I have a young friend whom I like and respect a very great deal. He happens to be a thoroughgoing liberal, from a thoroughly liberal family; so we disagree on many political questions. More importantly, though, he has a genuinely open mind and a genuinely good heart, and he genuinely wants to understand the people with whom he disagrees, not simply condemn them.
So a couple of days ago he asked me, on Facebook, what I thought about the whole brouhaha over Russian interference with the Presidential election. Truth was I hadn’t thought about it much, but I figured I ought to at least honor his request.
So here is my answer, which is designed not so much to convince people to change their minds as it is to help my friend understand how at least one person who doesn’t see the world through Democratic eyes reacts to this particular controversy. I should explain, for those who don’t know, that I am generally a pessimist about human nature in general and the nature of people who want power over others in particular, that I value freedom over security, and that I am therefore by nature a libertarian and governmental minimalist (though not an anarchist), while also being an evangelical Anglican Christian.
I’m not using my young friend’s real name here because he might not want it to be shared.
May I begin by saying that I have a very high opinion of you as one of the finest young people I know, and that while I am sure we disagree on many things, this disagreement does not make me respect or like you any less? I don’t judge people on the basis of their political views, for various reasons I won’t bother to get into at the moment. I judge them on actual character qualities. So, for example, I don’t care at all whether you voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. But I did take note of the fact that you posted a link to an interview with Trump voters and commented that you had changed your mind and no longer thought they were motivated by racism. Now, this I took notice of. I know lots of people with very strong political opinions. Not many of them are capable of actually listening to the other side and coming to feel charitably toward them even while disagreeing with them, and this is especially true of young people with very strong political opinions (humility is ordinarily something that comes with age, if it comes at all, which of course is very often not the case). Believe me, I took notice of that.
Before I take up the specific political question, it’s best that you know where I’m coming from on the much more fundamental question of how people of wildly differing political views should treat each other. One reason I respect you is that I can see — for example, in your reposting of that interview with Trump voters — that you do try to deal fairly with people who disagree with you. So I think probably you will agree with most of what I have to say, even if I don’t put it the way you would put it yourself.
I don’t think it’s likely that you and I will reach a point where either of us genuinely understands the other at the most fundamental level. Political disagreements are almost always rooted in assumptions and ways of seeing the world that are so deeply rooted in our very conceptualization of reality that we aren’t even aware of what it is that we are assuming, or indeed can’t even imagine a world in which our assumptions could be false. People who disagree fundamentally with us politically…it’s hardly really a disagreement; instead it’s almost as if they live in an alternate reality from ours. Certainly when I hear Sean Hannity (which rarely happens by choice) talking about liberals, he doesn’t sound much like he’s describing my friends, and when liberals of my acquaintance start talking about Trump voters the one thing that is obvious practically instantly, to those of us who know any reasonable sample size of Trump voters, is that they are talking about figments of the liberal imagination. About the best we can manage is to have an intellectual model that approximates the other person’s thinking but doesn’t really get into the other person’s shoes. There are exceptions, but they are usually people who have undergone a political conversion and actually moved from one camp to another as a result of transformative personal experience — and even then no two liberal experiences are perfectly alike, and similarly with other camps. I am fifty years old and have been trying to understand and empathize with my liberal friends pretty much since I first got interested in politics, which if memory doesn’t betray me was before I could drive – and I absolutely would not say that I understand you guys in the sense of really getting into your shoes. At most I claim that I can by now reasonably well predict how most liberals will argue and what will make most liberals angry and what will make most liberals happy. But having a usefully predictive model of a group of people’s opinions and behavior in large sample sizes, is not at all the same thing as genuinely understanding what’s going on inside a particular individual belonging to that group.
However, some models are way more accurate than others. For example, Trump won the election because liberals seem to have a mental model of “white uneducated blue-collar men in traditionally union-labor states” in which there are three dominant characteristics of such men, the first of which is “racist,” the second of which is “stupid,” and the third of which is “always votes for our side.” (The last one is my attempt to explain the fact that Hillary never set foot in Wisconsin and actually pulled all her resources out of Michigan the last couple of weeks in order to spend them getting out the vote in Chicago and New Orleans because…because…I can hardly even make myself type this…she wanted to win the popular vote. [stops to put neck back into socket after dislocating it from shaking head too violently in disbelief] It has been a whole day since I found out she was actually that stupid, and I still can’t believe it even as I sit here typing it.) The Trump campaign rejected that model in favor of a model that included the characteristics, “hard-working and proud of it, suffering terribly economically for the entire Era of Obama, not actually particularly racist, and by now deeply resentful of being constantly called racist and stupid by the rich and arrogant coastal elite that has screwed them over even after years of their loyal support for the Democratic Party.” Furthermore, liberals have a passionately-held model of Trump himself as “racist” and “stupid” (this appears to be the default model of liberals for all white men who do not vote straight-ticket Democrat or further Left), while Trump’s side’s model of liberals, like that of most Americans who are not themselves liberal, included the characteristic, “someone who runs around very loudly calling anybody who disagrees with him ‘racist’ or ‘fascist’ or some other openly abusive term at every opportunity, with no regard whatsoever for what the other person’s motives actually are.”
Now I am myself making a model here, you will note; I am modeling the Hillary campaign and the Trump campaign based on the tactics they chose. What Trump did, over and over and over and over, was pound away in the Rust Belt states at the themes of jobs and of past American greatness, largely defined in terms of…having lots of manufacturing jobs, which had been squandered not by bad workers but by the malfeasance of the Powers That Be. He looked at the fury that white male union workers in the Rust Belt feel about mass-scale illegal immigration, and identified that as being passion derived from valuing jobs, from thinking that being an American ought to matter in America, and from feeling betrayed by the coastal elites, who happen overwhelmingly to be Democrats. But he also played to his model of liberals as being “people who think anyone who disagrees with them is racist and stupid and can’t stop themselves from saying so very loudly.” So you look at his rallies, and what he spent most of his time talking about was jobs, American pride, and how we were finally going to get back at those bastards who have screwed you over” — that is, he played to jobs, to pride, and certainly in part to resentment and hatred. But the hatred he played to was not hatred of people of other races, because he knew that most of these people do not in fact hate people of other races. That’s the liberal model of the Trump voter; and it is grossly inaccurate. The hatred he played to was hatred of the sneering coastal elites that the Trump voter feels has betrayed him, not on grounds of race, but on grounds of class. Meanwhile he made sure to have plenty to say about Mexicans and Muslims, because of his model of the Trump voters on the one hand and his opponents on the other. In his model of liberals, they were themselves obsessed by race and addicted to calling people racist, and therefore he knew that not only would he be called a racist if he referred to Mexicans in contexts where anyone not obsessed with race would take him to be talking about nationality rather than skin color, but that he would be called a racist even if he referred to Muslims, despite the absurdity involved in talking as if Islam were a race. And every time he used language that could be interpreted as having to do with something other than race, but that liberals could be counted on as interpreting as “racist,” he got liberals to scream, “Trump’s a racist!” precisely in contexts where his target audience would reject the idea that he was talking about race. Every time that happened, it reinforced the conviction of the Trump voter that the same people who hate them, also hate Trump, and therefore he was truly on their side fighting their true enemy.
