Troll farming

“Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?” Laura Ingraham asked former CIA Director James Woolsey this weekend.

With a grin, Woolsey replied, “Oh, probably.”

“We don’t do that anymore though?” Ingraham interrupted. “We don’t mess around in other people’s elections, Jim?”

“Well,” Woolsey said with a smile, “only for a very good cause.”

(Pat Buchanan, who, for the record, I’m aware has gotten “pretty far out there”)

[I]f Putin’s mischief-making constituted an act of war against the United States, then the U.S. has committed acts of war against an astonishingly long list of countries since the end of World War II. One study estimates that we interfered with no fewer than 81 elections in 45 nations from 1946 to 2000. Such efforts have been so brazen and uncontroversial that former CIA Director James Woolsey recently felt comfortable laughing about them with Laura Ingraham on Fox News.

This doesn’t mean that we should respond to Putin’s program of manipulation with indifference. Far from it. But it does mean that a response of self-righteous indignation is risible. To treat such meddling as an act of war on the part of Russia is either to invoke a blatant double standard that permits the U.S. to do things we stridently denounce in others — or it’s to admit that our own actions have been far more pernicious than we like to think. We definitely need to protect the integrity of our elections, but we should do so without placing ourselves unconvincingly on the moral high ground.

(Damon Linker)

If our meddling in other nations’ elections comes as a surprise to you, you really need to get out more.

The indignation and exaggeration about Russian election meddling disgusts me for reasons too numerous to list (well, some of them are at the sub-articulate level, too), but hypocrisy tops the list. Damon Linker is exactly right that we need to respond, but we make ourselves absurd by feigning clean hands. STFU and do what must be done.

Much as I detest 45, trying to portray him as a Manchurian Candidate is absurd. He serves no master save his own massive ego. Even mammon and mistresses are just means to stoke that fire.


The astonishing thing about Donald Trump’s response to Robert Mueller’s recent indictments is his inability to recognize that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is about something bigger than him. Look closely at Trump’s tweets.

February 16: “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

February 17: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

February 18: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”

Each tweet makes basically the same point: “Sure, Russia may have tried to undermine American democracy. But what really matters is that I never colluded with Putin and won the presidency fair and square.” Even if you believe that Trump is right—that his campaign never assisted Russia’s efforts to swing the election in his favor and that Russia’s efforts had no material effect on its outcome—the narcissism is breathtaking.

(Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, who then goes off the rails by implying that what Russia did was the equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11)

Also, don’t forget the Time magazine story alluded to here.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

How we got President Trump


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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Trivializing the weightiest things

After illustrating how carefully JFK and Ronald Reagan spoke about nuclear weapons, Peggy Noonan draws the inevitable contrast:

President Donald Trump’s tweet, 7:49 p.m., Jan. 2, 2018: “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times,’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

We’re not going in the right direction, are we?

Here are the reasons Mr. Trump’s tweet is destructive and dangerous.

Because it is cavalier about a subject that could not be graver. Because the language and venue reflect an immature mind, the grammar and usage a cluttered and undisciplined one. By raising the possibility of nuclear exchange on social media, the president diminishes the taboo against nuclear use. Anything you can joke about on Twitter has lost its negative mystique. Destigmatizing the idea of nuclear use makes it more acceptable, more possible—more likely. Bragging about your arsenal makes it sound as if nuclear weapons are like other weapons, when they’re not.

Using a taunting public tone toward an adversary such as Mr. Kim, who may be mad, heightens the chance of nuclear miscalculation. The president’s tweet is an attempt to get under the skin of a sociopath. Is it a good idea to get under the skin of a sociopath who enjoys shooting missiles?

Blithe carelessness on an issue with such high stakes lowers world respect for American leadership. It undermines our standing as a serious and moral player, which is the only kind of player you would trust, and follow, in a crisis.

