Social Media Is Making Us Dumber. Here’s Exhibit A.

The idea that Mr. Pinker, a liberal, Jewish psychology professor, is a fan of a racist, anti-Semitic online movement is absurd on its face, so it might be tempting to roll your eyes and dismiss this blowup as just another instance of social media doing what it does best: generating outrage.

.. What social media is doing is slicing the salami thinner and thinner, as it were, making it harder even for people who are otherwise in general ideological agreement to agree on basic facts about news events.

.. the pernicious social dynamics of these online spaces hammer home the idea that anyone who disagrees with you on any controversial subject, even a little bit, is incorrigibly dumb or evil or suspect. On a wide and expanding range of issues, there’s no such thing as good-faith disagreement.

.. The clip was deeply misleading. If you watch the whole eight-minute video from which it was culled, it’s clear that Mr. Pinker’s entire point is that the alt-right’s beliefs are false and illogical — but that the left needs to do a better job fighting against them.

.. Mr. Pinker saying he agrees with the other panelists (two journalists and a lawyer) that “political correctness has done an enormous amount of harm in the sliver of the population that might be — I wouldn’t want to say ‘persuadable,’ but certainly whose affiliation might be up for grabs.”

.. when members of this group encounter, for the first time, ideas that he believes to be frowned upon or suppressed in liberal circles — that most suicide bombers are Muslim or that members of different racial groups commit crimes at different rates — they are “immediately infected with both the feeling of outrage that these truths are unsayable” and are provided with “no defense against taking them to what we might consider to be rather repellent conclusions.”

.. while at the moment it’s true that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the homicide rate is higher for blacks than for whites, that doesn’t really tell us anything about a group of people since at different times in history, different groups have had elevated crime rates — at one point Irish-Americans did. By that same token, he says, “the majority of domestic terrorism is committed by right-wing extremist groups,” not Muslims.

.. Steven Pinker will be O.K. A fleeting Twitter blowup isn’t going to bruise his long and successful career as a public intellectual. But this is happening more and more — and in many cases to people who don’t have the standing and reputation he does.

.. It’s getting harder and harder to talk about anything controversial online without every single utterance of an opinion immediately being caricatured by opportunistic outrage-mongers, at which point everyone, afraid to be caught exposed in the skirmish that’s about to break out, rushes for the safety of their ideological battlements, where they can safely scream out their righteousness in unison. In this case: “Steven Pinker said the alt-right is good! But the alt-right is bad! We must defend this principle!”

This is making us dumber.

Foreign spies are watching — and probably targeting — Fox News Channel

So if I were a spymaster in the employ of a hostile foreign service, I’d devote some significant effort to penetrating one specific private institution: Fox News Channel.

.. It’s no secret that Fox News — specifically, shows such as “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” — have outsize influence on the inner workings of how certain policies are carried out by the U.S. government.

.. Mediate recently argued that the most influential people working in the media today are “Fox & Friends” hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt, because “they have captured the President’s attention — which often then gets tweeted and covered by the media — the topics they cover essentially set the national agenda for the rest of the day.”

.. When Fox News broadcasts, the president often reacts impulsively. His tweet threatening North Korea with his “Nuclear Button” at 7:49 p.m. last Tuesday appeared to have been spurredby a Fox News segment on the very same topic that occurred 12 minutes beforehand

.. The Kremlin has indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin reads Trump’s tweets and views them as official White House statements. Pakistan recently summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to account for Trump’s tweet bashing what he called the country’s “lies & deceit.”

.. Trump’s unfiltered Twitter feed provides world intelligence operatives with “a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind” — traits to be exploited in further dealings on the global stage.

.. A truly aggressive intelligence effort would not just monitor what’s being said on the network. It would target the on-air talent, as well as the folks behind the scenes who make the network’s programming possible: producers, bookers, associate producers, production assistants and the like.

