How to get some Context around this Mess

I have two documentaries I’d highly suggest, as they have given me a lot of understanding of the context around this mess we’re in, and answered a lot of questions I previously had a hard time answering.

Frontline: Trump’s Road to the White House

My key takeaway from this was what Frontline speculated was Trump’s ultimate motivation to run, and win. Trump had won before but had primarily done so to boost his media empire and get free press.

This time was different though – he wanted to win. Frontline implies he wanted to win due to a slight from President Obama. Trump is a man who fears embarrassment over everything else. And he’s a man who sees ‘winning’ as meaning – do whatever it takes.

My key takeaways:

  • Trump admits he hasn’t changed or grown much since the first grade. We can either believe his story that his Father was so harsh that he had to come up with coping strategies, or read between the lines and see his life as so easy as it never has forced change. He’s been a lying, bullying blowhard his whole life.
  • Trump sees money and fame as the only signs of success. He has no rich inner life. He’s ruled by jealousy, fear of embarrassment, and grudges. He surrounds himself by folks that are similar. He sees morality or sentiment as a sign of weakness.
  • He’s not a very good businessman, primarily running his real estate and casino holdings into the ground through just plain bad management. He rarely had any idea what was going on, would routinely hire yes-men to hide things, and saw very little as his fault. He’s incapable of learning.
  • His decision to run for President was due to a perceived slight from President Obama.
  • He has a win at all costs mentality when he decides to win. This is important, as described below.

Netflix: Get Me Roger Stone

This is a deep dive into one of Trump’s favorite confidants, political ‘operative’ Roger Stone. You have to keep a skeptical eye to Roger’s story of himself, full of embellishment, disinformation, and tactical lies to convince you that he’s important. It’s his personal brand, and it’s how he convinces a certain segment of society he’s worth his consulting fees despite the fact that he doesn’t have a great track record and has a tendency to ‘wing it’.

Like Trump, Roger has a take no prisoners approach to ‘winning’. He’s only now, in his 60’s, developing an actual political philosophy. Much of his life was devoted to ensuring his ‘team’ win at all costs, often at the expense of their own values. Roger, like Trump, is quite possibly a high functioning sociopath, which would explain his difficulty understanding common notions like ethics and values.

Purely armchair psychology here, but I’d also speculate that a lot of Stone’s perceived slights at ‘Washington Elites’ probably come from him constantly feeling like an outsider due to his sexuality in a repressed culture and age.

My key takeaways:

  • Stone, Manafort, and others literally invented the idea of a slimy lobbyist in the 80’s. Their firm was notorious for taking on dictators and other strongmen and lobbying on their behalf to Republican leaders. Why? Because no one else would take those clients, and they were willing to pay absurd fees to get heard. Stone and Manafort have been taking blood money for decades.
  • Stone places himself at various points in history and weaves a tale that he has been instrumental in nearly all Republican wins since Nixon. He builds a brand that he’s the dirty trixter that you know you’ll eventually need. He has a strong brand, but I think his desire to be hated by society comes from an inward struggle. He wants to ‘be himself’ but doesn’t feel comfortable doing it – feeling rejected. So he’s embraced rejection everywhere.
  • Like Trump, he identifies wealth and fame with success and has no problem doing whatever it takes to acquire those things.
  • Manafort – unlike Trump and Stone – seems to only be attracted to wealth.

The Context

The problem I’ve been having with this whole Russian fiasco is identifying with a person who could ever possibly betray their country like that. It’s just something so incredibly foreign to me.

Criminology 101 recommends establishing the following heuristic while investigating a crime – Means, Motive, and Opportunity.

Trump, Stone, and Manafort had the means – they had personal wealth, and through Manafort and Stone, a history of pretty despicable connections through their lobbying efforts. No one disputes this.

In terms of opportunity – again, very well established. Manafort worked with Russian loyalists in Ukraine, Stone admitted that he was in direct contact with Guccifer 2.0, and Trump has Russian investments and made frequent trips to Russia for things like the Miss Universe Pagent. He also kept around lackeys like Flynn and Carter Page who have also made frequent contacts with the Russians.

But motive? Here my problems are two-fold – first, who’s evil enough to work with our main rival on the world stage to gain political power, and who’s stupid enough to think they’d get away with it?

I mean, sure, Trump is not the sharpest tool in the shed. But Manafort seems like a reasonably smart guy – why would someone like him do it, and why would someone like him think he could get away with it?

This is where the documentaries above really illuminated things for me.

First, who’d be willing to work with Russia to gain political power?

Trump responds to grudges. He makes enemy lists. He’s frequently done illegal things to get back at folks that he perceives as having slighted him. The biggest embarrassment of his adult life was when Obama roasted him. You can see from the video that Trump is doing nothing but thinking about how he’s going to get back at Obama, and you can tell he’d be willing to go to any length to do so.

