Two Stories

      5 Comments on Two Stories

I was thinking about part of what I said last week about The Memo. I ended with talking about two competing Stories of What Happened. The thing is, I don't know that I put it strongly enough. The story I believe happened goes perhaps something like this:

Vladimir Putin and his associates attempted to interfere in the US election, preferring that Donald Trump become President of the United States rather than Hillary Clinton. To that end, they at least illegally spied on government officials, former government officials and private citizens, and stole information from the political parties. In addition, Putin and his associates carried out a propaganda and misinformation campaign with the intent of sowing dissent and undermining faith in American institutions and leaders. Also, Putin and his associates suborned or attempted to suborn Donald Trump and some of his associates, through blandishments and blackmail. Donald Trump and/or his associates were aware of some portions of this, and remained silent about this outrageous and illegal assault—or actively abetted it. Some of those associates have already admitted to lying to law enforcement and others may have otherwise obstructed the investigation into the perfidious plot.

I want to make it clear: if this is true, it is utterly outrageous. I mean, look at that—I am actually accusing associates of the President of the United States of working with a foreign government in illegal espionage. That's a big fucking deal.

Now, I'm going to let Sean Hannity give the other story:

Now, tonight, we have irrefutable proof of a coordinated conspiracy to abuse power by weaponizing and politicizing the powerful tools of intelligence by top-ranking Obama officials against the Trump campaign, against the Constitution, and against your Fourth Amendment rights. They have been deeply shredded by deep state, unelected bureaucrats all in an attempt to influence an election and then undermine a duly elected president, that being President Trump.[…] It proves that the entire basis for the Russia investigation was based on lies that were bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and her campaign. The Mueller investigation does need to be shut down and the people responsible, who we will name tonight, many need to go to jail.

Perhaps that's unfair, since I'm quoting from the transcript of the intro to his show, not from some sort of written summary. So I'll try:

Hillary Clinton and her associates attempted to interfere in the US election, by hiring a third-party company to put together a dossier that baselessly claimed that, well, all of the stuff in that paragraph. Then high-ranking officers within the FBI and Department of Justice used the dossier to initiate surveillance of her opponent's associates, misleading the FISA court about its provenance. Those officers or other associates of Hillary Clinton leaked sensitive information about her opponent's associates, including falsely accusing them of criminal behavior. When they failed to get the election outcome they preferred, they actively undermined and traduced the duly-elected President and his appointed advisors and are still doing so.

I want to make it clear: if this is true, it is utterly outrageous. I mean, look at that—they are actually accusing high-ranking federal law-enforcement officials of using the national security apparatus to attempt to sway the Presidential election and destroy the careers of the duly-elected President's associates. That's a big fucking deal.

I believe that those allegations are false, but they are very serious allegations indeed. When those serious allegations are being made by people who are—not Sean Hannity, I mean, obviously, but when those kinds of allegations are being made by Congressmen and Senators and by the President himself, they need to be taken seriously. We can't just look at those two stories and shrug and say who knows and carry on with our experiment with participatory self-governance. We need to finish this, eventually, with the real evidence of who did what becoming public. And, I'm afraid, we need as a nation and as a culture to find a way to come to a consensus about that evidence. We need to agree about the facts of what happened.

I mean, I say need. Obviously, that's for values of need that I can't easily determine. Did we need to agree about the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Did we need to agree about whether Richard Nixon was a crook? Did we need to agree about the Tet offensive, or about Alger Hiss, or about the Rosenbergs? Whether we needed to or not, we did not agree about the facts underlying those things, and we still exist as a nation and as a culture. I think it has been terrible for us to have such basic factual disagreement about our history (interpretive disagreement, on the other hand, is always good for us) but we have survived anyway, haven't we? And as hard as it is to imagine, it's fairly likely that in ten years, a third of the country will still believe the first story I tell up there and a third will still believe the second.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

5 thoughts on “Two Stories

  1. Chris Cobb

    Well, “finishing this” and coming to a national consensus are two different things. Doing the first will move the country in the direction of the second, but there’s no way it gets more than 2/3 of the way there.

    To get closer to consensus than that would require, at a minimum, the use of government authority to curtail mass disinformation campaigns by private interests, and no one but a small segment of the left is talking about doing that, and the courts would have to go along, which they wouldn’t without their composition being changed.

    Given the relationship of the United States to its brutal history, having 2/3 of the people agree that Donald Trump was a filthy, lying, cheating, criminal who sexually assaulted women throughout his adult life, propped up his semi-fictitious fortune by laundering money for the Russian mob, and stole the Presidency with Russia’s help and then did everything in his power to destroy everything good about the United States would be a level of public unanimity about the seamier side of U.S. history that has seldom been achieved.

    From that perspective of Americans’ difficulty in facing the facts of American history, I am not sure why the probable lack of consensus about Donald Trump’s evident and thorough criminality is especially worrisome to you. The United States public has seldom directly faced the brutal elements of the nation’s history, rooted as they are in an ideology of white supremacy that justified the theft of land and life from Native American and African peoples.

