Tag Archives: Trump

The Evidence is Piling Up

 

Last week it seemed like every morning I’d wake up to find that another member of the Trump administration or his campaign team has been linked to high-level officials in the Russian government. We’ve already had one resignation because of such connections. It’s hard to tell where the fire is, but there’s definitely smoke.

Readers will remember that when the topic of the so-called Trump-Putin “bromance” surfaced during the election, I urged caution. Talking about Trump and Putin is kind of like a spectrum where you don’t want to ignore the connections, but at the same time you don’t want to overstate them. On one hand, there are legitimate concerns about Russian meddling in the election (which nevertheless did not win it for Trump), but on the other if you go around connecting every possible “dot” you might end up going paranoid and inventing some kind of bizarre conspiracy where Trump became a Russian puppet long before the rise of Vladimir Putin. And that, of course, would be just plain nutty!

Oh. Uh…Okay then. Let’s move on.

As we tumble down Trump’s Russian rabbit hole it’s useful to listen to a voice of reason, which when it comes to Russia topics is typically Mark Galeotti. In a blog piece Mark points out the roots of this Russian influence:

“The steady drumbeat of Russian contacts with Trump’s team on one level should not surprise. The Russians – like most real and wannabe global powers – assiduously network, hoping to gather insights and make connections that can later be parlayed into access and impact. This is, however, a case study of the way that the dirty little vices of modern democracy, from the inter-connectivity of transnational and untransparent business interests to the use of money and flattery to buy a voice, all the ways in which democracy becomes distorted by money, serve as a force multiplier for predatory authoritarian kleptocracies.

In fact, my view is that for the West today, the greatest security threat is not Russian tanks or Russian disinformation, it is our own corruption – and the ways Russia seeks to use it.”

I for one am just thrilled to see Mark drawing ever nearer to the conclusion that we must overthrow the capitalist system, and welcome him as a comrade in the glorious struggle! Seriously though, Mark’s pointing out the thing a lot of these status-quo think tank liberals don’t want to admit. For them it would be lovely if this is all a sinister plot cooked up by former KGB officer Putin driven by his proto-fascist Ivan Ilyin-inspired ideology. Because if that were the case, there’d be no need to indict the “Free-market-uber-alles,” managed democratic capitalist system we live in for being so wonderfully accommodating to kleptocrats, dictators, and war criminals (or in Putin’s case, all three!). In that case, it would be only a matter of bad people with bad ideas, people who could theoretically by displaced by good capitalists and good liberals who play by the rules and maintain the status quo.

But if Trump’s Russia connections aren’t necessarily some sinister plot, and he’s not a puppet of Putin being held in check due to fear of blackmail (which I highly doubt- see previous post), does it make sense to keep digging deeper into the case? Will anything be found that warrants such scrutiny, will it be worth it? My answer is…Wait for it…Yes.

Yes, there are good reasons to get to the bottom of this case, and I will enumerate them below:

First, Trump has, perhaps mostly unwittingly, helped Putin advance his foreign policy goals with his refusal to seriously criticize Putin at almost every conceivable opportunity. He has helped Putin by being an incompetent moron, thus paralyzing the US government and public and keeping them too occupied cleaning up the domestic mess he has made to worry about what Putin is doing abroad. You know how the administration suddenly reverted to supporting the status quo on sanctions over Ukraine, and specifically the Crimea? I don’t think for second that this had anything to do with the administration finally recognizing the need to get tough on Putin. They simply reverted to the status quo because they’re too occupied with the grease fire they’ve started at home and that status quo was never that tough to begin with. Putin has engaged in several aggressive actions in the Donbas recently, no doubt feeling secure in the knowledge that Trump is unlikely to make any move against him for the foreseeable future.

Second, even if Trump never intended to make conciliatory deals with Russia, the way he talked no doubt told certain Russian officials that there would be a possibility of concessions. This would have emboldened them. Had Trump been as bellicose about Russia as he was about Mexico during the campaign, the Kremlin might have preferred a much more cautious approach.The fact that they haven’t been cautious at all suggests confidence.

Third, let us imagine for the moment that all of these connections we see, while unethical, never led to anything seriously illegal or compromising to national security. If that turns out to be the case, who’s to say the next administration doesn’t do the same thing with a foreign government, only that time they go further and cross the boundary from highly questionable to straight up illegal or even treasonous? If Trump’s Russia connections are nothing but smoke with no fire, the only way we’re going to know is after a thorough investigation. If that investigation never happens, it basically opens up such relations to both parties, and from there it’s only a matter of time before someone pushes the limit further. Coming down hard on the Trump administration is how we hopefully nip this kind of thing in the bud. We already have enough problems with our government carrying on friendly relations with unsavory regimes.

So yeah, this is definitely worth looking at. It is an investigation best left to professionals, both in and out of law enforcement. That means no journalists or “game theorists” connecting dots on Twitter, and yes, it rules out a serial shitposter such as myself.

You and I can do two things in this fight- push representatives, investigative journalists, etc. to keep digging, and then sit back with a big bowl of popcorn and watch the Trump administration go down in flames. If we’re really lucky, Trump’s clothes may one day match the color of his face. But if not, at least every American politician will be afraid to walk within ten meters of any Russian government official.*

 

*Except Dana Rohrabacher, because he’s an utter imbecile.

Hanlon’s Razor

So let’s see- we’ve already had a minor constitutional crisis, a resignation, the appointment of an utterly incompetent person as Secretary of Education, talk of impeachment, a fresh scandal about the president’s ties to the Kremlin…and we’re not even a month in. I’m sure I’ve even missed a few things as well. Who could have possibly predicted that electing a man with zero political experience or knowledge, a man with an obvious personality disorder of some sort, could turn out for the worst?

Since Flynn’s resignation the Russia connection has suddenly been pushed back to the fore once again. At this point it’s not clear whether there will be some sort of investigation, but since Russia’s in the news again, I think it’s important to recap a few points about what those connections mean. In other words…Let’s start with some game theory. 

Seriously though, if you’re reading #theResistance and tracing the red lines that supposedly reveal the complex web of connections between Trump, Putin, and Russian intelligence agencies, do yourself a favor- stop, now. There are some key points you need to understand and they don’t require any Glenn Beck-style charts or diagrams.

First there’s the issue of “kompromat” and potential blackmail against Trump. Supposedly the bombshell is that the Russians might have a video of Trump getting golden showers from prostitutes while at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow. The Resistance (probably the most laughably pathetic resistance movements in the history of insurgency) believes that Trump was at some time made aware of this tape, and thus he’s beholden to Vladimir Putin to keep it a secret.

