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How secrecy and confusion became key to governing

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“Subtle Tools,” by Karen J. Greenberg, is a useful entry in this analytical project. Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and a longtime critic of expanded state power after 9/11, draws a straight line between the early U.S. response to the attacks and the abuses of the Trump administration. “The legacy of the war on terror,” she writes, “has spawned a full-throated embrace of a new national vision” — one that, in her view, degrades both checks on executive power and liberal democracy itself. She quotes Trump, then a real estate developer, pondering two days after 9/11 that the devastated New York City skyline would make possible the creation of “a whole different city and world.” (Trump also, infamously, commented that the collapse of the twin towers meant that his own building was now the tallest in Lower Manhattan.)

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