(Just in case you don’t understand my point about how Trump would talk about Mexicans knowing that his voters would assume he was not talking about race and his liberal opponents would assume he was: liberals think everything is about race even when the people they are talking to make it very clear that it’s something else entirely that is on the table. “Mexican” is less of a race than it is a nationality, and the overwhelming majority of people opposed to illegal immigration are opposed to the illegality, not the race. There are very few Trump voters who would be angry with a Mexican who had entered this country legally; but if a white guy comes into the country illegally and takes away an American’s job something very close to 100% of white Trump voters would be furious. So, for example, Trump at one point accused the Mexican government of deliberately disproportionately pushing Mexican criminals into the United States. For anybody who is not a liberal, the natural interpretation is that Trump objects to criminals entering the country, not to Mexicans. To a liberal, this is a “racist” statement, presumably because he sounds to a liberal as though he is saying, “Mexicans are bad people.” Trump went on to say, “Many fabulous people come in from Mexico and our country is better for it. But these people are here legally, and are severely hurt by those coming in illegally. I am proud to say that I know many hard working Mexicans—many of them are working for and with me…and, just like our country, my organization is better for it.”
What Trump is saying, in fact, is that Mexicans are NOT all alike, that there are lots of good Mexicans and also lots of bad ones, that good Mexicans help our country and bad Mexicans hurt it — and that when bad Mexicans enter the country it is very disproportionately through illegal immigration. What he could then count on is three things. First, his target audience would think this made a lot of sense, and would not consider it racist, since clearly it is not race that he objects to but drugs and crime and rape. Second, his liberal opponents could be counted on to say very loudly, “Look — Donald Trump hates Mexicans. Racist!” And third, his target audience could be counted on to react by thinking, “There they go again, being slandering lying jerks to Donald just like they are always slandering lying jerks to me.”
And the reason he went with this tactic, and the reason liberals spent the entire year before the election taking the bait, was that in the liberal model, Trump voters were “people who hate people who aren’t white,” but in the Trump model, Trump voters were “people who hate people who call them racist.” The secret of Trump’s cracking of the Blue Wall is that Trump got the Democrats to campaign for him, and against themselves, without realizing they were doing it — they kept saying, “Look at that man appealing to the racism of all those white people!” even while those white people kept hearing him talk about their jobs and communities and the refusal of the people who ran America to care about Americans, rather than about race. And that’s because his model of the Trump voter was much more accurate than theirs — which we know because, to the utter astonishment of every liberal in America, Trump carried Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
In the aftermath, many liberals seem to have stuck with their model: “White blue-collar workers are racist and stupid; Trump’s message resonated with white blue-collar workers; therefore Trump’s message was a racist message.” I think Trump certainly crafted his message so that people who wanted to hear racism in it, could convince themselves that it was racist. But I don’t think his target was the very very infinitesimally small number of people who are actually white supremacists. I think his target was liberals. And I think he hit the bulls-eye. Here is a fabulous article that shows how all this played out — if the Clinton team had had half the sense of this guy (who really dislikes Trump) we would not be talking today about President Trump. (And if Kellyanne Conway had worked for Clinton, Clinton might well have gotten 350 electoral votes.) But the Clinton team was, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid to a degree beyond all human imagining; and they still have no idea there’s anything wrong with their model. There was a public discussion a couple of days after the election, and the losing side started screaming about the “white supremacist” message of Donald Trump. Again, go look at that article I linked, and at how absolutely stupid it is to think that somebody as sharp as Kellyanne Conway would seriously care about the white supremacist vote in America, except insofar as “white supremacist” is taken in the liberal sense of, “white, and not a Democrat.” Conway fired back — and what did she say? She blasted their messages (emphases are added by me):
CONWAY: Excuse me, she said white supremacist… Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform? Are you going to look me in the face and tell me that?
PALMIERI: It did. Kellyanne, it did.
CONWAY: Oh, that’s how you lost?
PALMIERI: It did!
CONWAY: Do you think you could have just had a decent message for the white working class voters? Do you think this woman who has nothing in common with anybody — [Peril’s note: observe that Hillary is white, but that from the perspective of Conway and her target audience being of the same race as somebody else doesn’t count as having anything in common with them]
PALMIERI: I’m not saying that’s how you won but that’s the campaign that was run, yes.
CONWAY: We flipped over 200 counties that President Obama won, and Donald Trump just won. You think that’s because of what you said, or that people aren’t ready for a woman president? Really? How come it’s [not] just Hillary Clinton? She doesn’t connect with people. How about they have nothing in common with her? How about you had no economic message?
Conway is sitting there telling Palmieri exactly why Palmieri lost: “these people are economically driven, and we crafted an economic message; but you didn’t bother to craft an economic message because you think they care about race; and that’s why we won and you lost.” But Palmieri simply can’t escape her model. Her model of Trump voters was wrong, and her model of Trump and Conway was wrong; and therefore she never understood Trump’s tactics and not only failed to counter them effectively, but actually played completely into Trump’s hands.
Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway delivered the election to Trump because her model of the Trump voter was accurate.
So I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a model of the people who disagree with you. You are going to have a model whether you realize it or not; it is far better to have a good model than a bad one; and when you are trying to model what’s going on in somebody else’s head by far the best source of information is…that person telling you what’s going on in his head. You can build up a really good model, if your friend is honest, and if you listen carefully, and if you check your answers with him, and if (most importantly) you don’t act like you know what’s going on in his head better than he himself does.
But it’s still a model, and a lot of times you’ll get to the end of a discussion and you’ll be frustrated because even when he explains what he’s thinking it just doesn’t make any sense to you. And at that point, you absolutely can say, “I don’t understand how such a nice and intelligent person can wind up believing things that seem to me so evil and stupid – but I know he’s a nice and intelligent person and I refuse to call him evil and stupid just because I think his opinions are.” And that’s what decent people do. Heck, that’s what anybody who’s not a complete moron does. My life would be infinitely poorer without the very fine and dear people in my life who are thoroughgoing liberals, even though I couldn’t disagree more with most of their political views, and even though the only way I can get myself to model their beliefs is to assume, for modeling purposes, that they are completely ignorant of some fundamental law of morals or logic. I would be doing nobody more harm than myself if I deprived myself of the privilege of their friendship through something as trivial as a political disagreement.
So even if I think in the end there’s always something about the other guy that goes ungrasped, I still think it’s highly admirable that you want to understand the people who disagree with you. So I will do my best to explain where I’m coming from and why I myself not only do not think the Russian shenanigans delegitimize Trump’s victory, but also think that it is wrong and unwise (both generally in the long term, and in this particular case for Democrats in the short term) to say that they do.