Now before I burst this particular bubble I just want to make something perfectly clear. Do I believe that Trump paid prostitutes to piss on him? Yes. That is totally plausible. Has he done it in his past? I’ve heard that he has. Will the presidency change him or will he continue to enjoy such activities in the future? For all I know, he could be getting a golden shower from a high-class DC escort as I write these words. Yes, I think it’s totally plausible that Trump is into piss, big time. Now do I believe he was recorded during such activities during that particular stay in Moscow in 2013? That I cannot say. Without better evidence we cannot know if that particular pissing incident actually happened, and thus we must default to the negative until we have something concrete. All we know at the moment is that the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in all likelihood probably loves getting pissed on. If anything it would explain the color of his face.

Obviously I’m engaging in a little hyperbole there, but let’s deflate this myth of kompromat once and for all. First of all, yes, it’s quite safe to assume that Moscow’s luxury hotels are all wired for surveillance. However, the alleged incident took place in 2013, long before Trump announced his candidacy for the 2016 election. To Moscow, he would be nothing but a prominent American businessman, one who had thus far struggled to get any major projects off the ground in Russia. If the Russians wanted something out of such a man they could have just opened more doors to his business ventures in Moscow- no need for blackmail.

More importantly, there are several more fundamental problems with the kompromat theory, one of which is the question of whether such a video’s release could really embarrass Trump, a man who clearly has no shame. For some weeks now I’ve been able to imagine Trump’s potential explanation. One version has him saying something like:

“Look, folks- I tell it like it is. When you’re a successful businessman, you enjoy the finer things in life. You work hard you play hard, you know? So when I go to Moscow and I’m rubbing elbows with other successful businessmen and some of them tell me these lovely ladies want to meet me, what am I supposed to say? No? Listen, I make deals, it’s what I do. I’m not going to say no and insult them. And let me tell you, in my lifestyle there’s no way you could know that these women were prostitutes. I’ve got women throwing themselves at me all the time. You buy them some drinks, take them for a ride in your limo. It’s not like they say they’re prostitutes and then read you out some kind of price list. When you’re rich and successful they just do whatever you ask. I admit that some things in that video aren’t so politically correct, but when you’re a star you have a totally different life…”

Of course there’s another equally plausible variant Trump might go with- “It wasn’t me.”

 

More accurately, Trump will just call any US media coverage of the tape “fake news,” and his dimwitted followers will repeat it ad infinitum. I’m sure we’ll hear all about how George Soros paid the world’s best special effects experts to fabricate the offending video.

Let’s say you don’t buy my shameless Trump theory. Very well, let’s focus on Putin then. The idea is that Putin can have Trump wrapped around his finger by reminding the Donald about the tape. Can Putin actually make good on that threat? I believe that he can’t. Think about it- Putin releasing the tape proves to the world that the Russian intelligence services are engaging in not only blackmail, but also using blackmail as a means of interfering in the affairs of other sovereign nations. Naturally Russia will deny it, but all across the world even Kremlin-sympathetic politicians will be confronted with undeniable proof that Putin and his cronies are malicious. If anything, it is those politicians who have been most friendly to Putin who have the most to fear. Have they gone on press junkets or other visits to Moscow? Could their rooms have been bugged? What could their Russian “allies” have done to ensure their loyalty? If Putin reveals a tape- he only makes his enemies more resolute and his allies scared. All these politicians will begin to take actions against Russia not because they believe in human rights or even because they love their own countries, but simply to save their own asses. Whatever the motives, Putin loses. So much for the tape then.

Now in the wake of all this controversy, Trump has suddenly decided to talk tough on Russia. The final cucking of the Kremlin (or more accurately those who watch and believe their state-run media) came when the administration announced that sanctions against Russia would remain until Crimea is returned. What then, do we make of this?

Well first of all, I don’t trust Trump any further than I can throw him, and I’m a guy who’s trained in judo. I believe that Trump is saying this to deflect from all the Russia-related controversy he’s generated these past few weeks. He gets attacked so he points to the Obama administration and complains about them. He still hasn’t made any significant criticism of Putin or his actions. Everything is always something else’s fault when you’re in the party of personal responsibility.

That being said, for the time being Ukraine can at least stop worrying about a “grand bargain” that sells them out to Russia. This isn’t much relief, however, because Trump still enables Russia to get away with a lot, but for other reasons.

Hanlon’s Razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” For the Kremlin, Trump’s value isn’t in that he is their agent or at least sympathetic toward Putin; it’s in his belligerence and incompetence.

Long ago I pointed out that if the Kremlin appeared to be supporting Trump, it was only in order to troll Hillary (who they believed would win the election), or because they saw Trump as a highly polarizing, incompetent figure who would tie the US down with so many domestic scandals that it wouldn’t be able to adequately respond to any of Russia’s actions. Indeed, while Russian state media praised Trump to the heavens, the attitudes of Russia’s leadership had always been more cautious, especially as the inauguration approached. The recent statements on sanctions probably confirmed what they already feared about Trump, that he’d maintain the status quo, but at the same time Trump has caused such an uproar over his executive orders and tweets that it’s unlikely a significant portion of the already battered American people will support a tougher line on Russia and strengthened ties to Europe.

Serious analysis says that the Kremlin would have preferred a weakened but predictable Hillary to an unpredictable Trump, but they still “win” because Trump’s scandals make Americans focus inwards. What is more, Trump’s policies will continue the neo-liberal rot that Russia has counted on for nearly two decades now. The free-market dogma destroys societies, spreads cynicism, and thus creates an audience for Russian state propaganda like RT and Sputnik. And at the very least, Trump’s antics allow Russia’s TV propagandists to tell viewers: “You think America is so great? Look how they’re run by a complete buffoon! That’s what their so-called democracy gets you!” Even if he’s impeached the Kremlin media will find a way to spin it so it fits their general narrative- “democracy is a sham!”

 

 

How Putin “Won”

So about eight days into his first term and Trump has already managed to spark nationwide protests, rebellion within the government, a constitutional crisis, and he may have already committed an impeachable offense (apart from being utterly incompetent and unfit to serve in any public office whatsoever).

And while this was happening, there was a seriously escalation in the fighting around the town of Avdiivka in Ukraine. As a result, the government has been talking about evacuating the town’s population after Russian shelling knocked out its power and heating. When I was in Avdiivka, I’d been told that the town had lost water and power for a significant amount of time in the past, but as far as I know full evacuation was not mentioned. The situation now is most likely more serious due to the low temperature and the scale of the damage to the vital infrastructure. If authorities do decide to completely evacuate the town, this means the transfer of between 16,000 to 20,000 people.

