The American story since 2015 can be told neatly in three acts. First, capture: our population was attacked with a potent mix of information warfare and dark money. Second, pretend: much of the country maintained, through willful suspension of evidence, that nothing much was wrong — that all this was happening within the ebb and flow of partisan politics.
By July 16, 2018, we began to awaken to Act III: collapse. The illusion has seams. The worst suspicions have been confirmed: Russia really did hack servers and poison our information landscape. Our “president” really is beholden to the ruthless dictator of a hostile foreign power. While many of us have known these things for a long time, it’s finally sinking in for everyone else. Good. It’s about time.
What can we expect in this next act?
Advancement of Russia’s Goals
Putin is fixated on weakening NATO and the European Union, which has been successful at keeping Europe in a relatively long state of peace and prosperity. Whatever flaws they may have (and all institutions do, and can be improved), this is the global order our grandparents and great-grandparents fought for. Its dismissal will come at our peril, and will return Europe to its regular periodic mass bloodshed. Have no illusions about this.
Russia will also continue to undermine western democracies through every means possible. If you thought the information landscape has been insufferable for the last few years, just wait: it will get worse. Doubt this at your peril.
If you are a person of conscience who thinks that any of this means that you will have an ally for socialist political organizing to take hold, do not be fooled: you will be used as a wedge to destroy institutions and then cast aside. In the past, such delusions were described as useful idiocy.
We will continue to take all possible steps to destroy our economy. The barrage of tariffs has placed a load on a dam that will burst in spectacular fashion. Our economy has been built on the back of the relatively unfettered global flow of trade. While that can always be improved and made more fair, the attacks being made now are nonsensical and will result in economic collapse. It is only a matter of when.
We are so deluded about war that we don’t realize it has already started. If your idea of war is Vietnam, or Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, please discard those notions. If you think that all wars start with Neocon jingoism and made-up WMD’s, please discard that notion. If you think that all wars involve military contractors, Halliburton, oil, and fat cats, please think again.
This war is about whether or not you get to vote. It’s about whether your neighbor gets to vote. It’s about whether we have a justice system, or an EPA, or public education. It’s about separating children from their families. It’s about whether the US even has sovereignty.
This war is being fought today, and you are a combatant. It is an information war, and everyone is a participant. It didn’t start with planes and bombs, though it may end there.
If anyone tells you we should appease Russia or Putin (or, eye-roll, that having a better relationship with Russia is a “good thing” and not a “bad thing”) in order to avoid “nuclear war,” this is the most disingenuous of all arguments, and anyone making it is carrying water for the Kremlin, knowingly or not.
Putin can not consider nuclear war under any circumstance; it is a false threat. He wants to engage in inexpensive offensive operations that advance his agenda. These things include:
- Information warfare and infrastructure attacks against democracies
- “Little Green Men” operations in Ukraine, Baltics, Suwalki Gap, Montenegro
- Compromising and weakening institutions (and demonstrate weakness of NATO and EU)
In this regard, he has already been spectacularly successful. It has been said that the cost of Putin’s entire disinformation operation to date has been less than the price of a single American F-35 fighter jet, and that is likely the case. And we can ask which has had more of an impact on world events?
By any reasonable measure, World War III has already begun. We have had our Pearl Harbor; we are not at peace; we are under continuous attack; incalculable damage has been done. Indeed it would be disingenuous to suggest that this is not war.
However, we do not (and should not) invoke the word war as an act of jingoism, or to evoke simplistic constructs of battles long past. Because this war will not be fought or stabilized (and yes, stabilization is what we should hope for) like any war in the past. And there may never be true peace again.
Instead we must aim for long-term equilibrium rooted in political containment. Political containment, which requires standing up to liars and making them anathema, demands vigilance and public service. It is part of what our diplomatic corps (currently being dismantled) was built to achieve.
Political containment means standing up for justice and the rule of law everywhere. It is our highest calling.
America is, all too slowly, coming to grips with reality, and we cannot predict how this will play out. This president will eventually meet his end, whether through impeachment, resignation, death, or by serving two (or more, yes) terms. All of these things are plausible.
But the real question is what becomes of the country in the meantime and then after that. Trump is not the disease; he is the symptom. He is the payload of an information warfare attack, and he may well have been a Russian asset for 30 years. We cannot pretend that if he is gone our problems will be solved.
Even as we debate his legitimacy (or that of Brexit) we will be mired in a massive crisis of confidence.
Put aside, for now, the Washington intrigue and personal power games. What will the United States be in 10 years? In 20 years? In 25 years? What country are we leaving our children? Are you working to defend that vision?
The United States may not make it that long. There is a movement afoot to call a Constitutional Convention to remake the country entirely. There is the possibility of a civil war. We will certainly see an endless barrage of divisive initiatives ranging from secession to attempts to incite violence.
We have just made it harder to track the dark money exploits that so effectively enabled the attacks on our system. If we do not address this, we will allow foreign interests to run roughshod over our political system.
So the reckoning will come as simply as this: will we confront information warfare and dark money? Will we confront Russia (and yes, China, and Iran, and Israel, and Turkey, and pick your favorite bogeyman) and politically contain them? Will we stand up for truth, facts, and the rule of law?
Right now, my bet is no.
Congress certainly won’t—yet. The executive branch won’t. The judiciary is being dealt its final death blow.
Who’s left? Us. We can stand up. But that requires that we arrive at a common reality, and a shared set of facts. Maybe that is happening — all too slowly. Special Counsel Mueller will grind away at his task, and maybe that will tip the scale of public opinion enough to drive the changes we need.
It is all of us up against all the money. All the money of global oligarchs and organized crime, who don’t want to be constrained. It’s not even about money and profits; it’s about power, it’s about being able to do whatever they want with whoever they want and never be called to account.
If you think you are a “have” and will be called to fend off the “have nots” — let me assure you, if you are reading this, you are the enemy of this cabal. You will be discarded, if you are not killed first.
If you think that the “rule of law” has been a raw deal for many in the US, and isn’t worth defending in the first place, check your privilege. If you can even have that discussion, you have benefitted from the global order that millions died to build in the wake of World War II.
It is certainly true that the US must do a better job of realizing its highest ideals. We can’t do that in a failed state.
If you think this is about US political parties or partisan politics, it is — up to a point. But the infection is systemic and global, and extends to Brexit, Europe, and beyond. It is in the bloodstream of our body politic. Let’s not pretend otherwise. We must unite across shared values, and discard labels and tribal identity. It’s the only way forward.
This country, flawed as it is, provides a foundation within which to make continuous improvements. Participate. Express your voice. Take part in protest, direct action, and organizing. Vote, and encourage others to do so. But defend that system. Without it, there will be slaughter.
The reckoning will come. Something will collapse. It could be that this global organized crime cabal collapses. It could be the collapse of civil society in multiple countries. And we will necessarily see economic collapse, under these sustained attacks.
The next six months, the next year, the next 5 years will be pivotal. The future depends on our defense of facts, truth, and reality. Convincing others may be impossible. Our defense must be manifest in our words and deeds.