I think the fundamental difference between our perception of the situation is probably that you feel strongly that there is a “right” person to be President that is established by some moral standard other than the rules, and that the goal of our elections is to get the “right” person in the Oval Office. I think that is fundamentally wrong, and that “getting the right person into the Oval Office” neither is the goal of a wise person nor was the goal of the wise people who created our political system by writing the Constitution. The fundamental goal of our system, and of any wisely crafted system, is to limit the damage the wrong person can do, to allow for self-correction over time, and to ensure a reasonable level of domestic tranquility while the self-correction is in process.
You see, I think you have a strong opinion about who “should” have won this election, as though there were a right answer. And, if so, then right there, we part ways. This year, there was no right answer. In fact in most years, in any country as deeply ideologically divided and as mutually ideologically incompatible as we are (we absolutely should be two separate countries at this point in my mind), there is no right answer; but this year it is even more obvious.
In the first place, if you look at the electoral college, it was swung by something like 50,000 votes out of 137 million, which is 0.03% and is by any statistical standard meaningless. And if you look at the popular vote it gets even worse, because in the popular vote, literally nobody won. This is one of the extraordinarily silly things, it seems to me, about liberal whining since November 8 – you guys keep talking about how Hillary “won the popular vote” when quite obviously nobody won the popular vote – nobody got a majority of votes; for every single candidate the majority of voters said, “I don’t want THAT @#$!”
||Votes for candidate
||Electoral vote equivalent
||Votes for Not That @#$!
||Margin of loss
||Margin of loss as %
||Didn’t bother doing the math
If you want to anoint Hillary Clinton President, then you want to put her in power for the next four years despite the fact that a spanking majority of voters said, “I don’t want that woman!!” You, Andy, are upset because 2.8 million more voters voted for Hillary than for Trump – but it does not seem to upset you that 5.3 million more voters voted against Hillary than voted for her, an almost 4% margin. And that is true of all four candidates – the People spoke, and with respect to every single one of the candidates the majority said quite firmly, “I don’t want that one.” There was no winner of the popular vote, only the least firmly rejected loser. No matter who we get as President for the next four years, we get a loser, someone most of us did not want to be President. There is no “right” answer in the sense that I think you want there to be a right answer.
Looking at the pro-Hillary case, what Hillary won was a plurality of votes, not a majority of votes. And there are very few electoral systems, and certainly very few electoral systems of any major importance, where you can win an election by winning a plurality of voters on a first and only ballot. The overwhelming majority of election rules say, “If any one person gets the majority of votes then that person wins; and if nobody wins a majority, then…” and then there is a special set of rules to cover the case where the one thing all the candidates have in common is that most voters don’t want them. Most commonly it is a run-off, right? But it can be a “we vote as many times as necessary” rule like you see at political conventions, or a system where you rank all the candidates in the order in which you desire them and the one who gets the best (that is, as in golf, the lowest) score wins, or you can go with Australian rules voting…but in almost all cases there is a special set of rules to deal with the fact that the office has to be awarded to somebody, even in elections when every single candidate is somebody most of the voters don’t want – and that special set of rules practically never says, “Whoever got more first-place votes on the first pass than anybody else, wins, even if four out of every five people actually voted against him.” Usually it says, “Keep going, taking one vote after another, either with the same kinds of votes or with different kinds of votes, until eventually some one person gets a majority of whatever votes are appropriate at whatever stage you’ve gotten to.” (There are two very striking examples, however, of one-shot pluralities being taken as winner…curious to see whether you can figure out what I’m thinking about.)
A Hillaryesque non-majority plurality even in the electoral college certainly doesn’t win in our Presidential rules. Go look up what happens when nobody gets a majority of electoral votes. If Hillary had gotten 269 electoral votes, and Trump had gotten 267, and Johnson had gotten 3, then Hillary would not have won in the electoral college. Or, to make the example match the actual proportions each candidate got of the popular vote: if Hillary had gotten 259 electoral votes, and Trump had gotten 247, and Johnson had gotten 18, and Stein + write-ins + McMullin + whatever “other” means had gotten 14, then Hillary would not have won in the electoral college — it’s the Road to 270, not the Road to 259. And then there are a whole series of rules for how you decide who gets to be President when all the candidates suck so badly that they all lose. (Bad news for the pro-Hillary crowd: if we switched to popular vote instead of electoral vote for the first round, Trump and Pence would still be our President and Vice-President for the next four years. If nobody gets a majority of votes in Round One, then the House of Representatives picks the President and the Senate picks the Vice-President. Hello, Trump/Pence administration.)
But even when you do get a majority winner, if you have a situation where 51% of America wants somebody for President and the other 49% don’t, you don’t really have a “right” person for President. Any outcome that is so close that it comes within a normal polling margin of error is a “chaos outcome” – which is to say, on moral grounds it’s essentially a tie. If Clinton had won, then half the country, as near as makes no difference, would have spent the next four years in the Hell of Hillary – as non-Leftist people like me have spent the last eight years in the Hell of Obama. (And now I get four more years of at best limbo…but then if I didn’t want to lose every Presidential election I ought not be a libertarian so it’s not my place to whine.) Instead Trump won, which means…well, it means that half the country, as near as makes no difference, get to spend the next four years in the Hell of Drumpf. No matter what we choose, half the country spends the next four years in hell. Liberals naturally think it should always be the other people who go to hell and conservatives naturally think liberals have it exactly backwards; from my plague-on-both-your-houses seat, it seems like after conservatives had to endure eight years of Obama it’s pretty much liberals’ turn for a while.
But the main point is that when you have a country that is divided in such a way that the division is both knife-edge even AND poisonously bitter, and when the two candidates for President are both (as they almost always are deemed to be by those who vote against them) persons of vile character whom no decent parents would allow anywhere near their children, then the goal of the election is not to get the “right” person into office – it’s to avoid civil war for another four years.
Of course, in a perfect world only nice people who genuinely care about their country more than themselves, and who would never tell a lie, and who never would stoop to doing anything dishonest, would run for President. In a perfect world no newspapers would deliberately suppress news that would hurt the candidate whom the owner of the newspaper supports or make up lies to harm the other guys’ candidate. In a perfect world all voters would vote for the candidate who was best for the country rather than who was calculated to advance their own selfish interests. In a perfect world people wouldn’t vote for anyone because he had the right skin color or against her because he had the wrong skin color. In a perfect world voters would never vote for anyone because she had the right genitalia or against anyone because he had the wrong ones. And in a perfect world foreigners would stay the hell out of our business. You and I agree that all of these are bad things and that they pollute and corrupt our politics and that the country would be much better off if they didn’t happen. Also the country would be much better off if we could harness the power of unicorn flatulence to meet all our energy consumption needs.
But this is real life. In real life you don’t get George Washington running against Abraham Lincoln every four years. You don’t even get George Washington running against Donald Trump or Abraham Lincoln running against Hillary Clinton. You get Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton, with the New York Times lying its collective butt off to try to get Hillary elected while Breitbart returns the favor from the Trump side and the Russians stir up trouble any way they can (as they have been doing for the last century – it has taken Democrats almost a hundred years to care about Russian interference in American politics simply because this is the first time in almost a hundred years that Russian interference has turned out to help Republicans rather than Democrats).