Stone also responds to grudges, but more importantly, he has a history of working with strongmen. He’s used to working with horrifying characters and not having any issue with it. He sees it as his strength. It’d be very hard for someone like him – especially when he has no inner moral conscience – to realize when he’s crossed the line from unsavory contact to all out Treason.

Second, who’d be stupid enough to think they won’t get caught?

Trump and Stone quite literally are probably stupid enough to think they’d get away with it. They both drastically overestimate their own importance and intelligence, and it gets them in trouble very often. Trump has attempted to micromanage his own communication for awhile, convinced that his press secretary and other advisors are failing him.

And of course, when he makes things ten times worse, he’s incapable of assigning blame to himself and claims that the media is intrinsically unfair. He’s incapable of learning, of growth.

Moreover, instead of hiring competent individuals to correct him, Trump tends to gravitate towards yes men like Stone. Stone is equally lacking in intelligence, or at least the ability to learn from mistakes. They quite literally may have overestimated their ability to weasel their way out of something like Treason.

They’re also both incredibly cynical (another trademark of a sociopath who thinks everyone else is just ‘pretending’ to have values and morality). They probably thought Clinton was either working with Russia, China, or someone else. They probably think everyone in Washington is bought off by one foreign entity or another, so again, they probably thought their transgression would just ‘blend in’.

This also explains why Trump believes the media is being ‘unfair’ to him – he really believes everyone else in Washington is just as fake, just as bad, and just as sociopathic as him.

But what about Manafort? He seems to be the actual brains here. While he may not have values, he seems to stay in the background enough so as not to get so easily caught like Stone and Trump. Manafort hasn’t done anything stupid like ask Russia to hack Hillary’s emails on live television, or admit on Twitter he was in active contact with Guccifer.

Here’s where the second documentary really helped me out – Stone and Manafort have been doing this shit for years. For decades. They’ve been helping out dictators and murderers since they invented it in the 80’s. They’re probably so used to not getting caught that they figured they’d get away with this one too.

My Final Insight

These documentaries as well as some reading I’ve done on what motivated the other actor in all of this – Russia – has also helped illuminate some things.

I’ll admit, I was pretty pissed when I learned that the DNC was actively working against Sander’s campaign. I bought into Hillary being just ‘more of the same’, if not completely corrupt, then at least not as inspiring as someone like Obama.

I’ve since realized that all of this was me succumbing to Russian propaganda.

Putin’s interest in meddling is to destroy the idea of moral legitimacy on the world stage. It’s important to him to tell his people that “See, the United States is no better than Russia”. To do this, he’s attempting to build a narrative that the US is just as corrupt – if not more so – than his own regime.

Selective leaks, fake news and all sorts of other propaganda have gone into this.

Recall that Russia’s first mission in meddling with our election was to cause people to lose faith in the electoral process. Their second mission was to actually get Trump elected. One sign of collusion was how quickly Trump pivoted from attempting to win to claims of ‘rigged election’ once it appeared he was going to lose.

He probably was as surprised as anyone that he won.

Russia wanted the ‘vote rigging’ story to dog Clinton’s entire term. They wanted Clinton to be seen as a corrupt politician who won an illegitimate election. They wanted people to lose faith in democracy.

Stone, Manafort, and Trump were precisely who they needed to recruit

Trump and his inner circle were the perfect recruits because they agreed with Putin’s overall argument. They believed that US politics was corrupt to the core, primarily because they knew that they were corrupt to the core.

Think of it this way – if Trump loses, which Russia thought he would – they’d have a propaganda campaign of illegitimate elections, vote rigging, and a broken democracy. That’s in their interest.

If Trump wins, however, in addition to a potential ally in the White House, they’d have the slimiest people in America in charge to prove that American politics was a farce. They’d have lobbyists for dictators running the show – pocketing the money, firing all oversight, and committing treason right in front of everyone with no one to stop them. They’d have installed the corrupt America that they wanted everyone else convinced was there.

The Propaganda Campaign is STILL ONGOING

We’re in the midst of it. The feelings you have about losing faith in our democracy, or our institutions, have been engineered by expert propagandists who have had years of experience doing this very same thing in other countries.

I think the takeaway I have with all this is that we mustn’t lose hope. Our institutions are stronger than their propaganda. Our elections, while not perfect, are absolutely morally superior to strongman tactics. Our politicians do, for the most part, genuinely believe in the American project and are not simply trying to enrich themselves.

Watch out for those who tell you otherwise. They’re buying into Stone’s cynicism. He wants everyone to be as unhappy as him.

Watch out for those who tell you otherwise. They’re buying into Putin’s plan. He wants the moral argument off the table.

Watch out for those who tell you otherwise. They’re buying into Trump’s America. He wants a narrative that benefits only his ego, at the expense of the nation.

Believe in the strength of the American project. You are being attacked from all sides that it was always a sham. It was never a sham.