Thursday, December 28, 2017

Russian Hacking and the "Permanent Emergency"

Sometimes I find a book, article, or poem that provides a catharsis because it so resonates with my analysis of, and emotional tenor towards, some critical issue of the day.

The following analysis of the Russian Hacking meme by Jackson Lears is one of those cathartic essays.  One must read it in full to appreciate the full scope of his analysis but I will except a brief passage here:
Lears, Jackson (2018, January). What we don’t talk about when we talk about Russian hacking. London Review of Books 40(1), 15-18. Available

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence....

....It’s hard for me to understand how the Democratic Party, which once felt scepticism towards the intelligence agencies, can now embrace the CIA and the FBI as sources of incontrovertible truth. One possible explanation is that Trump’s election has created a permanent emergency in the liberal imagination, based on the belief that the threat he poses is unique and unprecedented....

Lears' argument holds that Russian hacking meme has become a foundational mythos without critical reflection on the evidence supporting its assumptions, particularly the assumption that the Russians caused the Democratic Party's election loss and that the Russians are US enemies:

Besides Trump’s supposed uniqueness, there are two other assumptions behind the furore in Washington: the first is that the Russian hack unquestionably occurred, and the second is that the Russians are our implacable enemies
Learns observes that the Russian hacking meme is being promoted in ways that do not allow evidence or critique to test its assumptions. Most importantly, the meme deflects attention from the Democratic Party's own failures that drove away voters from their ticket, especially the party's elevation of elite interests over the traditional concerns of workers.

The Russian hacking meme is not innocent and its solution frame is concerning. I've discussed on this blog my concerns about how this Russian hacking meme is being used to "reign in" the chaos of the Web 2.0 (i.e., user-generated content) web-environment.

I've noted that rather than promoting greater transparency by posters and critical analysis by readers, the Russian hacking meme elevates CENSORSHIP as its solution frame. 

I am not dismissing Russian manipulation and propaganda. I have no doubt that the Russians are engaged in the same sorts of Internet duplicity pursued by a wide array of trolls and shills hired by corporations and governments to control public opinion.

Thus, although its clear that sites such as Facebook and aggregator sites such as SOTT include "news" articles and human interests stories designed by shills and trolls to fragment political solidarity, the Russians are simply adopting a time-tested strategy in an already crowded battlefield.  

Moreover, the effectiveness of propaganda is ultimately conditioned by public receptivity.  Susceptibility to polarizing discourses doesn't occur in a vacuum. The material conditions of day-to-day existence shape discursive susceptibilities and mobilizations.

I agree with Lears that the "permanent emergency" is not quite what it seems. I believe Trump's election was caused less by Russian hacking, than it was created by neoliberal and neoconservative "reforms" aimed at de-regulating finance and trade while shifting societal risks to individuals (promoted by both Democrats and Republicans).

Declining opportunities have created the conditions of possibility for revolutions of rising expectations. I've documented these shifts and the escalating financial, environmental, and social crises deriving from them in my published monographs, especially Governmentality, Biopower, and Everyday Life, Governing Childhood, and Crisis Communications, Liberal Democracy, and Ecological Sustainability.

To blame the election of the frightening nihilist Trump on the Russians is to erase the material day-to-day conditions of discontent that were wrought by the crisis of late capitalism and the neoliberal and neoconservative regimes of government that sought "reform"benefiting elite interests.

The Republic Party as far back as the 1980s seized on growing discontent among white populations and signified its cause in relation to social-welfare, liberals, feminisists, and non-white populations. Russian propaganda simply adopted the chain of signifiers already put into play by Rove and his followers.

Hence, in the propaganda blame game for the election of Trump I would personally trace the current politics of white resentment back decades to Karl Rove's efforts to grow and unify conservatives (see here). I would trace the conditions of possibility for public discontent and divisiveness to economic "reforms" pursued by both parties with little regard for their impacts on everyday people and communities.

The Internet does need better transparency and audiences need to be trained in critical thinking skills from Kindergarten all the way up the education ladder. What we don't need is NEWSPEAK and false memes designed to deflect attention from our material realities.


  1. The corporate democrats and even some republicans support the russian hack meme. It is the worst propaganda. All for neoconservative intervetionist glory. Trump is persueing the things he mpst accused his opponent of. Giving arms to ukraine and bombing Syria. By lghting a fire in the middle east and demandin Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is all like a game, with no sense of reality. It is sad because certainly unwholesome and criminal elements in the Russia oligarchy were and are manipulating american government. They were and still are trying to set the world on fire by nuclear weapon proliferation. Flynn was negotiating dozens of nuclear reactors with the Russians in the worst most unnecessary places possible. Trump still is, so the 1% grows exponentially richer.
    Our government is not a democracy. Our government is so disingenuous and detached, it will not go after Trump for his real crimes, which are getting to be too numerous to keep track of. He is after all the worst criminal, crazy, racist incompetent, president in American history. A pathological liar. Many oligarchs and the military on the Russian and american sides love the Russian hacking meme. Money and Job security.