Now the way we deal with this in the American system is really quite simple:
Each American voter decides for himself who is more likely to be telling the truth and who isn’t, and decides for himself whether he’s going to vote his own selfish interests or for the good of the country or even just to annoy his obnoxious father-in-law. He gets to cast his vote anyway he darn well pleases, for any reason he darn well chooses, whether it’s a reason the rest of us approve of or not, and whether the things he bases his beliefs on are factual or delusional, and whether he belongs to a group we like (say, feminist Sierra Club environmentalists with masters degrees in English literature, or alternatively heat-packing elders in the local Mormon temple) or a group we despise and hold in contempt as being morally and intellectually inferior to ourselves (say, Neanderthal white male blue-collar homophobic xenophobic fascist rednecks who like collecting guns and growing beards and making duck calls and talking way too much about Jesus – or, if you belong to a different subculture, useless snooty effeminate self-righteous politically correct coastal elites who would starve to death in the middle of the Ukrainian farmland if they suddenly had to grow or hunt their own food and who are too childishly immature and stupid and viciously mean-spirited to be able to tell the difference between “Hitler” and “somebody who disagrees with my personal opinions”). And when all the voters have cast their votes, then the rules that were agreed upon before the whole election process started are applied to determine the winner, because the People have spoken, and the People are judge and jury and their decision is final even if the People are idiots or jerks; and if it turns out that they gullibly fell for a whole passel of lies and actually elected a contemptible, but technically law-abiding and therefore not impeachable, person to the Presidency…well, in four years they can kick him back out again if they want. Because the only thing that matters is, of the legally cast votes, who it was that the votes got cast for – WHY they got cast the way they did has nothing whatsoever to do with their legitimacy, so long as they were cast in accordance with the laws of the state in which they were cast.
And once that happens, in a blue/red country like ours, then for about half the country, their Candidate, the Good and Noble Standard-Bearer for All That Is True and Just, has triumphed over folly and evil and righteously assumes power in order to Make This Country Great Again, while the other half of the country sits around and complains bitterly about how stupid (if these are Republicans complaining about Democrats) or how evil (if these are Democrats complaining about Republicans) those other guys are, and how the moronic self-deluded idiots (if Republicans are talking) or racist sexist homophobic fascists (if Democrats are talking) who are all those fellow Americans who didn’t agree with Us The Enlightened, have gone and Ruined Our Country By Electing That Spawn of Satan. And if that’s how you want to spend your time and emotional energy, well, you are free to do that. There is nothing wrong with thinking that your fellow Americans have made a terrible mistake; at least I certainly hope there isn’t because that’s pretty much the conclusion I myself come to every four years (I think the last Presidential election result I actually was reasonably happy with was Reagan over Mondale and that was a l-o-o-o-o-n-n-g-g time ago). If you and your friends want to complain to each other about how badly America just screwed up, rock out.
But what you have absolutely NO business doing, in my opinion, is throwing a fit about how the outcome is “illegitimate” because in your opinion the people who voted for the other guy were tricked, or manipulated, or gullible, or evil, or racist, or Christophobic, or socialist, or secular humanists, or whatever term of abuse means “bad people who aren’t on my side” in your particular social circle. If the American people voted for him, as defined by the rules that both sides knew in advance would apply, then he is legitimately the President-elect – unless he is genuinely so evil that the only right action on the part of any decent person on the side of the Good is to pull out weapons and try to hit the Second Amendment Kill Switch on the Republic. I mean that very seriously; there are people (genuine fascists, for example, which despite the rhetoric of the Left is not at all the same thing as “Republicans”) who will overthrow the whole social compact and impose a Mordorian night of violence and totalitarian injustice upon the rest of us unless they are fought and defeated (ask the victims of Stalin and Mao and Castro), and they MUST be fought and defeated, which is why we have a Second Amendment; so I am not saying, “Hey, we have to accept even Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin as President so long as he is elected by the rules.” What I AM saying is that you have no business making noise about how an electoral outcome that arises from the rules and the votes of the People is “illegitimate” (as opposed to “appalling” or “insanely stupid”) unless you think the outcome involves injustice that is worth fighting a civil war over. As I have said before, what Democrats seem amazingly incapable of comprehending, is that there are in the long run only two ways to resolve disagreements:
- We agree on rules, and then we apply them the same way to both sides, and then whoever wins by the rules wins and whoever loses by the rules accepts their loss.
- Whichever side kills the most people on the other side in the war, imposes its will on the loser.
Now this doesn’t mean that if you try to break the rules you definitely will cause a civil war, every time you try it. Now and then you may get away with breaking the rules, or retroactively changing them so that you turn your side into the winner, at least for a little while, if the people on the other side decide to put up with your having broken the rules rather than resort to civil war, because in their judgment letting you get away with it is the lesser of the two evils. From time to time you can break the rules, or at least make it clear that you only care about the rules when you win but that whenever your side loses you can be counted on to try to change the rules ex post facto. You can get away with that…for a while. Basically, you can get away with as long as you haven’t convinced the other side that they have exhausted the first three boxes of liberty and have no choice but to move to the fourth. (This references the standard “four boxes of liberty” line: “If you think something is wrong with your country, you have four boxes: soap, ballot, jury, ammo. Use only in that order.”)
But every time you play the cheat card, you move one step closer to convincing the other side that in the first step of #1, “we agree on rules,” what actually is happening is that they agree to the rules and you pretend to agree to the rules and then when you win they lose and when they win…then you cheat and they still lose. And once you convince them that you and they can no longer really agree on rules…well, welcome to the world in which violence determines the winner, unless you can somehow arrange a peaceful national divorce and stop trying to coexist as a single country.
So I think it is very, very, very foolish to respond to losing an election by trying to insist that THIS time the rules should be set aside because THIS time the rules ought not count. And it is particularly foolish to do that in a way that makes everybody except the people who are 100% on your side say flatly, “Yeah, and if it was turned around and they had won because of this, they’d be saying, ‘Hey, hey, we all have to follow the rules here!’”
BUT…BUT…BUT…you most certainly CAN say, “OK, the guy is our President and I’m not disputing that and I will put up with him for the next four years with as much of a good attitude about not getting my own way as I would have demanded from his people if my guy had won, because the rules are the rules and I’m a grown-up…but the way this went down is really bad, and we should take steps to fix it for the next time.”
And this brings us to the ways in which I think you and I agree, which is nice since up until now I have been trying to explain my perspective on the issue where we disagree.
So I’m going to propose a few things that I think you and I would agree on:
- It is a bad thing when either campaign lies or attempts to suppress the truth, especially when there is collusion between a campaign and an “independent” source who agrees to carry water for the campaign under the guise of neutrality.
- It is a bad thing, though not something you can really blame on the candidate, when people lie or attempt to suppress the truth on behalf of a candidate without his encouragement. Definitely a bad thing for the country, even if you decide not to beat the candidate up for it.
