Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Manchurian President (-elect)

Now we hear that the Russians had a dossier of compromising information on Presidential candidate Trump, and they were not hiding that fact.  What they did with it is not yet reported, though clearly they chose to release publicly their Clinton research and not that on Trump.  Perhaps they let Trump know what they had; perhaps it helps explain why Trump has never said a negative word about Russia and its government in this campaign or afterward.  Of course, maybe they didn't need to tell him what they had; he might already have known it.  At the least, the classified (but leaked) report indicates that the US intelligence agencies briefed Trump on the alleged existence of the dossier.

I recently had the occasion to see the '50's movie "The Manchurian Candidate", a fictional story about American soldiers in the Korean War (1948-53) who were captured, "brainwashed" and sent back to America to act, against their own will, to promote the objectives of the Communists--in this case to help, through targeted assassinations, the Presidential candidacy of an extremist demagogue.  I was not particularly impressed by the movie's verisimilitude--in particular, they seem to conflate inaccurately the effects of brainwashing and hypnotism, and to overstate the range of actions a brainwashed/hypnotized person might take.

Still, the question remains:  can the malign influence of a foreign power reach even to the White House? How could we know?  One thing is clear, there is an unmistakable tendency from Trump, in his statements and in his nominees for office, to take the most positive view possible of Russia, its actions, and its own public posturing.

On Electoral Tampering
Intelligence reports now publicly released make clear their unanimous assessment, with "high confidence", that the Russian government sponsored interference in the Presidential election, with a clear intention to undermine the integrity of the election, and an apparent intention to damage Secretary Clinton's candidacy.

We can be offended by the lack of fairness of the Russian interventions.  I don't think we have the right to call this unprecedented or something previously unthinkable.  There is evidence that, among other intrusions in other nations' politics, the US itself involved itself in the affairs of our close ally, Italy, during the Cold War, favoring the anti-Communist Christian Democratic party (and against the Italian Communists).

What isn't fair, though, is that only the Russians should get to try to influence the US Presidential elections.  Our elections results affect every country in the world, and the campaigns go on for so long, it should be very tempting for many countries to get involved, though they may have more ethical scruples than Russia.  There are two sad facts about this:  one is that virtually all of our friends and allies would have expressed their preference for Hillary Clinton, with whom they worked successfully and whom they respected; and the second is that American voters wouldn't really give the slightest consideration to what the rest of the world might think.  It's true that the President is only responsible to the American electorate, and only has direct responsibility for American government, but if we claim to be the leaders of the free world, we might want to know what the rest of the free world would like to follow.

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