Andrew Rosenthal is the newest op-ed contributor. He writes about just about anything that intrigues him. Today, in “To Understand Trump, Learn Russian,” he says the language has two words for truth, and it’s time for Americans to learn them. Prof. Krugman, in “Useful Idiots Galore,” says Russia got lots of help in the United States hacking the election. Here’s Mr. Rosenthal:
The Russian language has two words for truth — a linguistic quirk that seems relevant to our current political climate, especially because of all the disturbing ties between the newly elected president and the Kremlin.
The word for truth in Russian that most Americans know is “pravda” — the truth that seems evident on the surface. It’s subjective and infinitely malleable, which is why the Soviet Communists called their party newspaper “Pravda.” Despots, autocrats and other cynical politicians are adept at manipulating pravda to their own ends.
But the real truth, the underlying, cosmic, unshakable truth of things is called “istina” in Russian. You can fiddle with the pravda all you want, but you can’t change the istina.
For the Trump team, the pravda of the 2016 election is that not all Trump voters are explicitly racist. But the istina of the 2016 campaign is that Trump’s base was heavily dependent on racists and xenophobes, Trump basked in and stoked their anger and hatred, and all those who voted for him cast a ballot for a man they knew to be a racist, sexist xenophobe. That was an act of racism.
Trump’s team took to Twitter with lightning speed recently to sneer at the conclusion by all 17 intelligence agencies that the Kremlin hacked Democratic Party emails for the specific purpose of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. Trump said the intelligence agencies got it wrong about Iraq, and that someone else could have been responsible for the hack and that the Democrats were just finding another excuse for losing.
The istina of this mess is that powerful evidence suggests that the Russians set out to interfere in American politics, and that Trump, with his rejection of Western European alliances and embrace of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was their chosen candidate.
The pravda of Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of state is that by choosing an oil baron who has made billions for his company by collaborating with Russia, Trump will make American foreign policy beholden to American corporate interests.
That’s bad enough, but the istina is far worse. For one thing, American foreign policy has been in thrall to American corporate interests since, well, since there were American corporations. Just look at the mess this country created in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East to serve American companies.
Yes, Tillerson has ignored American interests repeatedly, including in Russia and Iraq, and has been trying to remove sanctions imposed after Russia’s seizure of Crimea because they interfered with one of his many business deals. But take him out of the equation in the Trump cabinet and nothing changes. Trump has made it plain, with every action he takes, that he is going to put every facet of policy, domestic and foreign, at the service of corporate America. The istina here is that Tillerson is just a symptom of a much bigger problem.
The pravda is that Trump was right in saying that the intelligence agencies got it wrong about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.
But the istina is that Trump’s contempt for the intelligence services is profound and dangerous. He’s not getting daily intelligence briefings anymore, apparently because they are just too dull to hold his attention.
And now we know that Condoleezza Rice was instrumental in bringing Tillerson to Trump’s attention. As national security adviser and then secretary of state for president George W. Bush, Rice was not just wrong about Iraq, she helped fabricate the story that Hussein had nuclear weapons.
Trump and Tillerson clearly think they are a match for the wily and infinitely dangerous Putin, but as they move foward with their plan to collaborate with Russia instead of opposing its imperialist tendencies, they might keep in mind another Russian saying, this one from Lenin.
“There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience,” he wrote. “A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”
Putin has that philosophy hard-wired into his political soul. When it comes to using scoundrels to get what he wants, he is a professional, and Trump is only an amateur. That is the istina of the matter.
He does seem to be a real fan of the useless link… And now here’s Prof. Krugman:
On Wednesday an editorial in The Times described Donald Trump as a “useful idiot” serving Russian interests. That may not be exactly right. After all, useful idiots are supposed to be unaware of how they’re being used, but Mr. Trump probably knows very well how much he owes to Vladimir Putin. Remember, he once openly appealed to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Still, the general picture of a president-elect who owes his position in part to intervention by a foreign power, and shows every sign of being prepared to use U.S. policy to reward that power, is accurate.
But let’s be honest: Mr. Trump is by no means the only useful idiot in this story. As recent reporting by The Times makes clear, bad guys couldn’t have hacked the U.S. election without a lot of help, both from U.S. politicians and from the news media.
Let me explain what I mean by saying that bad guys hacked the election. I’m not talking about some kind of wild conspiracy theory. I’m talking about the obvious effect of two factors on voting: the steady drumbeat of Russia-contrived leaks about Democrats, and only Democrats, and the dramatic, totally unjustified last-minute intervention by the F.B.I., which appears to have become a highly partisan institution, with distinct alt-right sympathies.
Does anyone really doubt that these factors moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent? If they did, they made the difference in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and therefore handed Mr. Trump the election, even though he received almost three million fewer total votes. Yes, the election was hacked.
By the way, people who respond to this observation by talking about mistakes in Clinton campaign strategy are missing the point, and continuing their useful idiocy. All campaigns make mistakes. Since when do these mistakes excuse subversion of an election by a foreign power and a rogue domestic law enforcement agency?
So why did the subversion work?
It’s important to realize that the postelection C.I.A. declaration that Russia had intervened on behalf of the Trump campaign was a confirmation, not a revelation (although we’ve now learned that Mr. Putin was personally involved in the effort).
The pro-Putin tilt of Mr. Trump and his advisers was obvious months before the election — I wrote about it in July. By midsummer the close relationship between WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence was also obvious, as was the site’s growing alignment with white nationalists.
Did Republican politicians, so big on flag waving and impugning their rivals’ patriotism, reject this foreign aid to their cause? No, they didn’t. In fact, as far as I can tell, no major Republican figure was even willing to criticize Mr. Trump when he directly asked Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has long been obvious — except, apparently, to the news media — that the modern G.O.P. is a radical institution that is ready to violate democratic norms in the pursuit of power. Why should the norm of not accepting foreign assistance be any different?
The bigger surprise was the behavior of the news media, and I don’t mean fake news; I mean big, prestigious organizations. Leaked emails, which everyone knew were probably the product of Russian hacking, were breathlessly reported as shocking revelations, even when they mostly revealed nothing more than the fact that Democrats are people.
Meanwhile, the news media dutifully played up the Clinton server story, which never involved any evidence of wrongdoing, but merged in the public mind into the perception of a vast “email” scandal when there was nothing there.
And then there was the Comey letter. The F.B.I. literally found nothing at all. But the letter dominated front pages and TV coverage, and that coverage — by news organizations that surely knew that they were being used as political weapons — was almost certainly decisive on Election Day.
So as I said, there were a lot of useful idiots this year, and they made the election hack a success.
Now what? If we’re going to have any hope of redemption, people will have to stop letting themselves be used the way they were in 2016. And the first step is to admit the awful reality of what just happened.
That means not trying to change the subject to campaign strategy, which is a legitimate topic but has no bearing on the question of electoral subversion. It means not making excuses for news coverage that empowered that subversion.
And it means not acting as if this was a normal election whose result gives the winner any kind of a mandate, or indeed any legitimacy beyond the bare legal requirements. It might be more comfortable to pretend that things are O.K., that American democracy isn’t on the edge. But that would be taking useful idiocy to the next level.