- It is a bad thing, all other things being equal, when a foreign power tries to meddle in our domestic politics for its own selfish purposes.
- It is a bad thing to get all upset about an unethical practice when the other guys do it but not when my side does it.
- When many unethical practices have been employed on both sides in a campaign (which has been the case in practically every American Presidential election that didn’t have George Washington as one of the candidates), it is deeply dishonest and deeply destructive of the civil peace, to pick out only the ones that your side accuses the other side of practicing, and then loudly proclaim that those particular unethical practices (but not the ones that the other side believes your team engaged in) uniquely disqualify a candidate for the Presidency.
So I guess you can tell me whether you agree with those five rules in principle, setting aside the question of whether in this particular election either the Democrats or the Republicans or both have violated these ethical principles.
There are then several directions the conversation could go from here (it doesn’t have to go anywhere, of course; I am happy for you to remain unconvinced of my views and for us to go own amicably sharing soccer links while you from time to time idly wonder how such an apparently nice and intelligent person as myself could hold such foolish and reprehensible political views).
The first, which is a philosophical direction, is to ask whether there are any steps we can wisely take to reduce the amount of such shenanigans that go on in the future. My own opinion, looking back over more than two centuries of American elections, and looking at human nature, and understanding the fundamental considerations that led to the inclusion in the Bill of Rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, is that practically anything we try to do through the law to discourage such goings-on, would do more harm than good, and that the Constitutional generation were wise to pass the First Amendment and to make the People, in their quadrennial elections, judge and jury over whether such shenanigans had taken place and should be punished with forfeiture of office. This is particularly true since I think dishonesty is much more troublesome than foreign influence in theory, though in practice it is extremely rare for a malicious foreign power to interfere in our domestic politics by engaging in propaganda that consists of telling the truth. (That is, I object more to falsity than to foreignness but this is usually not an issue because foreign interference ordinarily involves falsity.) I have several different reasons for thinking this; if you want to go in that direction I can explain what they are.
The second, which is also a largely philosophical direction, is to ask whether this particular election has been poisoned by violations of those five principles, in so one-sided a way as would make a dispassionate neutral observer decide the “wrong” candidate had been elected. I think the answer is no, not because I think the Trump campaign didn’t benefit from violations of the Bad Five Things, but because I think the Clinton campaign benefitted at least as much, and almost certainly quite a bit more, from similar violations – and the Clinton campaign I think was way more consciously involved in them than the Trump campaign was. I’m pretty sure you disagree strongly with me on this, but I think it is less a matter of philosophical differences than it is in our case simply a difference of opinion on facts. I’m pretty happy to agree to disagree here on the factual basis of the particular case if we agree on the general principles.
The third is an utterly pragmatic, non-moral direction – setting aside what is philosophically true or untrue, what is it that you and your fellow Democrats accomplish politically by banging these particular drums at this particular time, and is it tactically wise or tactically foolish for you to harp on it in the current political context? This one I think is a slam dunk, and is a theme that I have been coming back to over and over ever since the election, namely, that you Democrats are behaving for all the world like you want Trump to be an eight-year President. If you want to ensure that we’re stuck with Trump until 2024, then by all means, carry on. This, by the way, is unfair to you personally, because it mostly has to do with the way Democrats have spent the last thirty years behaving, and you haven’t spent the last thirty years behaving that way. But life is not fair and the fact that you are a Democrat means that people who aren’t Democrats will tar you with the same brush as your comrades of my generation; you will pay for their sins. This sucks and I wish it were not true; but you need to grasp this particular reality as quickly as you can, at least if you want to contribute to Democratic victories rather than losses in the future.
Let me explain, briefly:
There’s nothing wrong, morally and philosophically, with your having raised these concerns, and you can do that in conversation with me, or with other people who aren’t liberals but who know and like you and are happy to disagree with you over a beer and wish you well when it’s closing time. But as a matter of practical politics you need to be aware of how liberal complaints about Russian propaganda and fake news look from outside the liberal bubble. For the Democrats to be complaining that the results of the People’s voting should be unconstitutionally set aside because of fake news and undue Russian influence is so gob-smackingly un-self-aware as to be beyond parody. The Democrats ran the candidate of the Clinton Foundation, a candidate who as Secretary of State approved the sale of a fifth of our uranium reserves to the Russians over furious howls of protest from the entire political Right, and whom huge swaths of the voting populace despise because foreigners have slushed tens of millions of dollars into her “charitable foundation” in what looks for all the world like quid pro quo transactions. The Kremlin has been actively and notoriously involved since the days of Stalin in subversive propaganda on our soil, with the willing cooperation of many American citizens all of whom until yesterday were on the Left, and whenever the Republicans have complained about it for the last fifty years they have been called warmongers and McCarthyites. The Democratic Party has benefitted from massive investments in American-market propaganda funded by the very definitely non- and (millions of Americans believe) actively anti-American George Soros, and to this day that same Democratic Party lionizes a man who actually contacted Yuri Andropov to try to get the Russians to run a collaborative propaganda effort with the Democratic Party to defeat Ronald Reagan’s candidacy for a second term. And, now, suddenly the Democrats are all self-righteous about Russian interference in U.S. politics?????? How do you think that looks to anybody who is not a Democrat? Even if you’re actually right and the popular view of which of the two parties has historically looked the other way whenever the Russians misbehaved is wrong, it’s still politically insane for Democrats to be pounding that particular drum at this particular point, because even if the popular view is wrong, it’s still the majority view. You and I agree that it’s bad for the Russians to involve themselves in American politics; but what you don’t understand is that I can get away with saying this in December of 2016 because I’ve been opposed to Russian involvement in American politics since the days of Reagan, but you aren’t going to be taken seriously by non-liberals (well, by me you will be, but I’m saying non-liberals in general) because you are a Democrat and therefore you have precisely zero public credibility in making that particular complaint. This is true even though I would bet my bottom dollar that this is the first time you personally have ever heard about the notorious Kennedy letter, and even though the Cold War ended before you were born, and even though there is not the slightest reason to expect you to know anything about the relationship between Soviet propaganda and the Vietnam antiwar movement. You cannot with any justice at all be called a “hypocrite” for not having complained about this stuff when this is the first election you’ve been old enough to vote in – but people aren’t fair and guilt by association comes naturally in politics. A Democrat complaining about Russian interference in American politics, even he happens to be a Democrat of your youth and admirable personal integrity, is a Democrat who accomplishes nothing other than to make sure every non-Democrat in the country is constantly reminded which party has spent the last sixty years winking at, when not actively colluding with, Russian interference in American politics.
