Sunday, July 21, 2019

MUELLER'S EXPECTED DRYNESS ALREADY KINDLING SPARKS

By Dominique Paul Noth


The Internet brims with podcasts delving deep into Robert
Mueller's findings.
Trump by his mere presence in the White House has placed the American voter in a moral dilemma. The worst fears of his opponents – that he’s an imposter -- sound like the crazy conspiracy theories of his rally followers.

In conversation with Trump detesters, many are now convinced there are enough racists and ignorant people in the US to explain his presence in the White House. Some don’t want to believe that white privilege and fear of the brown and black is that deep in our psyche, but others believe it fervently.

But then there is the growing evidence of the Mueller Report.  The special counsel is set to testify Sept. 24 while the Internet is aflood with podcasts from people who have actually read the report and weighed its implications.  Among the best is one from Lawfare, a distinguished legal blog since 2010 whose first episode in entitled “Active Measures” for the Russian term for its cold war style methods of attack.

I hope everyone listens to Mueller’s House testimony yet don’t expect him to draw a simple road map for the unthinking. He clearly believes his report has outlined his findings and explains his limitations as a dutiful member of the Justice Department, which has opined (to my personal dismay) that a sitting president can’t easily (some say ever) be criminally indicted.

Mueller, a lifelong Republican, is hardly bringing a flaming hot partisan poker to his testimony and will probably invite America to absorb his report, as Lawfare clearly has done.

But a cogent reading throws in doubt whether Trump would have won without Russian propaganda – as hard as that is for even voters who don’t like him to admit. Clearly, when Putin started his disinformation campaign against US voters – taking advantage among other things of the popularity and immediacy of the Internet on millions – Trump was nowhere in his mind.  But certainly by 2015 the propaganda direction had switched to support Trump over Hillary Clinton, whose stern warnings to Putin when US secretary of state under Obama still rankled Putin. 

Mueller details an astounding degree of Russian involvement but he was also dealing with legal realities that allowed him to charge some Americans and many Russians but not the president.  He also refused to clear Trump of criminal obstruction in other dealings.

Now no one will ever prove beyond reasonable doubt that Trump won 63 million voters in 2016 by crook more than hook. None of these voters will probably ever admit they were duped and most of his opposition (who have some other weird political explanations for the results) would rather blame Democratic Party leaders than the Russians.

But millions of US citizens were clearly bombarded with views on Hillary that don’t pass muster in the light of day. Millions were subjected to rallies and messages that sounded American, supported Trump with lies -- and could have affected their opinions in the voting booth.

And yet, and yet  those who oppose Trump and suggest his election was tainted tend to sound like conspiracy theorists of their own, like the people who still think Saddam Hussein bombed the towers or believe Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar supported Isis.

We are a-sea in a loony world of attitudes and extremes that lend credence to our Founding Fathers’ concern that education was the key to a winning democracy – “if you can keep it,” as Benjamin Franklin warned.

Psychologists are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect and it suggests some fascinating connections to today’s conundrum. “Dunning-Kruger” is a type of cognitive bias, where people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise and the ability to pass judgment on others. This overestimation occurs because they don’t have enough knowledge to know they don’t have enough knowledge. “Not only do they fail to recognize their incompetence,” the effect’s scientists explained in 1999, “they’re also likely to feel confident that they actually are competent.”

It sounds contradictory as does Catch 22 (based on a 1961 war novel but often described as the belief you have to have money to make money, just true enough to sound convincing).   Dunning-Kruger has been extensively explored in psychological terms in the workplace but a recent story in Psychology Today suggests it should also be “studied in one of the most obvious and important realms: political knowledge.”

If it is studied in connection with reading and thinking about the Mueller Report, Trump’s support base will be confronted by some harsh truths. The rest of us can argue about who should succeed him and whether the Democrats have their own Dunning-Kruger groupies.  But replace him we must.


About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his DomsDomain dual culture and politics outlets.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.


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