Naturally, with all the Trump/Putin conspiracy theories still fresh in everyone’s minds, there’s a lot of speculation that this has something to do with the two presidents’ telephone conversation a few days ago. My take? Yes and no. Trump, who claimed that Putin would respect the United States if he were elected president, could have warned Putin about any provocative moves in Ukraine. He could have made it clear that escalation means increased consequences. While we don’t know what was said, it’s fairly safe to assume Trump issued no such warning to Putin. That is on Trump. But some kind of grand bargain in Ukraine? That’s unlikely.

It’s important to keep in mind the context of the recent fighting. The Russian forces have suffered several embarrassing setbacks, one of which was recently in Avdiivka. Naturally, they are thirsting for revenge and no doubt want to take back at least some of the territory they’d lost. Since this process started quite some time before the phone conversation, we can’t quite attribute the most recent escalation to something Trump told Putin. Again, if anything it was what he didn’t say to the Russian president.

That being said, let’s get one thing straight- Putin is benefiting from Trump being in office, and it’s not because they’re ideological blood brothers or because Putin has “kompromat” (blackmail material) on Trump.

During the election, when the Trump/Putin “bromance” became a meme, I gave an opinion as to what the Kremlin sees in Trump, and I think the past week’s events have tentatively confirmed that hypothesis. In short, I wrote that the Kremlin most likely sees Trump as the incompetent buffoon that he is, but more importantly they see him as a highly polarizing and controversial figure who will create so much scandal and discord with his domestic policies so as to distract him and much of the American establishment from foreign policy. It’s not that the truly intelligent people in the Kremlin believed that Trump would give them what they want, but rather he wouldn’t be able to stop them, and he’d keep anyone who might be able occupied as they react to his bumbling idiocy.

And look what we’ve got here? The orange moron almost immediately plunges the whole country into confusion to the point where pretty much the entire American media has forgotten that there’s a war going on in Europe which has killed nearly 10,000 people. Sweet deal for Putin.

But that’s not all! Trump’s clowning serves the Russian state media’s narrative that democracy is nothing but a corrupt circus everywhere. In reality, the infighting we see in the US government at the moment is actually a positive thing- it’s what proves our institutions and laws still matter more than the will of one deranged man in the Oval Office. But Russian state TV will spin this as the dreaded “chaos,” and disorder- both the opposites of the precious and holy “stability” which only Putin provides. In other words, they’ll portray it as an even bigger version of a Ukrainian Rada fistfight and tell their viewers that America is falling apart.

And what I cannot stress enough is that none of this requires Trump to be a true lover of Putin, and ideological soulmate, or an agent carrying out the Kremlin’s orders because he thinks they have footage of him getting pissed on by prostitutes (as though the release of such a tape could faze Trump). Trump just being Trump is all it takes.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way- suppose there’s a parallel universe Trump who’s totally identical to our Trump except for one difference. Instead of the praise of Putin and promises to better relations, he takes a hardline anti-Putin, anti-Russia stance. Now since this Trump does everything else the same, do you see him pushing aside everything that’s going on at the moment in order to make a firm statement about what went on in Ukraine in the past couple days? Would interrupt everything he’s been doing to start drawing up new sanctions? Of course not. Roughly ten days ago the guy was whining about how big his inauguration was, and now he’s in even more hot water.

In a way, this is even worse than if Trump were a pro-Putin agent. Today it’s Avdiivka, but in a few weeks some other part of the globe might ignite and meanwhile the president’s too busy explaining how he “never said” something that he’d actually said dozens of times on camera.

What to do? Well obviously Americans can’t stop their resistance now just to focus on Ukraine, Syria, or any other country, but it’s worth bringing those issues into the larger conversation. This is a president who campaigned on being a tough guy who would make dictators respect America. Instead he’s making them laugh and letting them do as they please. That needs to be added to the long list of Trump’s offenses.

 

So You Live in a Dictatorship Part II- No Ideology

Click Here for Part I of this series.

Welcome to the second part of my series geared towards Americans about to experience the Trump regime. Drawing from my experience both living and traveling in 21st century authoritarian “soft” dictatorships, I’m doing my part by giving you a preview of what you have to look forward to.

In the previous installment, I talked about how the basic frames of discourse will change so that it’s no longer a matter of regime supporters seeing your dissenting views as misguided or wrong,  but rather the very idea that you sincerely hold any beliefs will be challenged. You’ll be called a shill or a “disinfo” agent. You actually know that those opinions you’re expressing are wrong or immoral, but you’re just online saying them because you are being paid to do so, because you just want to destroy America by any means possible, or at best- you’re “virtue signaling” in hopes of getting praise for beliefs you don’t even really hold.

Does that sound bad? It gets worse. Way worse.

Many thinking folks have noticed a number of glaring inconsistencies within what we might call conservative values (yes, we see many among “liberal” or “progressive” values as well, don’t get triggered, conservative readers). For example, many conservatives are die-hard opponents of abortion and call themselves pro-life. But once you’re out of the womb- piss off! “I don’t wanna spend muh tax dollars feedin’ yer kid! No affordable housing, no healthcare, no food stamps, no education! What’s that? A trillion dollar fighter plane that blows stuff up? Sure!”

I could go on but you get the idea. At least you should, because this isn’t going to be one of those “conservatives say they believe this, but they support that” articles. I’m sure you can find dozens of those on Alternet, Salon, or some equally insipid site where liberals pat themselves on the back for being so educated and enlightened. This series is about going deeper and looking at more subtle aspects. It’s not about pointing out how people often have inconsistent values, but rather how in the new type of authoritarian state like Russia, the very idea of trying to have a consistent worldview or ideology is discarded.

Let’s go back to the conservative analogy and compare George W. Bush to Donald Trump. Admit it, liberals, you’re starting to get nostalgic, aren’t you? But seriously, look at them. Both did very well with fundamentalist Christians. The difference is that Bush in many ways at least projected the image of the evangelical Christian ideal, whereas Trump is the opposite.

Both Trump and Bush are very rich men who benefited from daddy, but Bush lived in Texas on a ranch. He wore cowboy hats, dammit! He cultivated an image of a down-home cowboy that “you’d like to have a beer with.” He didn’t deny a hedonistic rich-kid lifestyle in his past- instead he embraced it as part of a “come to Jesus” moment. In fundamentalist Christian circles this is often referred to as a “testimony.” Let me tell you, those fundamentalist Christians love them some testimonies.

Even behind the scenes, Bush seemed sincere about his Christian beliefs. He did open cabinet meetings with a prayer and he held Bible study sessions in the White House. In spite of the reality of his policies, if you were a Christian voter who cherishes “family values,” Bush basically walked the walk. Voting for him would be logical and ideologically consistent.

