Back in the mid-60’s, those who opposed the war in Vietnam (then referred to as liberals), held an absolute belief that the government was involved in spying on them in an effort to undermine their efforts to turn public opinion to their side and end the war. In addition to their being branded as hippies, commies and un-American, they were generally reviled by the political establishment, even as we sent more and more American boys to southeast Asia to die in a war which then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara would declare, many years later, to be an effort whose goals were unattainable. Besides the noxiousness of the over-application of perfume, this is yet another lesson we could have learned from the French.
A half century later, the liberals of yesteryear have transformed themselves and found a new banner under which they rally. That is under the name of “progressives”. There is probably no greater malapropism than that term because the ideology and tactics they consider essential are reach backs in history to the way in which Hitler, Stalin and other statists conducted themselves and brought their own people and much of the world to the brink of ruin.
Consider for a moment the progressive need for “safe spaces,” places where only their ideas are permitted to be expressed and, if they could engineer it, be thought. The intolerance for ideas which differ from their party platform is remarkably similar to Hitler’s banning the playing of music by any composers who had Jewish ancestry or reading the works of authors and poets who shared that same characteristic. The only difference is that Hitler was unapologetically honest about both his reasoning and motivations. Progressives do not share that straightforwardness but, rather, find grounds to maintain and express their position under the constitutional rights which are guaranteed to them by a document that they mostly despise.
They also learned a valuable lesson which, given the intensity of investigation into Russian interference in our electoral process, from the founding of Pravda (Truth), which first published in May of 1912, five years before the Russian Revolution. At least the non-Soviet view of this publication is that it served as the main propaganda arm for the Soviet Union to disseminate it’s version of reality to the Russian people and the world. Given the near uniformity of the manner in which our major newspapers and broadcasters choose to select stories to report while ignoring others and almost unanimously giving them a progressive spin, those who exclusively consume these reports are probably far more likely to have their views shaped by them than by anything the Russians may or may not have accomplished with their “interference”.
Thanks in large measure to the invention of moveable type by Johannes Guttenberg, the dissemination of ideas knows no national boundaries. When Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto in 1848, that publication occurred in London. But the ideas in that pamphlet and the later Das Kapital were the kernels which ultimately led to the Russian Revolution many years later and the rise of communism as an alternative and, at one point, wide-spread alternative, to the capitalistic structure which existed in most prosperous and advanced societies. Today, we no longer need to await the publication of a book to experience the author’s thoughts.
Information is disseminated virtually instantaneously and, almost as quickly, accepted as gospel truth by the consumer without bothering to ascertain whether the stories he or she is consuming are based in fact or are merely expressions of the author’s personal prejudices. Hence, we now have “fact checkers” who dissect and parse each and every word a speaker utters to determine the validity of any given statement. And we have invented “Pinocchio Awards” to discredit various inexact statements with greater or lesser degrees of opprobrium. This system, of course, assumes that the people checking statements or handing out Pinocchios are doing so in a totally objective fashion without applying any personal bias. That is a very high threshold to maintain – even for those whose self-identified goal is to expose falsehoods and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Before his fall from grace, I remember listening to one of President Nixon’s speeches one evening. After it’s conclusion, I listened to the commentators discuss the speech. I no longer remember which of the broadcast networks I had tuned to. But I remember my sitting with my jaw dropping as the various pundits picked the speech apart and drew their own inferences from what the president had said. It was as though we had listened to two different speeches. And the next day at the office I asked a number of my employees if they had heard the speech. Several of them replied, “No, but I listened to the commentary afterward.” That sort of intellectual slovenliness was thriving in the 1970’s and has only gotten “progressively” worse since then.
It’s a somewhat naïve and simplistic argument to make that the media is at fault for all the misinformation, disinformation and lack of information that is going around. I am reminded of a lecture/discussion at the University of Chicago which I attended, given by the then chairman of the history department, Jock Weintraub. Those of us who had enrolled in a class by this prominent professor knew that it was his firm belief that he was the brightest bulb in the room and should your opinion differ from his, he would expose your obvious stupidity in the most cutting and eviscerating fashion.
The lecture was on the subject of the French Revolution and the historian’s role in recording that event. The particular historian about whom Professor Weintraub probed his audience was Jacques Condorcet. He asked us what we could tell him about Condorcet’s approach to his works on the revolution – and one unfortunate attendee had the misfortune to respond.
He began his analysis by saying, “Well, Condorcet was born when the French Revolution was ten years in the past. Therefore, he realized he would have to rely for source documents on the records which were written at the time and were still available to him. But he also realized that those writers had their own bias and incorporated that bias into their work.”
He continued, “Furthermore, in selecting certain documents and historical accounts while rejecting others, he inevitably was crafting his work infused with his own personal bias.”
He concluded, “Condorcet also realized that the people who read his work would apply their own pre-formed biases and attitudes in their analysis of his efforts. So between these three factors, it was virtually impossible for anyone to pick up his or anyone else’s work and have a clear, factual and objective understanding of what occurred during the French Revolution, or any other historical event for that matter.”
