Journal Entry #42

The Spectacle of Our Society

NORFOLK, CONN., MARCH 25—I never watch or even see MSNBC in passing unless one or another circumstance turns me into a captive audience. So it was this past Saturday, when I happened to go to the gym. Suspended above the aerobics gear—treadmills, bicycles, rowing machines—was a very large television screen tuned to the station I never watch. For an hour I could hardly avoid doing so. The Mueller report had been handed to Attorney General Barr, but all we knew at that moment was that it did not recommend any new indictments. For a solid 60 minutes, the MSNBC presenters went on and on and on saying… absolutely nothing.

Now we know somewhat more about the Mueller investigation’s findings. And it is enough to recognize that it contains… absolutely nothing, however many pages it takes to say it. This morning my mind went back to the screen above me at the gym Saturday: The media are going to puff this Russiagate matter up—adding much to it that is wholly unrelated—in direct proportion to the emptiness of what there is to find or say. As Elizabeth Lea Vos wrote in a Twitter note over the weekend, “Brace yourself.”

Gesture appreciated, but I am not sure I see the need.

I simply cannot grasp how so many in our society think it is productive and beneficial to the commonweal to waste so much time on this fabricated business when there is so much else requiring our attention, our resources, and our hard work.

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MY MIND GOES BACK to those long-ago days when it was more or less universally assumed that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. Her supporters, along with many others claiming to be on “the left”—a term requiring quotation marks in the American case—complained incessantly that Trump supporters would not accept her as president and would cause endless trouble on the streets, in the media, on Capitol Hill, and so on. I have a detailed accounting of the time because I was then preparing to write a brief book on the deeply revealing 2016 political season. What Democrats and others aligned with them anticipated when Clinton won is a precise description of what they have done since Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump.

As predicted in a column published early last week, post–Mueller we are in for this vapid nonsense as long as Trump remains in office. That column is here. “It’s a shame our country had to go through this,” Trump said after the A.G.’s office released Mueller’s essential findings—no collusion with Russia, no conspiracy, no collaboration, no nothing. On this point, one can hardly agree with the president more thoroughly. But it is not over yet by a long way, as many have already observed.

For a couple of years before the Mueller report, I kept wondering with friends, How are the Democrats going to get out of this? They must be looking for a side door. The Russiagate narrative, concocted in mid–2016 when the Democratic National Committee’s mail was pilfered and published, was intended to last about six months. If it were a machine, we would say its design tolerance had to last only until Clinton was elected in November. Given she lost, the Dems have been stuck trying to keep a machine intended to last six months running for nearly three years—vastly beyond its design specifications. And now they find themselves trapped in their own concoctions, even as they grow nearer to collapse by the day. This is my take on how we got here and why we are in for more.

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WHILE I WAS BEGINNING that brief book mentioned above (which may still be worth finishing some day), I gathered my resources in my study. I can look across to my bookshelves now at some of the books I thought would prove germane. They include numerous volumes on crowds and the shaping of public opinion. There are Bernays, of course (Crystallizing Public Opinion, Propaganda), and many others: In no particular order, Crowds and Power, by Elias Canetti; Le Bon’s well-known The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind; Instinct of the Herd in Peace and War, by W. Trotter; The Group Mind, by William McDougall; some Baudrillard, Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. Some of these titles are a little recherché, I confess, but the 2016 campaign season made the behavior of people in groups and crowds a special interest of mine.

I mention this because of remarks a friend with a very good mind made in a conversation over the weekend. We both took some satisfaction in the failure of Mueller’s investigators and prosecutors to turn up anything more than chicken feed. But my friend urged me to temper my view of the outcome. He had two reasons to say this, as follows.

One, while the finding of no collusion destroys one of the two core beliefs of the compulsively anti–Trump segment of our citizenry, we are leaving the more fundamental set of lies to survive as assumed truths. At this moment we ought to be saying, “O.K., no collusion, now let us see about this matter of the alleged Russian hack of the D.N.C.’s mail servers.” Instead, attention now turns to all manner of hocus-pocus, including (a favorite of mine) Russia’s use of Deutsche Bank as a conduit to pass funds to Trump.

In short, the “Russian meddling” story remains intact and widely accepted as established fact, even though it has been convincingly demonstrated to be a concocted narrative to divert attention from what was actually in the D.N.C.’s mail. In this morning’s Times, for example, we read of “Moscow’s determined effort to sabotage the last presidential election” as if this is a truth beyond dispute. It is not. To repeat a point that will be familiar to readers of my columns, the committee’s mail was leaked by an insider, not hacked by Russians or anyone else. Forensic evidence permits no other conclusion.

Two, and maybe more interesting, my friend called my attention to Germany during the Nazi years and said something we all ought to devote some thought to. It has long been common to question how almost an entire population could be taken in such that they were able to block from their minds the gruesome truths of Nazi rule. Over the past three years of Russiagate, my friend suggested, Americans have made of themselves a perfectly legible illustration of precisely how a large proportion of a society can be thusly taken in when the truth sits right in front of them.

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I HAVE NOT READ masses of material published since the Mueller report began to be made public, and I do not intend to. But a faithful reader and supporter sent one piece this morning that is much worth noting. It is by Jonathan Cook, and it is an acutely reasoned analysis of the weekend’s events. Cook titles the piece “Three lessons from the ‘failed’ Mueller inquiry.” I pass it on here. It greatly deserves to be read.

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