Trump is another matter entirely. He’s a slick-talking east coast businessman with a solid record of leaning liberal, paling around with various liberal celebrities including the Clintons. He doesn’t talk about religion, he never admits even the slightest mistake, and rather than projecting an image of humility, he flaunts his own hedonism. He rails against the elite but he obviously is one of the elite. Trump is so anti-Christian that he almost resembles a character in some Christian movie. The arrogant, decadent businessman who worships money and fame, but then either has a near death experience that leads him to Jesus, or dies and finds out that money can’t buy his way out of eternal damnation in hell. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

And yet- fundamentalists voted for the man in droves, well, white ones, at least. If you dig a little deeper it gets a little more complicated, but we’re still talking about a large portion of Christians voting for a man whose behavior practically screams “I don’t give a damn about your beliefs.” To be fair, there were rumors circulating in the fundie community about Hillary being a literal witch even in the early 90’s (clearly spread by time-traveling RT operatives from our time; this explains their massive budget). Still, I doubt that can explain why so many white evangelicals would vote for a man who is practically a character from a Left Behind novel.

This isn’t just about Christians either. Take a look at the neo-Nazis backing Trump such as David Duke. Trump’s already made it clear that he’s going to be staunchly pro-Israel. Trump’s son-in-law is Jewish and is set to take an important position in the White House. A man like Trump, based on where he lives and the business he does there, has to have or had at least dozens of Jewish friends, partners, employees, and acquaintances. And yet the neo-Nazis, for the most part, still rally behind him. And if you think it’s because Trump doesn’t have enough Jewish contacts I can tell you right now you don’t know neo-Nazis. They can take any social phenomenon that upsets them, any event whatsoever, delve deep into it until they find one person involved whose wife is “1/16th Jewish,” and PRESTO! That whole thing is just another part of the massive global Jewish conspiracy and “ZOG” (Zionist Occupied Government).

And what about the alt-right? I think that movement’s way to nebulous and small to explain Trump’s victory, but I do see it as a potential model to give you an idea of what the future of American politics are going to look like- no coherent ideology, just trolling of perceived outsiders. Most alt-righters look like the type of people who would last maybe ten minutes in a group of real Nazi skinheads before getting heart-checked and stomped into the pavement. And I know evangelical Christians wouldn’t want to personally associate with people who spend a great deal of their time online requesting anime porn. Yet both of those groups found themselves in a coalition with those “deplorables” and nobody seemed to stop and ask “what the hell are we doing with these guys?” Ideology, just didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was supporting Trump and opposing Hillary.

Back to Russia. Contrary to the speculation of many Western commentators, Putin’s regime doesn’t really have a concrete ideology- it is pragmatic and survival based. More importantly, even to this day it does not promote any ideology beyond a vague “patriotism,” which means supporting Putin or at not rocking the boat, and of course hating those who fail to do either for being “traitors” and puppets of the West. If the Putin regime had tried to enforce any one ideology, even if it wasn’t terribly consistent, they would paint themselves into a corner like the Soviet Union did. Instead, the system is far simpler. Believe what you want, just don’t rock the boat.

Of course there are certain key concepts the Kremlin wants to drill into people’s heads. Russia is surrounded by enemies that conspire against it. Russia is exceptional  and must make its own path. Russia needs a strong leader to be stable, etc. As long as you are publicly espousing such values, not opposing the state, and preferably advancing the state’s interests in some ways, you’re welcome to take on any ideology you want. You can call yourself a Communist and support alliances with ultra-right reactionaries if not espouse far right-wing beliefs yourself. You can be a monarchist and talk about how Stalin ruined Russia. What matters is only loyalty and usefulness to the state.

There’s a perfect example of this if you look at the way Russian propaganda associates Ukraine with Nazism.

Suppose you’re a radical leftist who supports progressive causes, opposes the far-right in Ukraine the same way you do anywhere in the world, openly denounces the cult of Stepan Bandera and its attempts to distort history, openly criticize genuine problems with the government in Kyiv, but you also support Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity without compromise and staunchly oppose Russian aggression there. Or in other words, suppose you’re like me.

Well I’ve got bad news for you- that last bit about supporting Ukraine makes you a Nazi or at least a Nazi sympathizer. It doesn’t matter than your political views are diametrically opposed to those of neo-Nazis or the far right. Unfair? Wait- it gets even better.

Imagine on the other hand you’re actually a literal neo-Nazi who hates Jews and other races. You literally believe in eugenics, deny or minimize the Holocaust, and think that the US was on the “wrong side” in WWII. But you admire Putin and support Russia because you stupidly think it “opposes world Jewry” or some such nonsense. Therefore you support Russian aggression in Ukraine and express that support on the internet.

If that’s you, there’s good news! You’re not a Nazi! I’ve encountered these characters dozens of times. In some cases they espouse beliefs that are literally identical to the actual German Nazis, and in the same incoherent rant they’ll refer to Ukrainian Nazis (whom they sometimes accuse of being “controlled by Jews”). Hell, one of RT’s “political analysts” who’s reported from Russian-occupied Ukraine on numerous occasions was actually the editor of a neo-Nazi magazine in Germany. I’ve been told he’s still cited as a political expert by other Russian state media. And he’s by no means the only far right reactionary who gets a platform at RT, let alone other Russian state media. So much for tirelessly struggling against fascism.

If all that seems confusing to you, it’s because you’ve misunderstood the term fascist or Nazi. See in the Kremlin parlance, fascism and Nazism have nothing to do with those actual ideologies. It’s rather a question of do you support or oppose Russia’s foreign policy in Ukraine. In Syria failure to support Russia and the Assad regime might make you a “terrorist apologist,” “ISIS supporter,” etc. It doesn’t matter if you abhor both of those groups and hope for a peaceful, secular Syria. Support the regime or terrorist.

At the same time look at what’s happening from the outside. While Russia has in some ways rehabilitated the Soviet Union and practically turned the Soviet victory in 1945 into a national cult, they make the most headway abroad among far-rightists, many of whom openly proclaim themselves to be die-hard anti-Communists and who refer to the “United Socialist States of America” or the “European Soviet Union.” Bring up these inconsistencies with either those right-wingers or their comrades in Russia and you won’t even faze them. The very concept that someone involved in politics should make an effort to have consistent ideological values or a coherent ideology is simply unknown to them (to be fair, I’ve encountered the same behavior with some far leftists).

