The Trolling of the American Mind

The real scandal involves the Russian hacking operation against the Democratic National Committee. This was a genuine crime, a meaningful theft, which led to a series of leaks that were touted by the Republican nominee for president often enough that we can assume that Donald Trump, at least, thought they contributed something to his victory. The fact that members of his family and inner circle were willing and eager to meet with Russians promising hacked emails, the pattern of lies and obfuscation from the president and his team thereafter, and the general miasma of Russian corruption hanging around Trump campaign staff — all of this more than justifies Robert Mueller’s investigation, and depending on what his team ultimately reports it might even justify impeachment.

.. the broader ambition of widening our internal fissures, inflaming our debates, making our imperium more ungovernable at home and thus weaker on the global stage.

.. Such conduct is certainly worthy of indictment, legal and rhetorical. What it is not worth is paranoia and hysteria, analogies to Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 attacks, and an “America under attack”/“hacking our democracy” panic that give the Russian trolls far too much credit for cleverness and influence and practical success.
.. Because on the evidence we have, nothing they did particularly mattered. The D.N.C. hack was genuinely important because it involved a real theft and introduced a variable into the campaign that would not otherwise have been present. But the rest of the Russian effort did not introduce anything to the American system
.. The protests and counterprotests they ginned up after the election were marginal imitations of the all-American crowds that showed up for Trump rallies and later for the Women’s Marches.
.. on the evidence we have most fake news is political pornography for hyperpartisans — toxic in its own way, deserving of concern, but something driven more by panting, already polarized demand
.. the people obsessing about how Russian influence is supposedly driving polarization and mistrust risk becoming like J. Edgar Hoover-era G-men convinced that Communist subversives were the root cause of civil rights era protest and unrest.
.. the proper question should still be: How was it that close to begin with?
.. Should this re-emergent nationalism be conciliated and co-opted, its economic grievances answered and some compromises made to address its cultural and moral claims?

Or is it sufficiently noxious and racist and destructive that it can be only crushed, through gradual demographic weight or ruthless polarized mobilization?

.. it does us no good to pretend the real blow came from outside our borders, when it was clearly a uniquely hot moment in our own cold civil war.