Sarah Kendzior Ponders Foreign Affairs ‘In the Shadow of Putin’

Sarah Kendzior, an anthropologist with a background studying the dictatorships in the former Soviet republics of central Asia, speaks to Lindsay Beyerstein on Beyerstein’s The Breach podcast:

This week on The Breach, journalist Sarah Kendzior joins us to talk about the weaponization of information in Putin’s Russia. The full extent of Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential election is still under investigation, but Russia has a well-documented history of influencing politics abroad with propaganda, disinformation, cold hard cash, and even cyber warfare. Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee was not an isolated incident.

SeeThe Breach: In the Shadow of Putin With Sarah Kendzior @ Rewire. A transcript of the podcast is available online.

Kendzior’s remarks about Russian political goals in 2016 are only part of a notable interview:

Lindsay: Some intelligence analysts have said that Putin’s initial goal was just to be a chaotic influence on the election but that he eventually gravitated towards a preference for Trump. Does that make sense?

Sarah: I think both things are possible. In a sense, it’s a win/win. To start off, I think that our institutions were already fragile before Russia intervened in any way. I think because they were fragile, Russia was able to pull off what they seem to have done in the manner that they did it. So I think in one sense they’re exacerbating problems that already existed and making them worse through propaganda and political maneuvering and other means. I think he also preferred Trump to win in part because Clinton was a fiercer opponent in terms of Russia’s geopolitical aims, but also because of this long history that Russia seems to have with Trump ranging from Manafort to Trump’s connection to oligarchs to various people who Trump employed in the cabinet, including Flynn who’s now gone, but also, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson who received the order of friendship. Trump designed the cabinet that’s extremely pro Putin that has many individuals that have personal ties and corporate ties, and obviously that works to their advantage.

What Grant’s Overland Campaign Teaches for Grave Political Conflict

For matters far removed from warfare, including ones concerning severe political conflict, Grant’s Overland Campaign offers useful lessons. It’s typically a poor idea to describe political affairs in military terms, but grave threats to the political order sadly call for a different approach.

One fights in more than one way: sometimes using maneuver, at other times attrition.

One may maneuver many times, again and again, each at a time of one’s choosing, until at last an adversary is in a gravely disadvantageous position, after which attrition will prove effective.

A campaign should fit an overall strategy, often where one coordinates with those farther away to inflict losses from many directions.

One engagement will lead to other engagements, and even a campaign will lead to other campaigns. One must be patient.

One will experience losses, often severe, along the way. There are no easy victories over great matters. Push on.

An adversary is finished only when he will, or can, go on no longer. Particular successes along the way are insufficient; one drives until an adversary’s final, irrecuperable ruin.

An Eminent Psychiatrist on Trump

Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, who served as chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV), on 2.14.17 sent a letter to the New York Times in which he addresses questions about Donald Trump’s mental state. (SeeAn Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump’s Mental State.)

Frances is addressing a debate about whether Trump is mentally ill (Andrew Sullivan, The Madness of King Donald) or is simply a lifelong conniver who has profited from his misconduct (Eric Posner, Is Trump Mentally Unstable?)

Dr. Frances concludes that Trump’s behavior is worse than a person with mental illness, that Trump shows no signs of distress from his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy” (as a clinically-ill person would), and so suggesting Trump is mentally ill only stigmatizes those who suffer from properly-diagnosed conditions.

The full text of letter appears below (emphasis mine).

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

ALLEN FRANCES

Coronado, Calif.

Needless to say, I’ve neither the ability nor inclination to diagnose Trump; the better course is to defer to the judgment of those properly trained for this work (as Allen Frances surely is).

Frances’s point, however – that Trump’s “psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab” – seems profoundly right. The Ancients, with a sense of psyche but without the insights of modern psychiatry, yet would have been able to understand Trump well. We are right to see him as they would have, and as Dr. Frances does, and to conclude that the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

A Grand Coalition Forms

Conservative Jennifer Rubin describes, in E Pluribus Unum vs. Trump, both the building coalition against Trump and the powerful nature of that coalition.