The recent warming of conservative Republicans toward Russia is a perfect example of how even the bare minimum of a coherent ideology is starting to slip in America. Many conservatives still see Russia as “the Soviet Union,” the “commies.” And here its president is an ex-KGB employee (I’m sorry, I’m not going to dignify him anymore by calling him an agent) and yet they’re starting to praise and defend him because he says flattering things about Trump and he makes Obama and Hillary mad. It wasn’t like this under Bush. Under Bush, the Russian government was still espousing bullshit about safeguarding “traditional Western values” and partnering with the US in the “War on Terror,” yet Putin criticized the Iraq War (and benefited from it) so he was just another America-hater. Foreigners didn’t get to criticize anything America did. It’s also worth noting that the same people would later erupt in violent rage after Obama “apologized for America” in his Cairo speech.

So that’s the next thing to be on the lookout for- the disappearance of ideology in favor of a very rudimentary tribalism. Ideological coherency will be degraded, principles discarded. All that matters is being in the right coalition, the right side of the fence. Trump will never try to promote a particular set of values or ideology, partially because he is simply too stupid and disconnected from reality to even contemplate such a thing, but his PR people won’t either. When you start setting values, principles, ideology, etc., you’re bound to have splits and conflict. Furthermore, people with principles can organize, give and receive solidarity, and make a stand on those principles instead of being bought off- all very dangerous to power. Better for them to be atomized and have a simple us vs. them attitude. As long as they’re fearful, angry, and most importantly- at each other’s throats, power, and that includes the Democratic establishment as well, is quite safe.

What do I recommend? Start with yourself. Continually reexamine your own values and beliefs and try to explain them. Strive for consistency. Do not avoid debate with those who are willing to argue in good faith. Seriously challenge yourself. Weed out those beliefs or behaviors that smack of hypocrisy to the best of your ability. Even many of the most conservative Americans have far more respect for integrity and sincerity than they ever will for the ultra-edgy, hyper-alienated losers whose only joy in life consists of trying to make people “mad” on the internet and long sessions of masturbation to increasingly perverted fetish porn.

What’s at stake? American political life. Once the cynicism reaches a certain point, people stop caring out of sheer apathy or the daily struggle to survive. They start ticking the boxes. Politicians take note and start doing far less to appeal to the electorate since the electorate doesn’t care. Politics becomes reality TV, as it has been for quite some time in Russia.

 

 

 

So You Live in a Dictatorship: Part I – You Have No Beliefs

Since I’m sick of writing about Russian hackers, and for the past two weeks I’ve wanted to punch anyone who says “fake news” unironically, I’ve decided to try something a little different. A bit more serious, if you will.

Recently I’ve noticed fellow writers, some of which I know personally, trying to communicate to Americans the signs to look out for in an authoritarian country. Unlike theorists who study these matters in academia, they are sharing knowledge that comes from personal experience in countries like Russia and Turkey. As I happen to have both knowledge and experience in both of those countries myself, I figured I might as well pitch in and tell my fellow Americans what to expect. Since this is the first in a series, I want to make a few disclaimers.

First of all, the point of this series isn’t to say that something is being imported from Russia. The problems I’m discussing here have grown out of purely American soil. The point is these problems are growing to the point where they resemble the situation in Russia, and trust me, that’s not where you want to be as a society. But also note that as I am compare things with Russia for the sake of analogy and helping Americans understand, don’t think that I’m implying that these things are somehow exclusive to Russia. You can easily find analogous situations in many countries around the world, including those with more or less functioning democracies.

More importantly, I’m purposely trying to skip general trends in favor of more specific aspects that don’t get noticed as frequently. There are plenty of writers who have tackled the proliferation of conspiracy theories in American politics, including myself. This is too general. Conspiracy theories have been extremely popular in America since 9/11, if not earlier. It’s not particularly difficult to understand either- 9/11 forced millions of average Americans to suddenly notice a world they’d ignored for decades, and while they were too lazy to pick up a book on Middle Eastern affairs, they all insist on having an opinion about the topic and appearing savvy. Hence the popularity of conspiracy theories, which are often like potato chips- one is never enough.

I want to focus on trends that are more specific, more subtle, but which I believe are far more dangerous. I want to highlight those things which I believe are making society collectively dumber. I watched in horror as certain ideas and modes of thinking cowed the great Russian people into submission to a tiny circle of lying thieves, who declared themselves patriots and defenders of the nation they have robbed. If Americans start adopting such ideas en masse, the country is doomed. Maybe not in the near future, maybe not in fifty years, but one simply cannot go on succeeding while being totally disconnected from material reality. Reality always wins.

With all that out of the way, let’s move forward with today’s topic. As you see in the title, it’s about beliefs, specifically people’s political beliefs and opinions. In a normal, healthy society, people at least comprehend the idea that other people have their own political beliefs, values, and so on. If a person calls themselves a conservative, they are most likely conservative. If they are liberal they are liberal, and so forth. People who are anti-abortion tend not to get abortions (yes, I know many do), and people that are for same-sex marriage typically don’t hate gay people. When things are working the way they’re supposed to be, we assume good faith when someone expresses an opinion.

In an unhealthy, modern authoritarian society, nobody really holds beliefs that oppose the powers that be. They are either being paid to espouse such beliefs by hostile foreign governments, or in more extreme cases they’re said to be on drugs. The latter explanation might sound amusing, but its been voiced multiple times by Russian opponents of Euromaidan and it was once used by Muammar Gaddafi against protesters in Benghazi. In this kind of unhealthy, authoritarian society, it’s not just that the people are espousing beliefs or engaging in activities only for money, and it’s not even that they don’t sincerely hold those beliefs. No, the real unique concept I’m getting at here is the idea that someone can consciously know that their values are wrong or harmful to the country, yet still espouse them for a paltry sum of cash.

If you want to know why this idea is prevalent in Russia it’s not too mysterious. Widespread poverty, wealth inequality, and a combination of cynicism and apathy towards politics leads to a political space wherein both the state and opposition parties often spend money on “rent-a-crowds,” which typically consist of pensioners and young students. It certainly isn’t just a Russian thing either; it still happens in Ukraine, and I’m sure many other countries. If Russia stands out, it is only because of the government’s long history of suppressing or co-opting civil society groups and NGOs, plus the constant propaganda narrative that spreads the aforementioned cynicism and apathy.

The message of the state propaganda is consistent: “You can’t know what’s real and what’s not, so why protest? Why believe in anything? Those who say they’re trying to make the country better- who’s to say it’s not all a charade? Even if they’re not working for some foreign government, how do you know for sure? Nobody really believes in those so-called democratic values. It’s just a lie Western leaders and their lackeys use to cover up their own corruption. Deep down they’re no better than your own leaders. At least with them you have stability. Rock the boat and who knows what will happen?” I could go on but you get the idea.