    Trump’s lies and the larger conspiracy of lies that protect him are effective because they reinforce the Big Lie about America’s racist history that enables a disappointingly large percentage of white Americans to feel good about themselves by denying the ongoing structural violence against people of color from which white Americans derive social and economic privileges. They can’t acknowledge that Trump is a liar, because to admit that he is lying, they would have to acknowledge the Big Lie as well. (Aside: this is how Falstaff gets a pass for his lies from Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV,)

    Of course, they don’t actually reason consciously like that: the process of self-deception works in reverse. They have so deeply internalized the Big Lie that they interpret Trump’s blatant mendacity as truth because it reinforces the big lie that they are conditioned to believe. (Aside: this is rather how Iago manipulates people.)

    So, a lot of Americans have a very distant relationship to underlying facts. The rise of Trump shows just how dangerous it can be to be invested in lies rather than the truth, but it’s going to take more cultural and political work than trying and convicting Trump (which I agree is crucial to the psychological and moral health of the nation), because Trump’s clothing himself in the Big Lie means that not even his public conviction will convince those who are unwilling to face the truth that is concealed by the Big Lie of the ugly truth about Donald Trump.

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  2. Vardibidian Post author

    From that perspective of Americans’ difficulty in facing the facts of American history, I am not sure why the probable lack of consensus about Donald Trump’s evident and thorough criminality is especially worrisome to you.

    The reason it’s especially worrisome to me is that it’s about some fundamentals of democracy.

    OK, I’ll step back a bit: I am worried that within the next decades the mass of the American people will back a strong-man (possibly military) takeover of the forms of government, and give up the ideal of participatory self-government. I’m quite serious about it—I don’t mean that I think it’s 80% likely to happen or even 50%, but it seems likelier to me than it has at any point in my lifetime. And a good deal of that is that I don’t know how big the cohort of Americans is that truly feel that they would not be giving up any real participation in self-governance by changing to an authoritarian system. The larger the number of people who feel that the “Deep State” is really in control, that everything is “rigged”, and that there are traitors in the Congress and in the courts, the more backing a would-by tyrant who is more than a reality-tv strong man would have.

    It’s one thing if a third of the country believes that there was a time when race relations used to be peaceful and civil until the liberals stirred up trouble—that’s a bad thing and we will surely continue suffering for as a nation. It’s a different thing if a third of the country believes that the government is controlled by a cadre—not of crooks and incompetents but of traitors and criminals.

    Now, I’m exaggerating this somewhat, but I do in fact worry.

    Thanks,
    -V.

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  3. Michael

    We’ve had a soft military takeover already, which oddly doesn’t appear to have been the result of a coherent campaign by any faction of our military. It’s been a result of Trump being utterly uninformed and uninterested in policy himself and fetishizing military pomp and military generals to the extent of turning over a stunning amount of power to appointed generals. A large portion of the American public and an even larger portion of our politicians and media have applauded this for varied reasons, ranging from their own fetishization of the military to a hope that those generals will control or change Trump’s base instincts.

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  4. Chris Cobb

    Hmm. I don’t think there’s any danger that “the mass of American people will back a strong-man takeover.” My sense is that when actual majorities are able to elect leaders of their choice by democratic means, there is little risk of “strong-man takeovers.” Strong-man takeovers are typically maneuvers by privileged minorities to take and hold power than can’t be achieved by democratic means. There are, of course, populist authoritarians in the Hugo Chavez model who win power with authentic majority support and then move away from democratic practices (if that is an accurate account of what happened in Venezuela–I believe there are differing views on that), but I think the minority take-over model is more typical, and I think that is by far the greater risk here. I don’t see the U.S. center and left, which is where the actual majority resides, showing any inclination to give up on democracy. It’s the U.S. right, which, because of its thorough-going racism, is facing long term demographic trends that don’t look good for their side gaining power in a majoritarian democracy. The only folks I see longing for authoritarian strong-men are these folks.

    I guess I don’t accept the distinction you seem to be drawing in your final paragraph, when you write, “It’s one thing if a third of the country believes that there was a time when race relations used to be peaceful and civil until the liberals stirred up trouble—that’s a bad thing and we will surely continue suffering for as a nation. It’s a different thing if a third of the country believes that the government is controlled by a cadre—not of crooks and incompetents but of traitors and criminals.” At the small level, I thought crooks were criminals! At the large level, I think that what you are separating as two things are in fact the same thing, or at least the latter thing is a direct consequence of the former. In other words, the reason that a third of the country on the right seems ready to promulgate and believe wild conspiracy theories that the government is controlled by a deep state cadre of traitors and criminals who are undermining the legitimate, elected government of Donald Trump is precisely because they are already invested in the lies about the history of race in the United States. To put it a third way, they have never believed in democracy that includes brown people, especially if brown people are going to be elected president, and so their embrace of conspiracy theories and “strong-men” follows from their embrace of an ideology of white supremacy and the bogus history of America peddled by that ideology.

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