She’s right that what seemed unlikely a few weeks ago is real now:

Just a couple of weeks ago, critics of post-inaugural protesters argued the anti-President Trump movement lacked coherence. Too many small, identity-politics issues, the marcher-watching pundits sniffed. Well, as we imagined, Trump has provided the unifying theme and emotional inspiration, one that can galvanize Americans from many walks of life and political persuasions.

That coalition has more than numbers behind it. Rubin sees that those in opposition to Trump, wherever they may stand ideologically, are capable, talented, and accomplished:

Just as Trump forged his coalition with a nationalist, xenophobic message, opponents have now found their common cause — protecting America as a tolerant, dynamic place that derives real benefits from — and in some instances cannot operate without — international talent, markets and travel. Productive, innovative and modern Americans now have a common cause. Regardless of ideological differences on a host of issues, they now see defense of the international liberal (small “l”) ideal as critical to the country’s economic, political and psychological health. They do not want to be dragged back to the 1950s (as if such a thing were possible) or lose talent and capital that will go elsewhere if the United States turns inward.

Where does this leave us? Rubin concludes:

A wide and deep coalition of students, teachers, scientists, high-tech and industrial workers and CEOs, state and local leaders, religious leaders and Americans of all political stripes now has its message and calling: America is great because it is free, welcoming, dynamic, generous, exerts leadership in the world and has institutions (e.g., an independent judiciary, a free press) that promote inclusion and success (however we define it). If anti-Trump Americans aim to reinforce those qualities and the institutions that promote them, then the know-nothing populists and xenophobic characters who occupy the White House will not destroy what makes America great.

See, also, from Javier Corrales, Five Reasons the Opposition Is in Good Shape to Fight Trump (“The Opposition is Not Confused…The Opposition is Not Demoralized…The Opposition is Not Fragmented…The Opposition is Not Alone…The Opposition Won’t Be Blamed.”)

There is a long road ahead, and there will be significant setbacks, but this campaign is politically existential, and there will be no relent.

Principled Conservatives Organize Against Trump

One needn’t be a conservative to admire the efforts of thoughtful conservatives to organize against Trump.  Evan McMullin and Mindy Flynn have now launched Stand Up Republic to resist the Trump agenda from a conservative vantage. Jennifer Rubin reports on this in Evan McMullin makes a splash by going after Trump and Putin. Above, I’ve a video accompanying the launch of their 501(c)(4) organization. (It’s designed to appeal directly to conservatives who rightly find Trump’s authoritarianism objectionable.)

Rubin quotes McMullin on Trump’s use of lies:

“Undermining truth is a typical authoritarian tactic. It is incredibly dangerous,” McMullin explains. If truth is up for debate, then leaders “cannot be held accountable.” He continues, “Accountability depends on Americans’ ability to know the truth. Undermining truth is a way to undermine other sources of information. If they’ve done that, they can provide their own narrative.” Welcome to the era of Trump, and the response it is evoking. “We never thought we’d be talking about this in America,” he says with the same incredulity many are expressing about Trump’s attachment to easily disproved lies.

Gaps on many issues between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians (as I am) probably are as Rubin notes ‘unbridgeable,’ but McMullin’s more general critique of Trump is, and will be, welcome. She writes of McMullin’s insight on this point:

While he is conservative, McMullin has confidence that his message will have resonance on both sides of the aisle. “We saw this very interesting thing. Most of our support in the campaign was from constitutional conservatives,” he tells me. “Since the election we have gotten a ton of people joining from the left. They came because we are standing up for the Constitution.” Despite real, unbridgeable differences on policy issues, he says, “We see an existing common ground to defend these [democratic] institutions. It’s organic. We don’t have to compromise anything.”

We’ve likely a long and hard path before us, with more than a few setbacks along the way. A grand coalition will serve well for all of us who share a common commitment in opposition & resistance.

Wes Benedict Tries & Fails Again

I’ve been critical of Wes Benedict, executive director of the national Libertarian Party (1 and 2), but I’ll say this for him: he’s an unfailing failure. In an email he sent today, Benedict wrote to party members, in part, that

We are all waiting to see what our new president does. No doubt he’ll do a few things Libertarians like. No doubt he’ll do other things we strongly dislike.

