• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Meddling and Collusion: Thinking in "0's" and "1's"

August 2018

Uncomfortable though it may seem, two things at once can be true: on the one hand, the Russian government could have meddled in the 2016 election that saw the defeat of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. However distressing the thought of such a brazen intrusion into our democratic process might still be, this is the consensus on which nearly every U.S.

intelligence agency has converged. Of the reality of Moscow’s meddling and its attempt to influence America’s political sentiments from within, there can be no doubt. Under Vladimir Putin’s supervision, Russian state actors—of whom twelve have as of Friday been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice—succeeded in hacking into the Democratic Party’s servers and propagandizing their scurrilous messages across the web.

That’s the first of two things that can be true. Simultaneously, the second is that there could’ve been no discernible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump. It could be that the former had its tenebrous paws on the scale for the latter, and that it was pushing ever so imperceptibly on platforms like Facebook, and Twitter, and Reddit to see him win, but that Trump’s campaign knew not of its presence and felt not its touch. In the absence of more compelling evidence, this is the conclusion to which we must be resigned. Anti-climactic though it may seem, sometimes that’s all that there is to it in these stories of statecraft; the drama of politics seldom moves us to loftier heights. Rather prone is it to over-promise and under-deliver in that regard. To service our catharsis, we thus spurn politics and turn toward the likes of a Shakespeare or a Real Housewives.

Yet all of the political parties—be they of the left, of the right, or of the diminishing in-between—seem to have become immune to this idea—this idea that two things can be at once true. There seems to have fallen atop everyone’s eyes a veil. It’s a veil through whose fibers the two co-existing sides of the coin can’t be seen. And with that obfuscating veil have come fetters, and with the fetters a paralyzing adherence to mutual exclusivity. We’re now stuck in a binary way of thinking that demands we choose either “0’s” or “1’s”, without acknowledging the existence of decimals or gradations in between. Only one number is real—only one has validity.

On the left, they choose a “1”. There must be something “there”. A there there, to put it more redundantly. Or more eloquently, there must be something positive, affirmative, and actual. More than mere meddling, there must be something scandalous, something heinous, something boiling beneath the surface wanting to be seen and, once seen, wanting to explode. Amongst these Democrats, of whom many have invested endless hours and tireless diatribes and their 2018 re-election campaigns to this end, there’s a tendency to consider only this one side of the two possibilities. They accept fully and with a rapacious gulp the conclusions drawn by the U.S. intelligence agencies—as well they should. Yet one taste isn’t enough to slake the thirst, and still they want more. Insatiate and desperate, they’ve shown themselves willing to stop at nothing until the president is impeached. Only this will fulfill them. And in their desperation, they’ve jumped heedlessly toward their own conclusions. They’ve fixed an illusory path from meddling to collusion; from unilateral mischief on the part of Putin, to reciprocal misbehavior between the ex-KGB henchman and Trump.

The reality is that this path from unwitting beneficiary (which, as far as we know and not an inch farther, is the extent of Trump’s role) to treasonous co-conspirator hasn’t yet been forged. Nor are there very many signs pointing in the direction that soon it shall be. But the left wants more than anything to make this leap and to bury into Trump’s presidency its final blow. This leap, mind you, is contingent on the stubbornly unforthcoming evidence that he and Putin engaged in a collusive act. This simply isn’t the case, and the Democrats are salivating over an inconclusive conclusion; such evidence simply hasn’t materialized to date. They are thus stuck accepting only one truth as true—that meddling was real and collusion much the same. Yet by accepting the latter, they get dangerously ahead of their skis. They fail to affirm the former and negate the latter.

On the obverse paces and frets President Trump. Continuing in our binary world, where all is mutually exclusive, he chooses “0”. He chooses negation. Against the advice of no fewer than seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies (of whose collective organization, he’s the ultimate head), he’s decided there simply was no meddling on the part of Russia. It’s all a falsity, a mendacity, a political witch-hunt, and a ruse. And, the more he says that the Russians didn’t meddle, the more likely is the idea in his mind to disappear. Even after the passage of an entire year, during which investigations have been plenary and all-encompassing, the idea is no more salient, let alone feasible to him. It’s a negatively re-enforcing message, from whose cycle he refuses to escape, even when given every rope and ladder to climb out of his own ego and find the light. So, he continues to cloak our intelligence agencies’ findings in a mantle of doubt and suspicion, while he intimately denies their conclusions wholesale (and often does so publicly as well).

In his mind, it’s because he and Putin didn’t collude that Putin didn’t meddle. The former necessarily negates the latter. President Trump has proven himself frankly incapable of dissociating the two. Meddling, so far as his mental faculties can extend, has become a synonym for collusion. As such, any scintilla of the notion that Russia meddled in the election on his behalf is a direct assault on his presidential legitimacy—an insult for which he won’t stand. Never mind the fact that the efficacy of the Kremlin’s meddling efforts remains unknown, though probably once known, will prove exiguous. To admit as much would be to discredit or to diminish his incredible victory, his glory, and his legacy. This leaves him thinking in terms of a “0” as it pertains to our choice between one and nil. There was no collusion, and thus no meddling.

But, indeed, there was meddling—of this, we can be unequivocally sure. And there was no Trump-Putin collusion—of this, at least for the nonce, we must accept. Contrary to popular belief, we can have in our equation both a “0” and a “1”. Both things can at once be true. It’s from this very basic math we must begin again if we’re to improve the political discussion.

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