This illustrates one instance of why, even if I thought there were any substance to President Trump, I believe that his style is itself a grave danger and a mark of national decadence.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Why not Trump? (Bonus Track)

What might Just War Theory teach us about the 2016 election? Ross Douthat has an outstanding, and deeply conservative, column Wednesday:

[A]bortion opponents, in the 1970s and afterward, responded to Roe v. Wade for the most part like normal citizens of a normal democratic state, not as dissidents within a murderous dystopia …

To the pro-choice side, especially to lukewarm pro-choicers looking to feel better about their own muddled sense of things, this choice has sometimes been cast as evidence that pro-lifers don’t really believe our own rhetoric — that if we really believed abortion to be murder, really murder, we wouldn’t be incrementalists and small-r republicans on the issue; we would support violence, rebellion, nullification, secession, you name it.

The strongest counterpoint to this line of argument comes from the Roman Catholic catechism’s teaching on just war. As the Catholic writer John Zmirak noted in the aftermath of the Planned Parenthood shootings last years, the church does not allow nations to take up arms and go to war merely when they have a high moral cause on their side. Justice is necessary, but it is not sufficient: Peaceful means of ending the evil in question need to have been exhausted, there must be serious prospects of military success, and (crucially) “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

What this teaching suggests is that we should have a strong bias in favor of peaceful deliberation so long as deliberation remains possible. And that bias can be reasonably applied to the internal peace of a republic as much as to the peace between nations …

A vote for Trump is … a vote for a man who stands well outside the norms of American presidential politics, who has displayed a naked contempt for republican institutions and constitutional constraints, who deliberately injects noxious conspiracy theories into political conversation, who has tiptoed closer to the incitement of political violence than any major politician in my lifetime, whose admiration for authoritarian rulers is longstanding, who has endorsed war crimes and indulged racists and so on down a list that would exhaust this column’s word count if I continued to compile it.

It is a vote, in other words, for a far more chaotic and unstable form of political leadership (on the global stage as well as on the domestic) than we have heretofore experienced, and a leap unlike any that conservative voters have considered taking in all the long years since Roe v. Wade.

And what is striking is how many conservatives seem to have internalized that reality and justified their support for Trump anyway, on grounds that are similar to ones that the mainstream pro-life movement has rejected for four decades: Namely, that Hillary Clinton would usher in some particular evil so severe and irreversible that it’s better to risk burning things down, crashing the plane of state, or whatever metaphor for Trump’s potential effect on the republic you prefer, than to allow the other political party to hold the presidency for the next four years.

If I were still involved with the political side of the pro-life movement, I might have drunk the Kool-Aid along with my confreres, but I’m not and I didn’t. Indeed, I will have difficulty paying attention to them after this year of bad choices.

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In the same Wednesday New York Times, Thomas Friedman, who nobody ever would have thought a Trump supporter, nevertheless makes his final, irenic pre-election plea, Donald Trump Voters, Just Hear Me Out, including an (inadvertent?) echo of Douthat:

I understand why many Trump supporters have lost faith in Washington and want to just “shake things up.” When you shake things up with a studied plan and a clear idea of where you want to get to, you can open new futures. But when you shake things up, guided by one-liners and no moral compass, you can cause enormous instability and systemic vertigo.

Friedman also explains why “Trump supporters, particularly less-educated white males, should be wary of his bluster.” Paraphrasing, Trump’s a sucker bet. His promises are puffery for policies that won’t begin to do what Trump’s promising.

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Meanwhile, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry critiques Peter Thiel’s argument for Trump:

In the end, Thiel made a remarkably familiar pro-Trump argument, one that has been heard in many corners: Everything is so bad, we need an outsider; as flawed as he may be, Trump can’t be worse than the current lot; and a bull in the D.C. china shop will wreck more things that should be wrecked than should not.

This is an argument that is both frustrating and almost impossible to evaluate. Frustrating because it feels like a non sequitur. Yes, I agree with Thiel that all sorts of things are bad. But he loses me at the “…and therefore, Donald Trump should be president of the United States.”

At the end of his speech, Thiel said he hopes that Trump’s candidacy will spark a political movement, one that will look beyond the Reagan era and transform the Republican Party and, afterwards, the United States. This is the best form of pro-Trump argument: It tries to defend the movement the candidate stands for, not the man himself.

But there’s a problem with this. First, votes are tallied not in favor or against the broader implications of one man’s candidacy, but of a particular man’s candidacy for a particular office. This particular man is temperamentally unfit for the particular office he seeks. (Just like his opponent is morally unfit for it.)

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.