Benedict writes to members of his party as a proper noun (Libertarians rather than libertarians) and as though there hadn’t been a campaign, inauguration, protests, etc.: ‘we are all waiting to see what our new president does.’

Oh, brother. Those of us who love liberty have already seen, for month after month, what Trump does: he lies, foments racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry, and advocates violence against domestic opponents. He’s a combination of mediocrity, bigot, and liar.

Gessen’s right about opposing Trump’s authoritarianism: it is to be met each day with an increasingly formidable response. We’ll learn as we go, matching him more effectively with each month.

Benedict is free to wait so long as he wishes, and so are the members of his party. Genuine, committed libertarians (including from families within that movement long before Benedict was born) have no reason to delay: we’ve more than enough evidence, from Trump and his inner circle, to justify committed opposition.

Why Trump Press Secretary Spicer Lies

Anna Rascouët-Paz relates an explanation (from someone who worked in a past administration) for Trump press secretary Spicer’s repeated lies about inaugural crowd size.  It’s spot on:

For more on a disinformation strategy based on insisting that nothing is knowable, see The Russian Conspiracy on Behalf of Conspiracy Theorist Donald Trump (“there is a coherent pattern to the discourse he has promoted. It is a comprehensive attack on empiricism. He spreads distrust against every institution, so that the only possible grounds for belief is trust in a person. The suspicion he spreads against every institution protects Trump from accountability.”) and For Mr. Trump, It’s STEM, Schwem, Whatever… (“he insists that the truth is indeterminable whenever he wishes to evade responsibility for his own lies.”).

For Spicer’s calculated statement to undermine truth, see The White House Press Secretary Makes A Statement.

 

Neither Shocked Nor Awed

In these next months ahead, one should expect that the Trump Administration will do what it can to make statement after statement, in part to impress hardcore supporters and in part to shock and awe opponents.

As a guess, one can reasonably say that immigration deportations will be one of Trump’s prominent efforts. See, As soon as he is inaugurated, Trump will move to clamp down on immigration. Expect ready-for-the-camera deportations on the news.

This is likely to be a focus throughout 2017, with small towns affected as much as big cities. Small, rural towns will offer the Trump Administration the advantage of many collaborators who will aid federal authorities, and many residents who will identify neighbors as targets for deportation. Almost no one in these places will say a word in public opposition; outspoken residents will hail deportation as a necessary part of Making America Great Again.

We’ve a long campaign in opposition ahead, just beginning, and in these early months we can expect loss after loss. Those who expect as much – who see this with clarity – will succumb to neither shock nor awe.

Tragic although these moments will be, it is not how this conflict begins, but how it ends, that should occupy one’s efforts.

Dumb Show from Trump Now (and Mussolini Then)

Trump wanted to show the world how hard he was working on his inauguration speech, so he published a photograph. The picture is what one might expect from him: the overly-serious stare, the odd writing instrument, the apparently-unused tablet, turned so one could see if he’d written even a word, and the gaudy-but-suspicious-looking setting).

Almost immediately, people dissected the photo as a fraud, one more example of Trump’s love for dumb show, using confidence tricks persuasive only to easy marks. SeeIs Donald Trump Writing His Inaugural Address From a Mar-a-Lago Receptionist’s Desk? An Investigation (note: it’s probably the concierge’s desk).

Chris Hayes describes the photo – and Trump’s staged theatrics – generally:

Trump’s staged setting reminds one of Hemingway’s remarks about a similar stunt from Mussolini:

“The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press. Everybody came. We all crowded into the room. Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering dictator. Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to give. And he remained absorbed in his book. Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents.

As we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up from the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration, etc.

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary — held upside down.”

Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders

We’re early in the formation of a grand coalition in opposition to Trump, but however long the task, that effort should focus on the top: Trump, his inner circle, principal surrogates, and media defenders. All in all, that’s a small group on which one may concentrate.

There will be endless tactical debates about how to reach this voter or that one, to shrink Trump’s room to maneuver here or there. These discussions will be well-meaning (as they’ll be directed at Trump’s political ruin), but they shouldn’t be our principal focus.

A focus on Trump, key aides, and those who defend him in the media will accomplish three things: (1) assign responsibility where it is most deserved, (2) allow concentration of resources, and (3) speed a separation of Trump from ordinary people who are mere marks in his long confidence game.