..  Trump reportedly calls Sean Hannity after his show. If hostile foreign services compromise Hannity’s phone (or place a listening device in the room where Hannity takes his private calls), that could provide real-time intelligence on the American president and his thoughts.

.. For Russian intelligence, a systematic effort to threaten, coerce and co-opt journalists is a decades-old practice.

.. Kalugin wrote that the KGB’s Tumanov helped spread rumors and disinformation within Radio Liberty for years, turning staff against each other and identifying further potential targets for recruitment. He even had a hand in the bombing of Radio Liberty’s headquarters in Munich in 1981.

.. Compared to government workers, Fox employees would make easy targets.

.. Also, it’s television — full of trade secrets, big personalities and titanic egos. Most wouldn’t expect to be compromised by a hostile intelligence power, especially on American soil.

.. Few, if any, have the sort of counterintelligence training the U.S. government administers to people in sensitive positions

.. One of the major rationales for Putin’s behavior is to cause chaos, ultimately weakening and undermining his American adversaries. It’s his real long game.

 

s Trump has already authored his own tell-all

Trump is damaged most, not by sabotage, but by self-revelation.

.. The president has recently taunted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for “racing the clock to retire with full benefits,”

  1. attacked the “Deep State Justice Department,” taken credit for the lack of commercial airline crashes,
  2. urged“Jail!” for former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, called for the sacking of two journalists,
  3. claimed the news media will eventually “let me win” reelection to keep up their ratings,
  4. displayed a sputtering inability to describe his own health-care reform plan,
  5. claimed that a cold snap disproves global warming,
  6. boasted of having “a much bigger & more powerful” nuclear button than Kim Jong Un,
  7. tried to prevent the publication of Wolff’s book,
  8. and insisted he is “like, really smart” and “a very stable genius.”

.. More likely, Trump is exhibiting a set of compulsions and delusions that have characterized his entire adult life. You can’t have declining judgment that never existed. You can’t lose a grasp on reality you never possessed. What is most striking is not Trump’s disintegration but his utter consistency.

.. If the secret tape of a president threatening a private citizen with jail were leaked, it would be a scandal. With Trump, it is just part of his shtick.

.. The president’s defenders, in perpetual pursuit of the bright side, argue for the value of unpredictability in political leadership — which is true enough. But Trump is not unpredictable. He is predictable in ways that make him vulnerable to exploitation.

He is easy to flatter, easy to provoke and thus easy to manipulate.

.. The Chinese have made an art of this

.. “I like very much President Xi,” Trump has said. “He treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China.” Contrast this with Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has treated Trump like an adult with arguments and criticism. Big mistake.

.. Trump has revealed a thick streak of authoritarianism. “I have [an] absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,” he insists.

  • .. “Libel laws are very weak in this country,”
  • Rivals are not only to be defeated; they should be imprisoned.
  • Critics are not to be refuted; they should be fired.
  • Investigations are not to be answered; they should be shut down.

.. we are depending on the strength of those institutions, not the self-restraint of the president, to safeguard democracy.

.. At the beginning, they could engage in wishful thinking about Trump’s fitness. Now they must know he is not emotionally equipped to be president. Yet, they also know this can’t be admitted, lest they be accused of letting down their partisan team.

.. GOP leaders are engaged in an intentional deception, pretending the president is a normal and capable leader.

.. they will, eventually, be exposed. And by then, the country may not be in a forgiving mood.

 

The Decline of Anti-Trumpism

First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by.

Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

.. Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals

.. there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation.

Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss.

.. The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him.

.. gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.

.. The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism.

 .. “For Wolff’s book, the truth seems almost a secondary concern to what really matters: engagement.”
.. In every war, nations come to resemble their enemies, so I suppose it’s normal that the anti-Trump movement would come to resemble the pro-Trump movement
.. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?
.. There’s a hierarchy of excellence in every sphere. There’s a huge difference between William F. Buckley and Sean Hannity, between the reporters at this newspaper and a rumor-spreader. Part of this struggle is to maintain those distinctions, not to contribute to their evisceration.