The “lesson” for the audience is that if you see some figure like Alexei Navalny saying he wants to fight corruption in Russia and make the country more advanced and prosperous, it’s all lies. He really just wants to weaken and destroy Russia for his American paymasters, and he knows this. He “knows” that his activities are somehow hurting Russia, but he does it anyway and claims to be a patriot.

Now with the rise of Trump I have identified a similar current in America. Specifically, we’re starting to see people imply that their opponents actually consciously know their beliefs are wrong, but they keep espousing them anyway because they have some nefarious ulterior motives.  I don’t want to speak for those who were actually alive during the anti-war movement of the 60’s, but I do think I have enough experience to say that there’s definitely been a shift. During the Bush years, for example, we anti-war protesters were seen as weak or hopeless naive, but people didn’t typically question whether we really opposed the war on Iraq. In other words, it was “you oppose that war but you’re wrong because…” That’s a setup for a debate at least.

Nowadays the accusations have evolved. Now the “mainstream media” journalists know that they’re lying about Trump, but they’re doing it anyway. George Soros is a liberal with Jewish heritage who says he just wants to promote democracy and individual rights, but he’s supposedly funding neo-Nazis, “socialists, and Islamic fundamentalists around the world (I’d love someone to explain the endgame of that plan). Thousands of climate scientists around the world know that they’re lying about climate change, but they keep doing research on it and receiving funding just the same. It’s starting to be less “your opinion is wrong” and more “you don’t really believe that.”

If I had to trace where such ideas come from, I’d probably say it’s rooted in American religious conservatism, something I have a lot of experience in. There’s a more-or-less common belief among many American Christian fundamentalists that can help explain. For my foreign readers, know that a great many American churches, including some that are extremely wealthy and influential in politics, have an obsession with what some call “End Times prophesy.” This is typically associated with the book of Revelation in the Bible, and the end of the world and the second coming of Christ is the basis for the wildly popular Left Behind series of novels and films. There are actually many different interpretations of that “prophesy,” and if anyone wants to delve into the details of the particular version as told by Left Behind, I seriously recommend reading the work of Fred Clark on the subject. It is both informative and incredibly entertaining. But I digress.

A key feature of a lot of this prophesy is that it posits a near future which resembles our present, and in which miraculous events happen on an almost daily basis. Just to give you an example out of Left Behind, the story starts with Russia, Ethiopia, and several Muslim countries launching a massive, unprovoked attack on Israel with their entire air forces as well as ballistic missiles. God steps in and utterly destroys all the attackers and their missiles in one fell swoop. Next -and this is the most important part of the book- there is “the rapture,” where God miraculously gathers up his loyal true Christians and all innocent children born or unborn in an instant. This is followed by the rise of the Anti-Christ, who creates an unholy New World Order which persecutes Christians. The Anti-Christ is also endowed with miraculous powers, which he is supposed to display on at least one occasion (resurrection after death).

Throughout this story, which the Left Behind authors claim is based on a “literal” interpretation of the Bible (HINT: It’s not), millions of people engage in all manner of un-Christian behavior in spite of the fact that miracles foretold in the Bible are happening before their very eyes. Let that sink in for a second. The authors, and many other people like them, tell us that these are real things that will happen in the future, things that are foretold in the very same Bibles that are available in almost every hotel room in America. But just like in that Bible and just like countless preachers have been telling us for decades, millions of people simply disappear in a flash in front of our very eyes, while at the same time millions of other people will continue to doubt the veracity of Christianity and either cling to their old religions or join the new world religion of that really charismatic world leader who happens to look like the personification of Satan and can’t stop laughing maniacally at press conferences. If you’re struggling to get your head around that sentence don’t feel bad; it’s totally mindboggling.

It’s even worse news if your Jewish. See, something like a third  of the Jews are supposed to notice all these miracles that happen to line up with Biblical prophesy and do the most logical thing that anyone would do- embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. But the other two thirds are going to see all these miracles and still remain loyal to their ancient faith in spite of seeing concrete evidence that it and every other religion except the true Christianity of John Hagee Ministries is flat out false. In the books, in fact, tens of millions of people around the world rapidly embrace the new one-world religion of the Anti-Christ without any significant protest. Tens of millions of Hindus, Muslims, “wrong” Christians like Catholics and Orthodox- they just totally cast off their traditional beliefs and embrace a totally different religion because- Bible.

That, by the way, isn’t just limited to their prophesy. There’s a cringeworthy Christian film called God’s Not Dead, about a Christian college student debating the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor. In the trailer, the caricature of an atheist played by Kevin Sorbo tells his class to write the phrase “God Is Dead” in their notebooks. Only our “true Christian” protagonist objects to this. There were no observant Jews in the class, no Muslims, not even a pretentious agnostic. Or perhaps there were Muslims or Jews present, but they didn’t take their faith seriously enough to stand up for it, unlike our Christian hero.

 

Now this might seem like we’ve drifted very far from the topic, but I hope the reader is starting to recognize a pattern. In this authoritarian, religious fundamentalist worldview, people don’t sincerely believe in other religions or doubt the existence of God. They actually know they’re wrong, but they just want to sin because they are wicked or manipulated by Satan.

Of course in that type of Christianity, those who continue being “wicked” deserve eternal torment in hell. In more secular political world, people who espouse the wrong views are worthy of extermination, violence, or at the very least their own words can be totally dismissed without debate. After all, if someone is willingly engaging in “evil” and refuses to admit it, why even try to debate them or understand what they’re saying? Those journalists “know” they are making up “lies” about Trump, and they just keep doing it. Their editors know the stories are full of lies and they keep running them. Why? Because they really want to destroy America, of course!

So here’s what you folks in the States can expect a lot of in the near future. Don’t expect people to actually engage with your opinion or try to debate you. Expect to be labeled a “shill.” You’ll be accused of working for George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, the CIA, or the Mossad. You don’t actually believe in those things you’re saying or writing online. Only your opponent has sincerely held beliefs, opinions, and values. You’re just saying those things for the paycheck, and one day you’ll get what’s coming to you, shill!

This is one reason why watching liberal centrists whine about what’s supposedly happening to “the discourse” is so pathetic. There is no discourse when one cannot actually hold any beliefs that are opposed to the regime or its supporters. American liberals aren’t going to somehow coax Trump’s rabid supporters back to the debate table with appeals to reason. One does not debate with conspiratorial New World Order agents who cover up the truth about a child sex-slavery ring operating in the basement of a pizza restaurant! Nor will they express any pity for the poor liberals when they inevitably become victims of violence and intimidation. They had it coming for trying to destroy America!

The the authoritarian society that might be in America’s near future, it won’t be a question of your beliefs conflicting with those of the powers that be. You won’t be allowed to even have your own beliefs.

