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I promised in early September that I would return regularly to post updates on the book to which many of you contributed. I have, again, been lax about doing this. It is troubling my conscience. I am sure some of you are wondering why, and I’m sure some of you have guessed exactly why.
The reason is exactly what some of you must suspect. I am in such profound disagreement with so many of you about the Trump presidency — and particularly about the significance of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — that I’ve come to feel deeply alienated from you.
A yawning and bitter chasm now separates Americans. As thousands of journalists and pundits have by now remarked, we seem to inhabit two epistemic universes. We do not agree on facts, let alone our interpretation of those facts.
I am in the camp that many here now view as the enemy camp. I believe not only that Donald Trump is inherently unfit to be president, but that it is highly likely that he wittingly and illegally colluded with Russia’s efforts to swing the election in his favor, that these efforts probably did swing the election, and that this is preventing him from now acting in the American interest in critical ways.
I believe that Russia has attacked our country with the intention of destroying it. I believe we, and the world, are in great peril because of this.
This is a view significantly at odds with the majority view on Ricochet.
I don’t want to rehearse, here, all the reasons I believe this. The point of this post is to explain, first, why I’ve been reluctant to post or join discussions recently. It’s also to give you an update on the book, where I do offer the reasons for these beliefs, in detail. I explicitly connect Americans’ recent political experiences to those of other countries that have come, in the past decade, to be similarly divided.
But my arguments aren’t suitable for a post on Ricochet. They really do take a book to make. I’m reassured by this, because as you’ll recall, I was at first unsure that what I had on my hands was really a book. My first draft too much resembled a series of Ricochet posts, strung together. Now, I can say that the manuscript is coherent. It advances a thesis about what, precisely, is happening to established liberal democracies in the 21st century, and why it is happening. There is a chapter devoted to Russia’s role in this. I do not argue that Russia’s role is the whole explanation. But I do argue it is a significant part of the explanation.
These aren’t arguments I can reduce to the length of a Tweet or a blog post, but they are arguments I desperately want you to hear and understand. On many occasions in the past few weeks, I’ve wanted to just hit “publish” on the manuscript and have it all out there. I’ve thought, “That’s enough, this book is done, people need to read this now.” I’ve been emotional. I’ve been frustrated that our national debate seems to be missing so much evidence from events overseas, evidence that is so significant. I’ve wanted to make my arguments, at last, instead of saying, “Wait for the book.”
But I haven’t done it. I know that my arguments, even if by now they’re in pretty good shape, won’t instantly transform this debate. That’s a narcissistic fantasy. If I write this book very well, and very carefully, there is a chance it may slightly inform or shape public opinion. It may help a few people better to view our domestic problems in their international context. It might offer a few people a way of looking at our situation that’s helpful to them.
But I do not think this manuscript would have even that impact if I press “publish” now. It would be too easy to attack and dismiss, because it’s still too sloppy. It is repetitive in parts, unclear in others, emotional in places where it should be cool in tone, and in some places cool in tone — boring, that is — where it absolutely can’t afford to be. I’ve not yet subjected all of my sources to sufficient scrutiny. Nor have I been rigorous enough in my fact-checking. I’ve written too much in haste, and too much in anger. It is so easy to dismiss someone’s arguments if they make careless errors — to say, “See, what does she know about this?” — and I don’t want that to happen to my book.
So that’s what’s going on. The book is going very well. I have a clear thesis. I am on schedule. I know what I wish the book to accomplish.
And I fear you will hate it. And I feel very, very conflicted and bad about this, so much so that I haven’t been around much.
But here is the other thing. I believe — and argue, in this book — that the extent to which we have been divided into two warring camps with irreconcilable views is, in part, the product of Russian information warfare. Not in whole — it only works because the divisions are real to begin with. But that is its aim. Russia’s doctrines are widely known. This is just how they’ve done it elsewhere. This is a textbook case.
I agree with Clint Watts in his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Please read the whole thing, but he concludes with these words:
It’s been more than a year since my colleagues and I described in writing how the Russian disinformation system attacked our American democracy. We’ve all learned considerably more since then about the Kremlin’s campaigns, witnessed their move to France and Germany and now watch as the world’s worst regimes duplicate their methods. Yet our country remains stalled in observation, halted by deliberation and with each day more divided by manipulative forces coming from afar. The U.S. government, social media companies, and democracies around the world don’t have any more time to wait. In conclusion, civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.
I believe this happened; I believe we are in danger because of it. Most of you don’t. That’s a big divide.
But for years, I happily thought of the members of Ricochet as my friends. I really enjoyed our daily conversations. I agreed with many of you about most things, and when I didn’t agree, felt that we could discuss our disagreements like adults. I felt, warmly, that you were my people — Americans (mostly) with common sense, people who looked at the world basically the way I did.
Now I feel otherwise. Now I feel deeply estranged from most of the American Right.
Now, oddly, this is almost exactly the feeling I had about the American Left in the wake of September 11. The Left seemed determined to deny the significance of what had happened, to argue that this was the natural consequence of our foreign policy, that we’d just got what was coming to us for meddling in places we had no business. A large part of America seemed to me unwilling to confront reality: Whether or not we “had it coming,” we sure had an enemy that meant to destroy us. We had to decide whether we would let that happen.
What do I conclude from this? Well, first, that I go berserk when my country’s attacked. I go stark-raving berserk. I have a history under such circumstances of becoming deeply alienated from other people in my country who react differently, who take such things more in stride–who believe, perhaps, that such things happen inevitably to powerful countries, and perhaps even that we do have them coming, from time to time–that this is the price of being a superpower. I have a history of becoming alienated from people who insist that it isn’t so easy to destroy the United States, so perhaps we ought not overreact, to the point of mocking and even demonizing those people in print, to the point of seeing them as enemies within.
But in retrospect, some of the people who said, “We ought not overreact” to 9/11 seem to me to have been right–they were not quite the moral cretins or the quislings I imagined them to be at the time. Some of the people who said, “The whole point of this is to provoke us into overreaction” were, in fact, right. I was wrong to think that everyone who said such things was blithely indifferent to the magnitude of the atrocity or incapable of grasping what it said about the nature and determination of our enemy. Some of them surely were indifferent or uncomprehending. But some of them were simply more strategic, more sensible, and wiser than I was.
What does this mean, in turn? It means that I should entertain the idea that people who disagree with me about the seriousness of this event might not be crazy. Perhaps I am–for the second time–overreacting. I don’t think I am, but I’ve done it once, so I might be.
There’s another parallel. All those cliches to the effect that “You can’t let yourself be terrorized because if you do, the terrorists win,” are grounded in the reality that yes, that is indeed exactly the point of terrorism. If you give in to it, you assist terrorists in their goals and you create incentives for them to do it again. Likewise, if I and people like me allow ourselves to be divided from our friends by Russian information warfare, Russia wins — and so does every other hostile actor in the world who sees how easy it is to divide us, and how much bang you can get for your information-warfare buck.
No, our disagreements in America are not only about Russia. But they are enough about Russia that my obstinacy kicks in: I refuse to react exactly the way the Kremlin want me to. I want to stay friends with my friends. The better angels of my nature tell me clearly that no, we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Right now, I disagree with most of you, profoundly, about the most significant political issues of our era. That is awkward. That is not how I expected things to be, at all. But it’s reality.
So I will continue to make my case against many of your ideas–although I’ll do it in a book, not here–but I will not make a case against you. I do not and will not accept the idea that Americans who don’t agree with me are deplorable. I will not allow Russia — or Trump — to turn you, my friends, into my enemies.
I’ve been too fond of too many of you for too long for that to make any sense.