KGB, Trump and lying about Lying
Donald Trump’s dismissal of the CIA assessment that the Russians interfered in the US elections is in sync with the post-Truth world that Trump has ushered in
In the 1944 film Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. It was after the release of the film that the term gas-lighting entered the popular lexicon. Circa 2016, the gaslighting that got Donald Trump elected has continued well into the transition. When the Obama administration on Friday formally accused the Russian government of interfering in the elections, Donald Trump dismissed the assertion as if it was a claim made by some insignificant rogue blogger. The claim was coming from the nation’s premier intelligence agency. According to a secret assessment by the CIA, Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The agency told US senators that it had identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who had provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. The leaked emails showed the Democrats in a poor light. The concerted effort of democratic party donors to shepherd Hillary Clinton instead of the more popular Bernie Sanders to victory left a bad taste in the mouth.
Many news commentators were alarmed that Trump had dismissed the prospect of Russian interference so lightly. Then again nothing that Trump does should shock anyone, anymore. It makes sense that Trump, the man who has pioneered the art of political gas-lighting and now refuses to accept basic facts like climate change used to host a reality show called The Apprentice and appear in pro-wrestling events. The Apprentice and pro-wrestling have one thing in common. They are both staged contests passing off as real. Similar to Trump’s version of the truth which asserts that Russia did not intervene in the elections but at the same time is only too happy to spread lies and falsehoods so that they can spawn false progeny of their own.
There are occupations whose primary business is dealing in facts. The principal currency of journalism, history and science is facts. It is not surprising then that it is these very vocations which have come into the sharpest attack in the gas-lighting of the post-Truth era that Donald Trump has ushered in. The halo of truth has dimmed a little bit in a year where Trump rode to victory in an election which was a lie-soaked lost cause. There used to be a time when there was a baseline of facts that everyone could work upwards from. Now that simply does not exist. Facts have become fugacious and unstable to a degree that people will believe anything they are told. Last week a man turned up at a pizzeria in Washington DC and opened fire because he believed that Hillary Clinton was running a sex racket there. The shooter Edgar Madison Welch was a subscriber of Infowars, a website which publishes fake news and conspiracy theories on a regular basis. When fake news becomes ubiquitous, all news becomes suspect and everything begins to look like a lie. In a world where nothing is true, the only choice is to choose between competing fictions. Inevitably people end up consuming news that reinforces their world view.
There is some karmic irony in the fact that the Americans were at the sharp end of stick when it came to external interference. For as long as one can remember the Americans have been trying to foist freedom on unwilling participants.
The USA is not the only country to face the problem of fake news. There was a huge uproar in Berlin when it was reported that a 13 year old school girl had been raped by refugees from Syria. The news turned out to be fake. The German media later reported that the news had been spread by Russian bots looking to destabilise the regime of Angela Merkel. Merkel has been at loggerheads with Russia over its pro-refugee policy and its tough stance on Ukraine. The incident was serious enough for Merkel to comment, “Today we have fake sites, bots, trolls – things that regenerate themselves, reinforcing opinions with certain algorithms, and we have to learn to deal with them.” Some of the blame for fake news lies at the doorstep of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. By refusing to combat the scourge of fake news they have only enabled right-wing propaganda to disseminate at a rate that would not have been possible earlier. Learning to deal with fake news is essential for the health of democracies, whether it be USA, Germany or India. Democracy depends on objectivity, evidence, and facts to inform the political process. Denying facts is akin to being the frog who is being gradually boiled alive in a pan but refuses to escape. Ironically, that metaphor about frogs not trying to escape while being gradually boiled alive is false. Welcome to the post-truth world of Trump and Putin.