 

 

 

Not With a Bang But a Stupid Whimper

There’s been a new development in the autopsy of the last presidential election. Apparently, viral fake news stories managed to outperform actual news stories on Facebook, leading to a public scandal for owner Mark Zuckerberg while also stimulating a discussion about social networks turning into echo chambers of misinformation. Years ago it had already been hypothesized that the internet, in spite of providing unprecedented access to information, won’t necessarily lead to a more informed public because it also gives people the ability to filter out any news that contradicts their preconceived worldview. Incidentally, that phenomenon seems to explain how I get most of my detractors. Social media, however, has added another component, because it utilizes algorithms to automatically show a user certain links based on past engagement.

No doubt many of my readers have repeatedly seen Facebook suggest pages, stories, or groups which do not interest them in the slightest. On Youtube, woe be unto the user who, possibly by accident, clicks on a conspiracy theory video or anything with the word “feminist” in the title. In the former case, your recommendations will suddenly consist of Infowars and other assorted pseudo-intellectual bullshit, and in the latter you’ll be treated to young men who have figured out the secrets of civilization by the age of 23 and have determined feminism and “political correctness” to be the bane of mankind.

The effect of all this is that even people who might not be ideologically inclined to this crap can eventually become influenced by it if it keeps coming up in their news feed day after day. This is especially true because let’s face it- most Americans and in fact most people don’t really hold coherent political beliefs. They tend to lean one way or another, but with the right message and the right delivery you can get self-described conservatives to endorse government intervention in the private sector or leftists to endorse a nationalist right wing regime. The recent presidential election is proof of the former and the common radical leftist position on Russia is evidence for the latter.

This being the case, the reader can imagine how people who don’t normally think about politics or who might be thinking about them for the first time (think teenagers, college freshmen) can be influenced over time if they are continually exposed to fake news, regardless of the political slant. A left-leaning person may reject claims about an impending crackdown on American Christians, but they might totally buy into a story about nefarious Monsanto corporation. Then come more group suggestions and story suggestions about how “Big Pharma” is poisoning us, and at some point they start seeing the inevitable memes about the Rothschilds. Another mind is lost.

guyfawkes

A pic found on Facebook- it’s the root problem encapsulated in one picture. 

It seems that America truly is becoming more like Russia, where the regime doesn’t try to convince you that it speaks the truth, but rather that you can’t know truth at all because there is no objective truth. While some have been tempted to blame the impact of fake news on Russia and their foreign-language propaganda outlets such as Sputnik or RT, the truth is that this was entirely homegrown. If anything, the Russians learned from us.

Don’t give up hope just yet. As disastrous as this election has been, it has produced some positive side effects. Igniting a discussion about fake news and how people get their information is definitely one of those silver linings. MTV may have stopped playing music videos a long time ago, but just this morning I ran across this spot-on article. Long-time Russia watchers will find some of its points very familiar. Have a look at this excerpt:

“One of the conditions of democratic resistance is having an accurate picture of what to resist. Confusion is an authoritarian tool; life under a strongman means not simply being lied to but being beset by contradiction and uncertainty until the line between truth and falsehood blurs and a kind of exhaustion settles over questions of fact. Politically speaking, precision is freedom. It’s telling, in that regard, that Trump supporters, the voters most furiously suspicious of journalism, also proved to be the most receptive audience for fictions that looked journalism-like. Authoritarianism doesn’t really want to convince its supporters that their fantasies are true, because truth claims are subject to verification, and thus to the possible discrediting of authority. Authoritarianism wants to convince its supporters that nothing is true, that the whole machinery of truth is an intolerable imposition on their psyches, and thus that they might as well give free rein to their fantasies.”

That looks like something you’d read about Putin’s propaganda machine (or any other authoritarian regime’s media apparatus), yet I can’t find any evidence that the author, Brian Phillips, has any background in Russia or Russian politics. If that is indeed the case, it tells us that Brian understands what’s happening to America. He gets it. The more people understand what’s going on, the faster we can start working on a strategy to fight back.

Those who prefer to laugh off the phenomenon of fake viral news and “tin foil hat” conspiracy sites do so at their country’s peril. While America has no Putin-like figure who can consolidate most of the media under his control, Donald Trump has given us a taste of what an authoritarian reactionary figure can do when he’s supported by media outlets who aren’t terribly concerned about facts. What is more, Trump and his media backers are liable to introduce a form of lying common to dictatorships, with all that entails.

When we look at Hillary Clinton, Obama, or even the last Bush administration, we see politicians who told lies to varying degrees, but who also cared about the concept of credibility. Even if we take the Bush administration and its lies on the matter of Iraq, we see that those responsible for selling the war carefully limited and qualified their claims for the sake of believability. In fact, I’m quite confident that many of those who opposed the war, if they could somehow be transported into a room with Colin Powell in late 2002-early 2003, would be unable to refute many of his claims about Iraqi WMDs or ties to Al Qaeda. That is because the case for both was purposely designed to be difficult to debunk with certainty. Yet debunked the claims were, and we know this because eventually the administration was forced to admit they were incorrect.

Imagine if the Bush administration, till George’s last day in office, claimed that they’d found all kinds of chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq. Imagine they said they had concrete evidence that Bin Laden was at one point hiding in Iraq and being sheltered by Saddam Hussein. What kind of precedent would this set for future administrations? Credibility doesn’t just limit what leaders can say, it also limits what they can do. If they know that they can make up stories out of thin air, what’s to stop them from engaging in all kinds of authoritarian behavior?

Within days, Trump and his supporters have already made claims about paid protesters- every dictator’s favorite explanation for popular anti-government demonstrations. This is one of the most egregious political insults I can imagine, and I’m sure many Maidan participants know the feeling. Essentially what this claim says is that you do not actually have any beliefs or values. You don’t really care. It’s just that someone promised you twenty bucks to stand around shouting and possibly getting pepper-sprayed or even beaten by police. I realize that some of my readers are conservative types who may be propagating these claims themselves. Here’s a tip- don’t. If you can make that claim about others, they’ll eventually make that claim about you.

Last week’s election was by no means the end of the Republic. If anything it’s the beginning of a new era. Though there are obviously major challenges ahead, there are opportunities for an outcome better than anything we might be able to imagine now. If we’re going to reach that goal, we need to launch an offensive against fake news. We can no longer pretend it’s only a problem for people living under authoritarian regimes or in countries threatened by them. Americans must start taking fake news and conspiracy theories as seriously as the Ukrainians have learned to take them.

