Stating the Obvious – It Should Be Stated Again and Again

Although this may be the last time I state it. The election was five weeks ago. Its otherworldly result is likely to be set in stone by 300 members of the Electoral College next week (despite their duty to do otherwise). In the weeks ahead, therefore, I hope to turn my attention to the election’s aftermath, and possibly even other topics of interest, like Brian Wilson’s very good memoir, what to look for in a snow shovel and how to leave the U.S. without a passport. Or maybe where to acquire body armor and the safest way to throw a Molotov cocktail.

Nevertheless, Amanda Marcotte has a very good summary at Salon of how the Russians got away with hacking the election. The long headline is:  

The big problem isn’t that Russian hackers tried to influence our election — it’s more that we let them – Media lameness, a gullible public, useful idiots on the left and the GOP all helped enable Russian propaganda

She makes an excellent point. It’s not a new point, but it bears repeating over and over again (by someone else, not me). Assuming we escape the clutches of the Orange Menace one day, how do we avoid going through something like this again if we don’t understand how it happened? 

She begins:

(The Russian’s apparent) strategy worked because too many power players in the American political ecosystem were too shortsighted, lazy and selfish to look past their own immediate self-interest and consider the big picture. What the purported Russian email hack ended up doing was illustrating the various weaknesses in our political systems and culture — weaknesses that Trump, likely with Vladimir Putin’s assistance, was able to exploit to claw his way into the White House.

First, “mainstream media outlets are more interested in appearing fair than actually being fair”. Fox News, of course, being a propaganda machine, doesn’t care about being balanced. They simply claim to be. Reputable news sources like CNN and the New York Times, however, want to provide “balanced” coverage. They want to acquire and retain customers all along the political spectrum. But, in 2016, their lame attempts to be balanced led to disaster: 

Trump is so corrupt that he coughs up more genuine scandals before breakfast than most dirty politicians can come up with in a lifetime. Hillary Clinton, in contrast, is a clean politician, which we know because she’s been under some kind of dogged investigation for the better part of three decades, without a speck of real dirt coming up on her.

But to report this basic truth — that one candidate was irredeemably corrupt and the other was not — would have drawn accusations from the right that the media was in the tank for Clinton. So, in order to appear fair, mainstream media outlets embraced a policy of being incredibly unfair to Clinton, blowing every non-scandal out of proportion.

Marcotte then points her finger at the average American voter:Most people don’t really read the news, but just glean general themes from headlines and cable TV”. One of the example she cites from Vanity Fair magazine:

juicy

But in the actual text, writer T.A. Frank admitted that “you’ll find nothing close to a scandal in itself” and “Clinton’s campaign is, mostly, reassuringly plodding and rules-bound.”

An honest headline written by someone whose goal was to inform the public would have looked something like this: 

PODESTA EMAILS SHOW PLODDING, SCANDAL-FREE CAMPAIGN

Sensationalism like Vanity Fair‘s is one reason most voters thought Clinton was more corrupt than T—p:

All these stories about “leaked” emails left the indelible impression with voters that there must have been something in them that was worth leaking, even if they had no idea what it was. 

Marcotte then points out that people on the left are open to conspiracy theories, too. Emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee convinced some Sanders supporters that the primary elections were rigged:

The email hack did not actually reveal any evidence that the Democratic National Committee had treated Sanders unfairly during the primary. It did find that some DNC employees expressed negative thoughts about him after his campaign repeatedly accused party officials of dirty pool, but there was no dirt beyond private grousing.

Nevertheless, the impression grew that somehow Sanders had been cheated. That led some who would ordinarily vote Democratic to stay home or vote for a third party. Consider, for example, that in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Green Party candidate got more than 133,000 votes. Clinton lost those three states and, as a result, the Electoral College by 78,000. 

Lastly, of course, most Republican politicians put party over country. In particular, Senator McConnell’s refusal to condemn or even acknowledge the Russian hacking was, in Marcotte’s words:

… a neat distillation of Republicans’ attitude toward any Trump-based corruption: They’re happy to look the other way as Trump and his supporters plunder the country, spread racism and bigotry and undermine our democracy, so long as they get a crack at destroying Social Security and Medicare.

So, putting the election aside and looking to the future, Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek has a long article that shows how T—p’s business would (or will) lead to major conflicts of interest. They even have a 3-minute video that summarizes the sad story.