The young student sat down, waiting for the esteemed professor’s pronouncement on his analysis. Weintraub didn’t disappoint. After a few moments, sufficient time for a very pregnant pause, Weintraub looked at him and said in his very heavy German accent, “So, with this analysis do you think you’re making some great contribution to knowledge?”
Those of us in the audience appropriately laughed at this witty bon mot – not in an effort to further demean the young man who had the arrogance to express his opinion – but in a sort of nervous relief that the ordeal was now over. Those who had taken the professor’s Western Civilization class knew that the outcome for the student was as inevitable as the fate of the hapless cow who walked into the bludgeoning station of the then still existing Chicago Stockyards.
Notwithstanding the dismissal of this student’s analysis, there is a great deal of truth in what he said. We all come to any given issue armed with our inherent prejudices. Sadly, the social sciences are given to this sort of manipulation. They are not exact as is, for example, mathematics where the answer to any specific problem is clear, provable and universal. The start of any discussion should begin by our admitting to that. But that doesn’t mean that we should not scrutinize those who report news in an effort to shape our thoughts. They have every responsibility to report stories accurately, even as we allow them to express their own views which might differ from our own. But either omitting material facts which are in evidence or including material which cannot be verified is not acceptable journalism because it is inherently dishonest. No one has the right, whether the media or an individual, to spread mistruths about another person. That’s why we have laws that define the nature of slander.
One of the most prevalent stories that has been ardently promoted by the media has been the alleged Russian connection and their efforts to “get Trump elected.” There is as yet no evidence which has been revealed to suggest that this is a fact rather than a mere theory. And per se, it would seem to require a great deal of imagination to understand that connection – if it ever existed.
The underlying premise is that Russia’s and the United States’ interests are divergent and probably almost diametrically opposed to each other. That is, for the most part, a reasonable presumption. The narrative is that Vladimir Putin was directly involved in ordering this “tampering.” Why would he do such a thing unless he expected that, if successful, this would further his and Russia’s interests? The conclusion of those who subscribe to this conspiracy is that Putin believed Russia would be in a stronger position with Donald J. Trump rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton sitting in the Oval Office.
Reflecting back to our story about Condorcet, the “It was; he thought; she said,” scenario, at the very least if we could get inside Putin’s head, that would be a good start to determining whether or not this conspiracy has any credibility. It seems to me that there are three potential mindsets which we might ascribe to Putin.
First, the Russian is insane. This would not be the first time that a person who most of us would call insane was the leader of a nation. Look at North Korea. The list goes back to at least ancient Rome. But why would we put credibility in the ability of a person whom we define as insane to carry out such a convoluted exercise? That, in itself, would be an act of insanity on our part.
Second, Putin is a moron. If we accept this premise, then trying to get Trump elected and defeat Clinton would most likely be in the best interest of the United States, not Russia.
Third and most likely. Putin is a shrewd and manipulative person. There is a great deal of evidence to support this. But if that is the case, Putin already had the ability to manipulate then Secretary of State Clinton during her “reset” moment. Furthermore, with Russia’s economy almost totally dependent on oil and particularly gas production, Trump’s position on exploration, “Drill, drill, drill,” poses a direct financial threat to Putin and Russia. Why would an intelligent if ruthless Putin attempt to have such a person elected to the White House?
No matter which of these three mindset scenarios is actually the case, it would suggest there is little reason for us to be overly concerned about the “Russian intrusion.” That is not to say that something was not attempted by Putin and company. This should come as no surprise since all governments, including ours, engage regularly in that type of covert activity. So was there an attempt to thwart a free and honest presidential election? The answer is that there probably was. But was it Russia that was the primary manipulator? I suspect the real manipulators were twofold.
First there was the American media. It’s no secret that the press and television almost uniformly have a liberal bent. That is evident in the fact that nine out of ten people involved in disseminating news contributed to the Clinton campaign. It wouldn’t take but a few minutes of reading or viewing to realize that there was less than objective reporting on the two candidates, highly skewed to make Trump look as bad as possible. Since we don’t receive the Russian television station but do, as a nation, spend a lot of time viewing our own television and reading American newspapers, it would be fair to suggest that if there was collusion in the campaign, much of that effort was put forth by our very own media.
But there is a second group that is equally concupiscent and culpable. That is the American voter – or, more exactly – the American non-voter.
Participation in the election by people who were qualified to vote was fairly typical. About seven out of ten who could legally vote bothered both to register and then exercise their most fundamental right to express their opinion. And you, like me, have probably heard the various excuses that people who don’t vote employ. Primary among them is, “My vote won’t make a difference.” Given the closeness of the election, that statement is demonstrably false.
Clearly we live in a world filled with dangerous people and governments. But there is probably no greater danger than American complacency. That is the real enemy. The enemy within.