Besides, when the Democrats took over and Hillary became Secretary of State, we were constantly — and patronisingly, and occasionally downright insultingly — assured that Russia was not our enemy and also Obama and Hillary were going to practice Smart Diplomacy and handle the Russians much better than stupid Republican neocons could. And when Hillary supporters carried on and on about her qualifications, one of the things they kept pointing at was her foreign policy “experience” as Secretary of State, a leading characteristic of which was the dramatic change from “neocon” policy to the Smart Diplomacy treatment of Russia. But now suddenly we are all supposed to believe that for the first time in the history of our country a foreign power has deliberately and successfully subverted our democracy and chosen the next President to suit its own purposes: suddenly it turns out that the Russians are Really Bad People Who Are Out To Get Us. Um, wouldn’t that kind of imply that Smart Diplomacy was, you know, shall we say, success-challenged? According to the Democratic narrative up until yesterday or thereabouts, Republicans were all wrong about Russia and they were really our friends. Now, apparently, eight years of Smart Diplomacy and resets have made them our nasty and bad enemies. Either that, or else they were our enemies all along and the Smart Diplomats were idiots. So, um, that’s a great argument for making Clinton President, that is.
And as for “fake news” — the country as a whole despises the news media establishment as a whole as not just rabidly partisan but as thoroughly dishonestly so (look at its approval ratings!!!), and pretty much the entire Midwest is unshakably convinced that every time anybody writing for CNN or the New York Times or the Washington Post or NPR takes it into their head to talk about the troglodytes who inhabit flyover country, they do so with precisely as much accuracy and honesty and charity as you would be likely to find in a nineteenth-century white factory owner’s lectures in Boston about “Injuns.” (David Burge’s classic line: “If you think Trump says a lot of horrible things about immigrants, you should see the stuff MSNBC says about midwesterners.”) And at this point we all know that the very organizations that are being all self-righteous about “fake news” were openly (the New York Times) or nefariously (CNN, sneaking debate questions under the table to Hillary in advance) all-in for Hillary’s election. So, most people in the country think that the national media establishment is completely and shamelessly dishonest, and also knows perfectly well that the national media is on the side of the Democratic Party…what do you think the reaction is, from anybody not a registered Democrat, to a Democrat who complains about “fake news”?????
Again, I actually agree with you that fake news is a bad thing. But then I’m not in the politically untenable position of arguing that we should set aside the verdict of the voters as legally determined under the rules that were known perfectly well in advance, on grounds of misleading propaganda, in favor of the candidate who was actually caught colluding with a notoriously dishonest media establishment widely and accurately perceived as being utterly loyal to the Democratic Party.
You really do need to see that when you complain that Trump should not rightfully be President because of the Russian hackers’ interference with the election, you come off as saying, “CNN and the Democratic Party conspired to give Hillary Clinton debate questions in advance, and she was widely perceived as having won the debate and having been much better prepared than Trump, and she got a significant bump in the polls as a result…but that’s okay; that shouldn’t be held against her. However, thanks to the Russians the public found out about the cheating, and held the fact that she and the media had conspired to cheat against her, and as a result Trump got more votes – and that can’t be allowed; Hillary should be President.” You are putting yourself in the position of saying something that to anyone who isn’t a Democrat sounds like, “Hillary should be President on the grounds that she only lost because she was not allowed to get away with cheating.” The overwhelming majority of Americans who are not motivated by partisanship would say that a candidate who cheats ought to be disqualified. You can hardly help coming off as saying that Trump should be disqualified because Hillary got caught cheating. Ai-ya, Andy, whom do you expect to convince with that logic?
I mean, are you saying that the Russians released any information about the Clinton campaign that was not in fact accurate? Do you think all those e-mails were forgeries? (You may well know something I don’t know as I haven’t paid terribly close attention to the brouhaha; insofar as I’ve looked into it, that’s been because you asked my opinion.) I’ve been assuming you don’t dispute their accuracy; I have been assuming that what you would complain about is that you assume that there was a ton of nefariousness that was sitting in the Republican e-mails and the Russians should have released that too. And I think that would be reasonable in principle, although I don’t actually think it is safe in fact to assume that there was anything in the Republican e-mails anywhere near as damaging as what was found in the Democratic e-mails. I mean, surely you don’t think that anybody in the news media was sneaking debate questions out to Trump in advance, for example. Or take the leak that revealed that the DNC cheated Sanders to get Clinton the nomination. Sure, the Russians probably have a ton of e-mails showing that the Republican party leaders cheated their butts off to keep Trump from getting the nomination. But what would be the point in leaking those e-mails? Number one, everybody already knows the Republican establishment would have sold their souls to Satan to keep Trump off the ticket. And number two, unlike the DNC, the RNC, being as they are a pack of pathetic losers, pathetically failed.
And of course there’s also the fact that the RNC says they did not in fact get hacked. And since the “Russian hack” of the DNC consisted of an obvious phishing e-mail that anybody with an IQ higher than a goldfish wouldn’t have fallen for, it’s entirely possible that the Russians didn’t have nearly as much luck with the Republicans as they had with the Democrats. I’m sure the Russians tried to hack the RNC; Lindsay Graham (another of the many Real Geniuses that populate our national government) says they made it into his campaign. But if the Russians sent the same phish to the RNC, but the RNC’s IT department happened to know the difference between “this is a legitimate e-mail” and “this is not a legitimate e-mail” then the Russian attempt on the RNC would have, you know, failed. Or if, when explicitly instructed to “click this link to reset your password,” one of the “smartest” people in the party had chosen to click that link to reset his password, rather than clicking the link that was in the original phishing e-mail, well then that would have saved the day as well. The Russian tactic used — the one that worked on the people who think they are smart enough to lead the free world — is at most one step up in sophistication from a Nigerian e-mail scan. It’s entirely possible that even the halfwits at the RNC managed to figure that one out. Of course, you can still say, “No, if the Russians decided to try to hack the RNC, it is safe to assume that they succeeded, even if we have no actual evidence that they did so.” But people who want Hillary to be in the White House rather than in prison probably shouldn’t start any argument by saying, “If the Russians decide to try to hack networks that are run by politicians’ in-house IT departments, we should take it for granted that they are guaranteed to succeed…” Poor tactical choice, that.
Still, it seems to me that you are assuming that the Russians did successfully hack the RNC; so let’s go with that, and let’s set aside the question of Hillary’s homebrew e-mail server as being strictly speaking irrelevant (though most non-Democrats who hear you complain about Russian hackers will think about Hillary’s server straight away). If you are making the additional assumption that there were e-mails that would have damaged Trump, and your complaint isn’t that the Russians leaked the Democratic emails but is instead that they didn’t leak the Republican ones, then I would advise you always to say explicitly, “If the Russians and Wikileaks had released all the Republican e-mails too, then I would have no objection, because then they would have been performing a service to the American people that our own media failed to perform.” Otherwise, it looks like you are saying, “I think that it is a bad thing for Democrats to get caught saying and doing bad things, and if the Democrats get caught cheating and as a result people change their votes to Republican and the Republican wins, then I think the Republican should be delegitimized on the grounds that it is not fair for Democrats to get caught when they cheat.” You can see how that would not very often be a winning strategy.