Blaming those he’s conned is a sideshow. (There’s a necessary exception for the very few who are of the alt-right; they deserve, in-and-of-themselves, obloquy whenever one has the time.)

If Trump breaks politically, it will come from the case against him, and his present supporters will by turns break away (or in any event will have nothing left to support). In this way, his remaining supporters won’t be able to support him adequately in the end. He’ll stand or stumble despite them.

If Trump should meet his ruin (and he will), it will come from a relentless case against his mediocrity, lies, bigotry, character disorders, and authoritarianism. One needn’t ask why people support him now; it’s enough to show him again and again as unworthy of support.

Now, there are alliances to build, and a case to make, against Trump and those in his circle.

Paul Krugman Asks ‘How This Ends’

On Twitter, Paul Krugman (@PaulKrugman) has a nine-tweet chain on possibilities after Trump becomes president. The chain begins at 1:05 PM – 6 Jan 2017 and ends at 1:16 PM – 6 Jan 2017.

Here are those tweets, in order:

Some musings on the next few years: We are, I’d argue, in much deeper and more treacherous waters than even the pessimists are saying 1/

It would be one thing if voters had freely chosen a corrupt authoritarian; then we’d be following a terrible but familiar path 2/

But as it is we had a deeply tainted election, and everyone knows it; in truth the FBI was the biggest villain, but Russian involvement 3/

is just so startling, and so contrary to the usual GOP flag-waving, that 2001-type whitewashing of illegitimacy isn’t taking hold 4/

A clever, self-controlled Trump would be careful now to preserve appearances and wait for revenge; but instead he’s confirming his status 5/

as Putin’s poodle/stooge with every tweet. Pretty soon everyone will think of him as a Manchurian candidate, even those pretending not to 6/

Yet there is no normal political mechanism to deal with this reality. So what happens? The GOP decides to impeach to install Pence? 7/

Mass people-power demonstrations? He orders the military to do something illegal and we have disobedience by the national security state? 8/

Or, alternatively, overt intimidation of critics by Trump gangs? Don’t call this silly — tell me how this ends. 9/

Krugman’s last tweet asks readers to tell him how this ends, and he’d be the first to see that it’s the easiest question to answer.

We don’t yet know.

Masha Gessen on Trump (1.8.17)

I respect Masha Gessen’s observations on Putin’s Russia, and her biography of Putin (part biography, part sketch of contemporary times) is excellent.  See, among her many works, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Autocracy: Rules for Survival

Gessen has more recent observations on Trump as an authoritarian that are compelling. Her principal observations (published yesterday) seem sound.

On Trump as authoritarian:

“What we’ve learned in the last few weeks is the kind of government Donald Trump is building: it’s a Mafia state,” Gessen continued. “In a Mafia state, the patriarch rules as in a family. He doesn’t need to spell things out — he expects intuitive obedience, and there are penalties for not intuiting his wishes. He’s going to choose people based solely on loyalty and family membership. If they get their positions through merit, they wouldn’t owe everything to him. It’s not his ultimate goal to destroy freedom and democracy, but you have to, if you want to steal as much as possible, especially if you have such a thin skin.”

On Trump as confidence man:

Many commentators have focused on Trump’s unpredictability, but to Gessen’s mind, “He already has a long and consistent public record as a real estate magnate. We already know he has a history of institutional racism, that he is a bad-faith partner. Contractors are stiffed by Trump, workers go unpaid. He’s entered into a contract with American voters and he’s going to stiff them too, because he always stiffs people.”

On the challenge from authoritarian rule:

“I’m not aware of any aborted autocracies in modern history. Democracy is an aspiration, and it is defenseless against people who use it in bad faith. America’s advantage is that it has an incredibly rich cultural environment, a vibrant public spirit. Can we learn from other countries’ mistakes? The only thing to do is the exact opposite of what Germans, Poles and Hungarians did, which is to wait and see. We must panic and protest, presumptively assume the worst.”

I’d not use her word panic, to be sure, but would substitute something like relentless opposition. Still, I take her point: we can expect a long, painful conflict against a disordered authoritarian, unsuited for leadership of a free society, and likely unwilling to relinquish power once he assumes it.

