• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Ignorance Or Recalcitrance: Trump And Russia

November 2017

In politics, we often look down upon those who change their minds and admit they’re wrong. It’s a sign of weakness, we think, to be convinced or converted or edified. We scoff when we see the mark of the hypocrite who just couldn’t stick it out. We look down on the blemished blowhard who was too eager to switch sides. It’s a permanent demerit, if you’re caught in the act of rethinking your thoughts, and it’s a capital offense if you go so far as to change them. There’s no ablution that can scrub away this sin, no confession that can wipe it clean. Views are like vows, immutable, everlasting, and yours forever to keep.

So, you must continue as always you have. Never stray from dogma and the well-worn path. New facts mean nothing—old ones even less. When the evidence is insurmountable, dig in your heels and scale the wall. When the sources are unimpeachable, scour for skeptics and confirm your biases. And when the reality is ineluctable, look to the creation of your own. You mustn’t waver. Hold fast to self-deception. You know more than everyone thinks you do, and you think more profoundly than they can imagine. Is this arrogance? Perhaps.

Stubbornness? Probably. Ignorance? Most definitely. What is of little question, though, is which of the three is most dangerous.

To be arrogant and stubborn can at times work on your behalf. To be ignorant, however, is never useful. Never has it and never shall it be of benefit or of virtue. You’ll never stand to profit from its employment. You’ll never inspire others to think of you with confidence or consider you thoughts sagacious. You’ll be like the troglodyte, who—bound by chains and seeing nothing but shadows—refuses to turn around and see the fire dancing behind him. Tied to an allegory, you’ll sit stubbornly fixed in one place. When it comes to it, your ignorance is not a simple lack of knowledge, but an active aversion to knowledge. You’re ineducable and, therefore, incorrigible. Because you won’t learn, you can’t improve. You refuse to do one and lose out on the other, all for the sake of your pride.

The same pride that motivates President Trump’s ignorance is that which sustains his recalcitrance. It’s been well over one year since Russia was first alleged to have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign. At this earliest stage, the charge was suspect; it needed further proof. Not surprisingly, credulous Democrats gobbled it up. Desperation was settling in, as Hillary Clinton’s appeal was sinking, and the charge looked like a peach ready to be plucked. One bite was enough to whet the appetite with calls for collusion—a charge that seems increasingly fruitless but tantalizingly within reach. Contrasted with the Democrats, Republicans were skeptical from the outset. The allegations seemed incidental and unimportant to what they saw in Donald Trump. It wasn’t Russia, so they thought, but rather Trump’s winning message and indefatigable campaign that was changing the tide against Hillary Clinton.

However, all—or at least very near all doubt was cast aside when we learned that the Kremlin did indeed meddle in the campaign. This was the conclusion that had been arrived at by no fewer than four U.S. government agencies: The National Intelligence Agency, the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA. Each conducted its investigation independently and came together with a unanimous result. They learned that Russia, for the bargain price of just over a half-million dollars, carried out an insidious little plan to undermine our democratic process. With Facebook groups and ads, they tried to skew public opinion from afar. Most of their ads were childish, some were downright farcical, but all of them took an unkind stance toward Ms. Clinton. That much was consistent. In addition to the this, they buddied up with WikiLeaks and infiltrated former Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta’s e-mails. This sowed further discord (all while showing the ugly inner-workings of the Clinton camp and the DNC, but that’s beside the point).

The knowledge we now have of everything related to Russia’s meddling is robust. Its efficacy is the only lingering question. Democrats overestimate it, while Republicans give it little credence. The truth, as it always does, sits somewhere in between. It’s likely not to have been as influential as Democrats lead us to believe, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a problem that demands our attention. At its root, this was an attack on American liberty. I hesitate to equate it with 9-11, as many commentators have, but it should put our nation and the uppermost echelons of our government on high alert. We should treat it with the seriousness of an attack from abroad, albeit a bloodless one, and we should be ensuring that it never happens again. More protections should be put in place, safeguards installed, and sanctions levied against the Russian state actors who caused all the mess.

All of these things are given the seriousness they demand when the president is leading the charge. He should be at fore, exhausting all efforts to buttress our nation and punish Putin’s rogues. More than any other official in any other department, the president must be the man stirring us to be on our guard. He should be imploring us to be vigilant and counter Moscow’s guile so. Tasking us with this, he should then go off and dream up heavy reprisals and punishments for what they’ve done.

Instead, President Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss, let alone address, Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. His fragile ego prevents him from even considering the fact that they infiltrated American democracy and attempted to tip the election on his behalf. He won’t bring himself to consider the fact—and I do mean fact—that they had their thumb on his side of the scale. Trump sees the mere mention of this as an affront to his hard-fought and dearly-won presidency. He bristles and shuts down any cabinet official who raises the issue in meetings. I should mention here that I think he would’ve won with our without Putin’s “help”, but the more we talk of Russia, the less he thinks we attribute the victory to him. It spoils his life’s ultimate glory. In his mind, it was nothing more than his unprecedented political prowess, his suis generis appeal, that landed him in the Oval Office. It wasn’t the Kremlin’s cyber-scoundrels or Putin’s KGB. It was simply the Donald, and the Donald alone.

To live in an illusory world, fully ignorant of reality, is a danger indeed. But inhabiting this world alone, without inviting in others and exchanging unenlightened ideas, is less of a threat to the whole of society. Once outside this vacuum, things become fraught. Here, in the world and encumbered by reality, the ignorant man becomes a danger in the truest sense. In this case, his ignorance informs a national security policies. It permeates the world’s most powerful government. It defines an ethos. All this, while it allows for a foreign adversary to meddle with astounding impunity. Can we hope to cure ignorance, or to soften recalcitrance? The country demands that we must.

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