Phony news and conspiracy sites promise readers esoteric knowledge and insight. They are comforting by simplifying complex issues. They stroke the ego by allowing the believing reader to think they are more enlightened than the “sheeple.” In reality, however, these people are not only less informed, but their ability to take part in rational discussion is severely impaired. In short- fake viral news is literally making people dumber on a certain level.

When we think of technology bringing about the downfall of mankind, we typically think of nuclear weapons. Now it seems it might not be nukes, but viral memes that will be our undoing.

UPDATE: Here’s a list someone’s compiled of fake or otherwise questionable news sources. It’s supposed to be updated in the future.

As a general rule of thumb, if the news source or story features a Guy Fawkes mask, you can probably dismiss it.

 

Memory Loss

Soon I’ll be turning 34, still well short of what’s considered “middle-age” in our time. And despite this, I have to say that I’m starting to notice my memory slipping a bit. I’m not talking about memory loss that you associate with old age; most of what I forget or mix up are just trivial details. It still feels weird though. Five to ten years ago I could remember things going back to early childhood as vividly as a movie. Now those details start to blur and fade.

Of course I suspect this is entirely natural. If there’s anything unusual about my case it’s probably related to the radically different lives I’ve led over the years, moving from state to state, pre-army versus post-army, and leaving the US to spend the bulk of my adult life abroad. Taking all that into account, it’s not a huge deal if I can’t remember any but one of the teachers I had in 2nd or 3rd grade, for example. But suppose it was worse. Suppose I’d stayed in the US all my life, and at the age of 33 I’d somehow forgotten who was president of the US prior to Obama, who controlled the congress during most of that administration, and everything that administration had done during its tenure. I suspect I’d have more reason to be alarmed in that case.

I’m writing about memory today because while my interactions with Trump supporters have been mercifully few, those that have occurred are positively fascinating, if not mindboggling. To be sure, what I am experiencing seems to apply to many conservative types, regardless of whether or not they support Trump, but with the Trump supporters the memory disorder seems to be most acute. But whatever the case, I am simply astonished by the inability of these people to recall events in what is the relatively recent past. I could understand it if they were elderly, or even pushing 60, but we’re talking about people around my age and slightly younger.

The perfect example of this can be seen in the attacks on Hillary’s war record. Trump supporters have been crowing about Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iraq invasion, as well as her support for military intervention during her tenure as secretary of state. She is a “hawk,” they say. The problem with this is that the people calling her a hawk now, with a few notable exceptions, were themselves hawks or supporters of hawks, and their own candidate also speaks like a hawk.

Hillary’s enthusiastic support for the Iraq War is one of her worst deeds as a politician. This is why many leftists such as myself can’t stand her- she puts her finger in the wind and goes along with the status quo. The problem with these Trump supporters, however, is that they seem to forget that Hillary was going along with their party’s war. Republicans controlled the White House and the house at the time. They would later control both until 2007.

bush

Trump supporters: Do you know who this man is and what he did?

During the run-up to the Iraq War nearly to the end of Bush’s administration, if you opposed the war on any grounds most of these rabid conservatives would call you a traitor. “You don’t like war? Love it or leave it, hippie! Move to Russia with all the other commies!”  That was the basic tenor, but if you think I’m exaggerating, conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly once said he’d deem critics of the war to be “enemies of the state.” During the Bush years America could do no wrong, nor could its military which became an object of public worship thanks in part to a massive taxpayer-funded PR campaign, and Uncle Sam would do whatever it wanted, wherever it wanted, because FREEDOM GODDAMMIT! In fact, America was kind of acting like this other country has been acting in recent years, but that’s another dozen blog posts.

Now the same people who would call you a traitor, commie, or pussy for opposing the war have suddenly become peace-loving doves, publicly calling how Hawkish Hillary. In my interactions with them it appears as though they literally do not remember the entire Bush administration. They seem to believe that the Middle East’s problems began with the Obama administration. That’s the moment when Fox News and the rest of the conservative media machine officially authorized them to criticize US foreign policy again.

Still I can’t get my head around this memory loss. How do you go through life not knowing what happened about 15 years ago? The Iraq War was one of the biggest media circuses of the first decade of the 21st century. It dominated the news for years. It became a part of our popular culture in TV, film, and video games. These are not the little details from grade school that I can’t remember. We’re talking major historical events.

I guess the phenomenon can only be explained by Trump’s particular style of lying, which incidentally resembles the Kremlin method. This is not the normal lie where you’re accused of something you know you did, ergo you try to concoct a plausible story so your accuser or the gallery will believe you. Such a lie is not really crafted at all. Basically the way it works is that your opponent says something about you, and you need to say something in order to “win,” typically the opposite of what they’re saying. It does not matter if your audience can easily check and see that this is not true. All that matters is that you have a response that opposes their claim. Imagine someone walks up to you wearing a thong and covered in sunflower oil, and when you point this out they say, “What? Nonsense. I’m wearing a very expensive tailored suit!” That you can see they are clearly not wearing anything close to that does not matter in the slightest. The point is you said they were one thing so they said they were another and that’s that.

If you support, follow, or sympathize with such people, eventually you’ll have to shape your own memories and reality itself in order to hold onto your worldview without creating too much cognitive dissonance. Trump actually supported the Iraq War, but in his campaign he said he was against it so now memories must change and it’s “the dishonest media’s” fault for bringing up the past. Bush and his White House team enthusiastically fought for, and got their invasion of Iraq, but Trump says all the fallout from that is Obama and Hillary’s fault, so now people who most likely voted for Bush can’t remember his entire administration or what it did. It’s another form of “they don’t believe these things because they’re stupid; they become stupid because they believe these things.”

What must that feel like, I wonder. How does an individual who enthusiastically cheered for war on Iraq feel when they attack Hillary supporters (or just Trump opponents like me) for being “hawkish” and supporting the invasion? How do people who attacked Obama in 2012 for telling Dmitry Medvedev he could be “more flexible” after the election reconcile their outrage then with their current candidate’s submissiveness toward Putin? I have to know if there are times when they are conscious of these contradictions, i.e. “I used to believe this but now I believe this other thing.”

It’s normal for beliefs to change and evolve- I’m living proof. But the difference with real evolution or change is that you consciously, often publicly reject your previous views and you have some kind of explanation as to why you did so. I just don’t see this with most of the Trump supporters. The military’s still awesome and Obama was a bastard when he “apologized for America,” yet Trump can call America a loser that doesn’t win anymore and attack Hillary for being a “hawk” and supporting the Iraq War. And hell, their own candidate exudes hawkishness as well, yet he gets a free pass.

Assuming the United States survives the next decade as a developed country, I hope scientists will devote a lot of time to figuring out this riddle. The future of democracy depends on it.