greatest mass murderers in history.

But, not very deep down, that is also the basis on which not only Sullivan but all those who engaged in the scurrilous, to say the least, Trump-Russia smear acted. They believed what they were doing was for the “greater good,” no matter what that meant for our democratic republic or what evil was perpetrated on the innocent (Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and, really, everyone of us).

What other explanation could there be other than that hoary Marxist apothegm? What other reason to have made up so many lies?

So how did Sullivan get from the highly-promising young man at Yale and Oxford to a willing prevaricator for Hillary Clinton? What were his “travels”?

The easiest explanation is Lord Acton’s—that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. No doubt that’s some of it.

But I think there is something else at play that I described in my 2016 book “I Know Best,” a moral narcissism that has created in the United States our own version of the Soviet nomenklatura (the list of those approved to rule).

Nomenklaturas are a new version of aristocracy and frequently work in opposition to the democratic republic envisioned by the Founders.

They are highly statist and globalists and would substantially, although not fully, intersect with the Deep State were you to do a Venn diagram.

Such nomenklaturas, especially ours, are filled with moral narcissists—what I defined as those who evaluate and regard themselves (almost always highly) by the supposed goodness and virtue of what they proclaim and pronounce, not by the actual results of those pronouncements, that are often bad and therefore largely ignored.

The current administration is filled with such people, not just Jake Sullivan. Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security director who, until quite recently, kept insisting the border was closed, is but one salient example.

A hallmark of these nomenklaturas, and of moral narcissists in general, is an overwhelming conformism. They rarely go off the reservation of accepted views their brothers and sisters are espousing.

If they do, the results are nowhere near as drastic yet as they were in Stalin’s Soviet Union where the apostates were sent to the Gulag or worse, but non-conformity is a one-way ticket to career suicide.

On the contrary, if you “play ball,” another member will help you out, even when you are in serious trouble with the law or close to it.

The Trump-hating adulterous Lisa Page of Strzok-Page fame may have gone a few text messages too far to remain in the FBI, but is reportedly now in-house attorney for Twillio, a mammoth company that, in collaboration with Amazon’s AWS, provides an API to send and receive SMS, MMS, OTT text messages globally. (Ms. Page is undoubtedly making more from texting than she ever did at the FBI, as has, in all probability, another, yet bigger, ex-DOJ attorney, James Baker, already been achieving as counsel for Twitter.)

Importantly, being a conforming moral narcissist is the key to staying a member of the nomenklatura.

Jake Sullivan knew this consciously and/or unconsciously and probably in his soul. It put a new light on “the ends justify the means,” making it almost reasonable and easy to swallow, if not to name. He knew how to behave. He had “traveled” in his way.

He assumed when asked to testify before Congress if he stayed on the Hillary team good things would continue to happen even if, as Sperry’s sources allege, he bent the truth. And look what did happen. He is, as of now anyway, Biden’s National Security Advisor.

So being a conformist to the nomenklatura paid off… until John Durham came along.

Where that goes, we shall see. Perhaps what Sperry has written is just a leak, but I doubt it. No matter what happens, few will look at Jake Sullivan the same way in the future.

He will no longer be the fair-haired boy from Yale. His “travels” were not as productive as John L. Sullivan’s in Preston Sturges’ film.

“Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning novelist, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, co-founder of PJMedia, and now, editor-at-large for The Epoch Times. His most recent books are “The GOAT” (fiction) and “I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already” (nonfiction). He can be found on GETTR and Parler @rogerlsimon.