Distillation for a Resistance (First Edition)

We’re early in this new political era, with a long time ahead of us, and there’s a need to get a sense of one’s bearings. (The sound way to approach the new politics that has overcome America through the three-thousand-year traditional of liberty to be found in many places, the Online Library of Liberty being only one. But that’s the reading and study of a lifetime; there are essays contemporary to us that are both useful and readily distilled.)

These recent essays and posts consider, or a useful to understand, the incipient authoritarianism of America’s next administration. They are a good basis for a beginning, for a distillation of one’s thinking.

Some recent essays for consideration:

Wes Benedict Has a Book to Sell

Last month, the Libertarian Party’s executive director (Wes Benedict) sent me a tone-deaf, form email. I posted Libertarianism is Enough: Goodbye to the LP in reply, in which I argued that the Libertarian Party was an unworthy vessel for a liberty-oriented politics:

Imagine, then, after an election in which the LP did poorly, and in which libertarians now face a long struggle against radical populist advocates of state power, the surprise in reading an invitation from Wes Benedict, executive director of the national LP, that

It is time to party…

You are invited to an end of the year

CELEBRATION!

2016 has been a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party!

Wes Benedict may go to hell, and celebrate there in the outer darkness for so long as he wishes.

Wes wrote again recently, and how touching it is to see that he’s concerned for me:

I see that your Libertarian Party membership has expired.

Any chance you could renew today?

You can renew your membership by clicking here

Or go to LP.org/membership

I hope all is well!

Thanks,

Wes Benedict

P.S. If you want a copy of my book Introduction to the Libertarian Party for renewing, you can renew at the link below for $27.53 or more.

A Trump Administration awaits, and Benedict writes “hope all is well.”  One would think Benedict had been living in a cave these last eighteen months.

Funnier still is Benedict’s offer (for a price) of his book – an introduction to a party of which his recipient had already been a member for many years. 

I’m from a movement family (those who have been liberty-oriented long before there was a party, and even before the term libertarian was coined), and from that vantage Benedict’s emails are instructive but have no emotional impact. If anything, they seem silly, almost absurd.

For one who recently joined, however, and let his or her membership momentarily lapse, Benedict’s message might seem different, as an insult to someone who sought meaning through party membership. 

Odd that he’s too clueless to see how silly his message seems to some, and how insulting it may be to others. 

Benedict’s book? No, the enduring works of the last three thousand years are the ones we’ve need of reading and reading again.

Benedict’s party? We need more than a single, small party now. 

Libertarianism has a long road ahead, and those devoted to it have much work ahead, in a grand coalition with those of different but friendly ideologies, to preserve free institutions in this country.

That may be the task of our time, and membership in the LP contributes nothing to it.

‘His thoughts are so correct’

Consider a letter from Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, autocrat, murderer, and imperialist.

Putin recently sent Trump a letter, only a few brief paragraphs, and Trump gave a statement in reply:

Download (PDF, 55KB)

“A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct,” Trump said in a statement. “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”

The alternative path to Putin’s would, in fact, be desirable, as it would encourage democracy and productivity at home, and peaceful international relations abroad.

(Small but worth noting: for all the nativism Trump’s kicked up, he has a poor grasp of his native language. In his obsequious reply to Putin, Trump misuses alternate for alternative, and is maladroit even in his praise, using the awkward, ‘his thoughts are so correct,’ something a struggling newcomer to English might use. He has no valid defense against this criticism: Trump’s insisted that his own bar should be high, as he’s assured us that “I know words, I have the best words…“)

As it is, both words and actions show Trump to be unfit for, and hostile to, the fundamental characteristics of a free society.

Garry Kasparov on Vladimir Putin’s Election Interference and America’s Response

Garry Kasparov‘s a great hero of mine (and of many millions across the world), not simply for his unquestioned understanding of chess, but even more for his commitment to human freedom and democratic institutions. In the audio interview below, Kasparov speaks about Putin’s manipulation of our recent election.

(By the way, Kasparov’s excellent book, Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, is now out in paperback, and is also available @ Amazon in hardcover, Kindle, Audible, or mp3 CD format.)