Put it this way: “Hillary Clinton cheated, and also told the public one thing about open borders while she told the donors something else, and also her inner circle came to a shared conclusion that she was coming to hate ordinary Americans, and all kinds of other crap that she figured the American people would never know about and what the ordinary American didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. Then the Democrats handled their internet security as though they were a bunch of five-year-olds, completely in keeping with Hillary’s notoriously careless handling of top-secret information, and the Russians hacked the heck out of them, not a difficult task since the way Democrats apparently handle security of information they can generally be hacked more or less at will by your average ten-year-old Chinese elementary student. So the American people found out about Hillary’s cheating and her expressed goal of open borders and all that other stuff, and a lot of them decided not to vote for her. Therefore, clearly, Donald Trump is disqualified as President.” Um…dude.
And all of this in service of trying to say that the results of the election should be set aside in favor of a candidate who, back when she thought she was sure to win, talked very loudly about how any attempt to resist the outcome of the election would threaten the very foundations of our American democracy. I mean…goodness me, what kind of impression do you think you guys are making? Again, David Burge puts it well, saying something like, “A lot of the people who voted for Trump held their noses when they did it. The way Democrats have been acting since the election has been reassuring those voters that they did in fact make the right choice.”
I guess what I’m saying is that (taking off my “I don’t want Democrats as Presidents” hat and putting on my “I don’t want Trump as President” hat), if I were you I would not run around publicly talking about how Russian involvement and dishonest propaganda disqualify Trump for the Presidency, or how in a world where internet hacking is a tool of war and our Russian enemies are good at it, the person we really need for President is somebody who kept top secret information on a home-brew server in a bathroom and who was by her own admission too stupid to figure out that the big C that kept showing up at the top of e-mails on her highly insecure mail system stood for “Classified.” After all her carrying on about “threatening the foundations of American democracy,” I wouldn’t do a lot of arguing publicly that in order to get her into office we should set aside the undoubted results of the election that are required by the Constitution because somehow that only threatens American democracy when Republicans do it. I mean, in private conversations among friends, as you try to work out the details of your political philosophy, sure, go for it – especially because you could conceivably be right and you could conceivably make a rational case for it; at the moment I’m talking political tactics, not philosophical truth. In private, sure, talk it through. But publicly on Facebook, maybe not so much.
But it is of course your Facebook page, not mine, and you may disagree with me even on the tactical point, and I won’t think any less of you if you do.
There is one final thing to discuss, and that is the CIA’s very odd conclusion that Russia preferred a Trump Presidency to a Clinton one, and your readiness in accepting that conclusion. Note the difference between establishing that the Russians hacked the American campaigns, which is largely a matter of establishing fact, and determining why they did it, which is the vastly more complicated task of establishing motive. You and I both are very unhappy about the idea that the Russians are spying on Americans and trying to harm our country. The question is, what did they hope to accomplish? “Anonymous sources in the CIA,” according to the Post and the Times (neither of whom is exactly trustworthy or nonpartisan) say they have “determined” that the Russians wanted to throw the election to Trump; the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence say no such thing can be determined; and you proceed to argue as though the CIA is an unimpeachable and infallible source. (Yes, the people who assured us that Saddam had WMD’s – those guys, they are totally reliable, as Democrats have been telling us for years…oh wait.) I suppose the first question would be why you have so much faith in the CIA and so little in the FBI, or why somebody worried about fake news would want to invalidate election results on the basis of an anonymously-sourced news story, in openly partisan news organs, from sources within a bureaucracy that is both hostile to Trump and lies for a living and rather famously gets things spectacularly wrong on a more or less constant basis. But the more basic question is simply this: what in heaven’s name makes you think it believable that the Russians would want Trump as President rather than a continuation of the Obama policies under of all people Hillary Clinton??
Your explanation for why the Russians would want Trump seems to be that you think he would be their “puppet.” With all due respect, Andy, I can’t imagine how you can tell yourself that Trump would be anybody’s puppet. You and I didn’t talk about politics much before the election; so I don’t know what arguments you were using at that time. But conventional wisdom among Democrats, and among you-gotta-be-kidding-me non-liberal non-Trumpers such as myself, was that it was a bad idea to put Trump in charge because we might wake up one morning to discover that he had just nuked Toronto on a whim. You think…you think the Russians figure they could control Trump? Even more importantly – you think the Russians figure they can control Trump better than they could control Hillary??
Look at the last eight years. For the last eight years, Barack Obama has played Chamberlain to Putin’s Hitler impersonation. One of the first things Obama did upon taking office was to yank out of Poland a missile defense system that the Russians had objected to, and to do so on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. When Mitt Romney tried to warn that Russia was our enemy, the Democrats, including Clinton, pooh-poohed him. In the runup to the 2012 elections Obama was caught telling the Russians that he would have a lot more “flexibility” to deal with them after he was elected. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Obama took only ineffectual measures to stop it; Russia still holds the territory it conquered and the land war continues. Obama drew a “red line in the sand” on Syria and had Kerry publicly warn Russia not to become an ally of Syria; but Russia is openly allied with Assad and he has used chemical weapons with impunity, and Obama has…done nothing to stop it. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, overrode Republican national security concerns and authorized the sale of a fifth of our uranium reserves to a Russian company owned by friends of Putin. Russia has had a great eight years of openly militaristic expansionism with a quiescent America. Why would they want to replace four more years of Democratic cooperation for four years of Trumpian ego and unpredictability? This is a serious question: what makes you think it would be at all reasonable for Russia to want to replace the known quantity of Clinton with the unknown erraticism of Trump? This seems to me to be, a priori at least, a wildly unlikely proposition. Is there (this is a serious request for information, not a rhetorical question) something you know that I don’t?
Here’s another thing that I doubt you are aware of, since you have not spent the last twenty years consulting in the energy sector. There is only one thing (other than demographic collapse) that has really gone wrong for Russia in the last eight years, but that one thing is a doozy. Putin’s economic policy is an unworkable holdover from the Soviet era, and the one thing that keeps the Russian economy going is the same thing that the Venezuelans and Iranians and to a degree the Mexicans all depend on as well: oil revenue. Fifty-dollar oil is a huge problem for Putin. It is absolutely critical for the Russians that oil prices go up; but during the Obama era oil fell from a hundred a barrel to thirty, and even now it is only trading at about fifty. It might get as high as seventy temporarily, but for the foreseeable future anything more than $60/barrel (setting aside inflation effects) is not sustainable for long periods of time. Do you know why?
Shale oil. United States shale oil. That is to say, fracking. It is absolutely critical for the Russian economy to limit fracking in the United States to the maximum possible degree. Now, which party is it that opposes fracking wherever it happens and by whatever means? Which party wants to keep new oil pipelines from being built? Which party explicitly wants to restrict oil production for climate control purposes? Which party refuses to open oil drilling on the California offshore fields, and drags its heels whenever possible on leasing drilling on federal land (which, since the federal government owns considerably more than half the land in the American West, is a big deal)? Which party, in other words, does everything in its power to keep American oil production down as much as possible?
And which American Presidential candidate is openly running AGAINST all these restrictions on the grounds that they keep Americans from getting jobs?