  2. Thiw iw the tip of the iceberg for Trump. In a democracy, a man like Trump would never be elected president. Trump would have been out as president several months ago.
    1. Jeff Sessions lied under oath,saying he never met with any Russian official during the Trump presidential campaign. He met the Russian ambassador twice. The GOP impeached Bill Clinton for perjury in what was a minor personal matter, but stand by Sessions despite his perjury regarding a matter of national security. Mueller should indict.
    2. Scott Pruitt met with the CEO of Dow Chemical last spring. Twenty days later, he decided not to ban Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide from being sprayed on food. The problem with chlorpyrifos is that it can have a negative impact on brain development in fetuses and small children.
    3. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke swung a $300 mn. contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid to a tiny company on the verge of bankruptcy with two employees, Whitefish, which happens to be based in Zinke’s home town. That is corruption pure and simple. Puerto Rico has annulled the contract, quite rightly.
    4. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also allegedly perjured himself when he denied that the company he headed, OneWest, engaged in robo-signing (backdating mortgage documents and forging them) even though there are substantial indications that the company did so. Mnuchin is the reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge. He actually made people homeless for being 27 cents behind on their mortgage. Now he is seeking one of the largest transfers of wealth to the US rich since the days of Andrew Carnegie.
    5. When he was Secretary of Health and Human Services and flying around on million dollar flights at taxpayer expense, Tom Price alsospent money earmarked by federal law for encouraging people to sign up for Obamacare on negative ads attempting to discourage them from doing so. Just because Price is out of office doesn’t mean he can’t be indicted. What could be lower than trying to take away people’s health care insurance?
    6. Despite promises that he would avoid investments that raised red flags about foreign influence while he was president, Trump is looking at deals in India. If the Indian government of PM Narendra Modi grants these licenses, worth a substantial amount of money, won’t that be an emolument of the sort banned by the constitution?

    From Juan Cole

    1. Fortunately the US is a Republic with some democratic aspects.

  3. Trumps whole presidency and election is based on NEWSPEAK and false memes designed to deflect attention from our material realities.


  4. In 1987 NSW Australia Rejected Trump Casino Bid Due To Trump Mafia Connections-Doubts About Financial Viability

    28ThursdayDec 2017

    Over 30 years ago, NSW Australia rejected Trump’s bid to build a casino due to his mafia connections and doubts about financial viability: “Atlantic City would be a dubious model for Sydney and in our judgment, the Trump mafia connections should exclude the Kern/Trump consortium ….
    CIBC expresses doubts about the financial viability of HKMS and Kern/Trump.” Notice their apparent certainty in the matter.

  5. US Nuclear Tests killed far more people than we know

    Bo Jacobs

  6. Dear Dr. Nadesan
    I hope you will view this link. It is quite relevent, to you and, so many of us.

  7. "[T]he frightening nihilist Trump"?
    " Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy. While few philosophers would claim to be nihilists, nihilism is most often associated with Friedrich Nietzsche who argued that its corrosive effects would eventually destroy all moral, religious, and metaphysical convictions and precipitate the greatest crisis in human history. In the 20th century, nihilistic themes--epistemological failure, value destruction, and cosmic purposelessness--have preoccupied artists, social critics, and philosophers. Mid-century, for example, the existentialists helped popularize tenets of nihilism in their attempts to blunt its destructive potential. By the end of the century, existential despair as a response to nihilism gave way to an attitude of indifference, often associated with antifoundationalism." You might make a case for Angela Merkel though as her immigration policy must be frightening for German women.

    1. Now it does seem to me that Western European is suffering from nihilism. Once very safe and clean nations are capitulating to Muslim immigrants. Apparently our ersatz liberals would like to see the same thing in America. Nihilism or mental illness?

  8. There are no conservatives and liberals, as some try to frame it. There are exploiters, who believe they deserve more. They are angry, hateful, greedy, and envious people. These people have little humanity. They cast others, as less than human, for their own psychotic ambitions. They never have enough, and always want more. Usually large gulpers, who have no conception of humanity or, sustainability. They would not believe they have feet, unless they can see them all the time. Then there are the rest of us.


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