The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. — H.L. Mencken
For more than 70 years now, politicians have managed to frighten the populace with the hobgoblin of the Red Menace. It faded after the fall of the Soviet Union but has made a full-fledged revival in recent years, although now it’s at the hands of the party that spent most of my lifetime previously pooh-poohing the notion.
The late Joe McCarthy would be pleased with today’s Democratic Party. He peddled xenophobia about Russian interference in the American government with such zeal they named an “ism” after him. But now they have fully dedicated themselves to leading an alarmed populace to safety from this biggest of imaginary hobgoblins.
I heard it again the other day, this time a social media expert – speaking about effective use of social media on a podcast I follow – dropping as an aside the “fact” of how Russian manipulation through Facebook ads turned the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election and enabled the election of Donald Trump as president. People just won’t let go of the myth.
As someone who watched the U.S. election with gaunt horror, wondering what went wrong with a system that lifted such candidates to the top of the major parties, I guarantee that the Russians didn’t change anyone’s mind.
The U.S. of A. has become so polarized about its politics that from the moment the two finalists became known, sides were chosen and lines were drawn and – most important – nobody switched. You could have held the election in August and gotten the same result.
I have not met a single human being who said, “You know, I really was leaning toward voting for Hillary Clinton but then I saw a bunch of stuff on Facebook and voted for Trump instead.” It didn’t happen.
Either you bought Trump’s shtick, or you bought Clinton’s. There was no in-between. No one was “leaning” toward one or the other, because they were polar opposites.
Trump’s every other statement almost seemed designed to make his political adversaries double down on their opposition, and Clinton famously united her opposition with her condescending comment that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic – Islamophobic – you name it.”
In the same speech, Clinton described the other half as “people who feel the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures; and they’re just desperate for change.” But people opposed to Clinton didn’t hear that part of the speech; all they heard was that she dismissed them as racists, sexists, homophobics, xenophobes and Islamophobes – and after an insult of that magnitude, they weren’t going to change their minds.
But they weren’t going to change their minds anyway, and that’s my point. Russians didn’t turn voters against Hillary Clinton; Hillary did. Russians didn’t turn voters against Trump; the Donald did.
(For what it’s worth, I didn’t vote for either of them. I filled in my ballot for the Libertarian Party candidate, and even the Libertarians managed to field one of their weakest candidates ever – it was as if no one wanted to give voters someone worth supporting.)
Trump’s adversaries don’t really believe in the Russian menace, but they know it’s an effective way to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) and so delay or defeat anything Trump attempts to accomplish.