It’s even worse for the Russians than you know, because by the end of 2017 at least one company is going to be producing oil and water out of oil shale (this is not the same thing as shale oil) using microwave technology rather than fracking. If this technology is successful then suddenly just one single oil shale field in the American West turns from useless rock into four trillion barrels of recoverable oil, which is enough all by itself for American oil consumption at its current levels for the next one hundred thirty years, at production costs of about $9/barrel (though you need about $60/barrel oil to justify the up-front costs of opening up the field – by doing things like, you know, building new oil pipelines to the field). The only hope for all those foreign countries, including Russia, that desperately need high oil prices, is for American environmentalists to come up with an excuse to keep that oil in the ground either by declaring microwaves to be an environmental hazard or else refusing to allow pipelines to be built to the field. Who do you think would be more likely to cooperate with the environmentalists, and thereby with the Russians – Democratic President Clinton, or Put Those Blue-Collar Workers Back To Work Republican President Trump?
In other words, what the CIA has concluded appears, on the face of it, to make very little sense. So do you know something I don’t know? (Again, this is entirely possible because I haven’t been paying careful attention and I think you have; so you may very well have something to teach me on this point.)
As far as I can tell, the CIA logic seems to be, “The Russians embarrassed the Democrats but not the Republicans, and in a very very close election it is reasonable to say that if the Russians hadn’t embarrassed the Democrats by revealing their true thoughts and their underhanded shenanigans, then Clinton would have won; so the Russians must have wanted Clinton to lose.” This is extremely unconvincing logic, it seems to me, which is probably why only the CIA (along with people looking for a reason to delegitimize Trump’s win) is convinced. It appears to me much more likely that the Russians believed what everybody else in Washington and New York believed, which is that Clinton was going to be our next President – and that what they wanted was a President Clinton who was severely weakened domestically by internal dissension and by a widespread perception that she had gained the Presidency by cheating. I think it very likely that they were quite surprised, and not at all happy, to get a President Trump instead – but if they are going to get a President Trump, then I’m sure they would prefer to have one who was severely weakened domestically by internal dissension and by a widespread insistence that his Presidency was illegitimate.
And besides, there’s always the simplest explanation – which is simply that they would have been happy to embarrass the Republicans as well but there wasn’t anything in the Republican e-mail archives that was particularly useful for purposes of embarrassment; so they just didn’t bother.
Well, I hope you found at least some of that helpful. Let me just reiterate that I have a high opinion of you and that nothing you have said throughout this election season has lessened it.
UPDATE: You know, reading over this, I feel really terrible for honest liberals such as yourself, Andy. The thing is, I think your objection to Russian interference is an entirely legitimate objection, and I join you in it — I don’t agree it means that Trump ought not be President on those grounds, but I still agree with you that it’s bad news. And while I am beginning to think that Trump is not as bad as I thought he was, he is still a very long way indeed from gaining my trust or respect and I still wouldn’t let him in a room with any of my daughters. I don’t blame you for being horrified at the thought of a Trump Presidency; as I’ve said, the big difference between your depression and mine over the prospect is that I went through my stages of grief months ago, when it became clear that we really were going to have to choose between That Guy and That Woman. The really difficult position that you are in as a Democrat trying to take part in the public debate, is that as soon as you start talking about Trump, you remind people of Hillary. Russian interference in our politics is a really bad deal…but when you say so, in the public arena, non-Hillary supporters’ instant response is, “Oh, so now suddenly we’re supposed to worry about Russian propaganda and meddling?” (As, for example, here and here, which are more polite than quite a few other takes I’ve seen.) In other words you, you Andy in person, will get a “you Democrats” response that you personally don’t deserve. You are saying the truth when you say that it is bad for Russians to be influence the outcomes of our elections; but because of the past behavior of your fellow Democrats you basically can’t tell the truth and have any practical positive effect. You can complain that Russian hacking of American politicians e-mail is a really bad thing, and you will be telling the truth when you say so…and because you’re a Democrat, thanks to the grossly irresponsible manner in which Hillary managed classified information, the people you talk to are likely to respond not, “Man, Trump ought not be our President” but instead, “Wow, thank God Hillary is not our President, and also these Democrats sure are hypocritical.” And that will not be fair to you.
I think maybe this is where you learn that there are times when the things you believe will be taken up and championed publicly by somebody who gets way more attention than you do — and who then disgraces themselves, and unfortunately in the popular view thereby disgraces the ideas they were championing, and then you find to your horror that when you try to defend your ideas to the general public, they simply associate your ideas with the self-disgraced public figure and the behavior of the public figure associated with your ideas drowns out the logic of your arguments. Shrub (that is, Dubya) did to me what Hillary has done to you — not that I was a Republican, but I did think that we had a once-in-a-generation chance to bring about true change in the Middle East and therefore supported the Iraq War, only to watch in ever-increasing horror as Dubya took pretty much every single decision with which he was faced after the rapid military triumph and spectacularly botched it. I thought the Iraq War was a good idea, and I still think that in theory, with even minimally competent leadership, the project could have succeeded and made a fundamental change in the entire dynamic of Middle Eastern Islam. But I wasn’t actually supporting a theoretical Iraq War with theoretical wise leadership. I was supporting an Iraq War under the specific conditions that the guy in charge of reconstruction would be George W. Bush. And boy did I ever have THAT one wrong.
The thing is, I still think there is a theoretical case to be made that an intervention there, with the proper goals and non-incompetent leadership, would have been the right thing to do. But I don’t even bother trying to talk about it any more, because the real life version was screwed up so spectacularly that there is just no point.
And sadly, I think that’s where you find yourself now. The Democratic Party has spent the better part of a century throwing fits any time the Republicans complained about Russian influence in America (one of the most enduring triumphs of Soviet propaganda is the way every American of my and subsequent generations instinctively reacts to the name “McCarthy”), and they spent the last eight years ramping up the ridicule even farther, and even just a few weeks ago there were apparently some Democrats still pestering Obama to pardon the Rosenbergs, and Hillary Clinton pulled her e-mail stunt and her uranium-sale stunt just to make sure nobody could separate her treatment of Russia from Obamas. Then the DNC doubled down on the security-schmecurity thing…and got hacked. By Russia. Dude, you are right about this being a bad thing. But the people who “represent” you in the popular eye have put you in a place where you simply will not be taken seriously by anybody but other Democrats if you start complaining about Russian hacking is suddenly a grave threat to the Republic and therefore the only thing to do is…put the Democrats in charge. It’s just not there for you. I mean…(sigh) I’m sorry, dude, but every Democrat who complains about Russian hacking now might as well be contributing cash to the Donald Trump 2020 Reelection Fund.
OK, from now on I won’t say anything else in this conversation about pragmatic politics. The rest of the way we can have a totally philosophical just-us-two, pretend-Hillary-never-happened conversation about what ought to happen in cases like this — what should be happening now, and what measures should be taken to avoid a repetition in the future. That’s probably what you wanted in the first place, only…only I thought it was pretty important for you to get a feel for how people outside of the liberal bubble react to liberal arguments, in ways where my own hyper-analytic reaction is atypical, and where the people hearing your arguments aren’t close friends who already think highly of you.