July 14th, 2017

[Update at 0546 on 15 July: see my inline note to French’s reference to Jonah Goldberg below and my comment this morning.]

Starting back in November, The Guardian launched Burst Your Bubble, a weekly collection of items produced by conservative journalists and writers on the administration of President Donald John Trump.

Reading these pieces is important for two reasons: first, any informed American needs to know what Conservatives are thinking and second, knowing what Conservatives are thinking is vital if any political dialogue is to be possible. This is an argument I’ve long made here in Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s bastion of progressive values. I spent the first 18 years of my life in rural and small-town Southeastern, Ohio, where where seeing a face that didn’t look like mine was nearly impossible. There were, and are, Progressives there. My paternal grandmother was a suffragette and life-long Democrat, but in the main, Washington county is predominantly an old school conservative place.

Living there gave me perspective. Holding onto that perspective is important to me. That is why—while I confess I slip into irrational shouting at times—I invest the time in reading pieces that make me angry. Not to feed that anger, but to help me understand. If we insist on only hurling pejoratives and invectives then we’re royally fucked.

This morning I’m reading David French’s No, You Don’t ‘Take the Meeting’—bearing the subhead: Even the most innocent explanations for Donald Trump Jr.’s actions are naïve and dangerous—in the grand old lady of Conservatives, William Buckley’s National Review. French ledes:

Judging from conversations online and in person, the emerging Trump-friendly defense of Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to respond enthusiastically to an invitation to meet a “Russian government attorney” to receive “official documents and information” as part of the Russian government’s “support for Mr. Trump” is two-fold. First, of course you meet with someone who’s proposing to help you win your political race. And second, the meeting itself was allegedly unimportant. The Russian attorney didn’t deliver the goods. What’s the big deal?

Let’s leave aside the obvious fact that no living Republican would be making those arguments if equivalent news emerged about a Democratic president’s team and address the core of the argument. Yes, it is a “big deal” when senior representatives of an American presidential campaign meet with a purported representative of a hostile foreign power for the purpose of cooperating in that foreign power’s effort to influence an American presidential campaign. It’s an even bigger deal when news of that meeting emerges after an avalanche of denials and evasions.

As an initial matter, it’s amazing that anyone on the right or left is taking any talking points from the Trump administration at face value. After months of deception and misdirection, why should anyone believe the Trump administration’s account of the meeting? Why should anyone believe that this is the last shoe to drop or the only shoe to drop demonstrating an effort to collude with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election? And yet conservatives are rallying across the Internet, ignoring all previous false statements, and essentially saying, “Now we know the truth, and the truth is that nothing happened.” This isn’t analysis; it’s wishful thinking.

So, why do the 27 percent of Americans* in the voting pool who cast their votes for Donald Trump in November continue to engage in this wishful thinking? Arrogance, ignorance, cognitive dissonance, self-interest or perhaps they are in possession of vital intelligence that I and French lack? My money is on the former. French continues:

[B]y taking meetings with enemies, expressing a willingness to cooperate with enemies, and concealing those meetings, you grant your enemy leverage over your political fortunes. We do not know the extent of the Trump team’s interactions with the Russians. The Russians, however, do, and they know if the Trump team is lying in its most current round of public statements. If there are further contacts or more or different embarrassing paper trails, then that knowledge can hang like the sword of Damocles over the heads of relevant Trump officials. Can that impact their dealings with Russia? Will it? Perhaps not, but they’re only human, and human beings tend to act in their perceived self-interest.

I don’t want to use an over-worked term like kompromat, but compromising information doesn’t need to truly “turn” someone to have its impact. It can have more subtle and insidious influence, placing boundaries on your own behavior and causing fear that should not exist.

Finally, it’s naïve (at best) and unquestionably dangerous to cooperate with a hostile foreign power when you know that this foreign power is actively seeking to harm American interests. In their hubris, people are tempted to believe that they can use an enemy without being used in return. It’s silly for an American to interact with hostile intelligence professionals and then believe he can use that interaction for his exclusive benefit. In reality, it threatens to turn you into a tool of enemy interests.

The area of concentration for one of my minors at Ohio University was, the then, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I studied with a great professor, Dr. David Williams. Nearly all I know about Russians comes from that class. (A good place to start for those who know little about our adversary should read Hedrick Smith’s The Russians) The Russian government is not a friend of the United States. At best it is a competitor for world power. At worst it is our mortal enemy. The truth is somewhere between, but I’d lean toward the latter over the former.

French offers his own brief, but sound, assessment of the long history between The United States and the USSR/Russian Republic. His conclusion is equally sound:

My colleague Jonah Goldberg has given perhaps the best one-sentence advice for conservatives in these troubling times: “Trust nothing, defend nothing.” [Less than 72 hours after typing those words, Golberg would write in The Benefit of the Doubt Is Gone: Well, I jinxed it.JH] We don’t know the truth. We don’t know the extent of the Trump team’s misdeeds. We do, however, know enough to reject the administration’s spin. Donald Jr.’s meeting was, in fact, a “big deal,” and Americans who aren’t troubled are Americans who need to check whether their tribalism has trumped their good sense.

As much as Trump would like us to believe that he is still the star of a reality show, there is no show here and we are not members of tribes voting each other off the island. We are living in reality, not watching others do so for our entertainment.

*Consider: in November 2016 231,556,622 Americans were eligible to vote. Of those, only 138,884,643 did so. A staggering 92,671,979 sat out the election. That means that the 62,979,636 people who voted for Donald Trump represented only a little more than 27 percent of the voter pool. In no one’s book is that a majority.


  1. Jeff Hess says:

    Everyone should read the entirety of Jonah Goldberg’s piece, but I found this bit particularly enlightening:

    I’ve been shouting at the TV all week: Why the Hell are people taking the word of anyone in that meeting as proof of anything? Before this morning’s revelation, even members of the Trump-hostile press repeated that “nothing came of the meeting” or that “no information was given.” On the Trump Aqueduct, this was translated into the whole story being a “nothingburger.”

    Where did the proof of this come from? From the people in the room! Jiminy Cricket, that’s stupid.

    I usually don’t like the use of the word stupid, preferring the more apt evil, but I’ll allow Goldberg this one.

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