Character, Party, and Power

David Rush

9 Nov 2016/18 July 2018

Note the dateline. I was going to write a long piece on the election of Donald Trump in the days immediately following his Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton, but apparently I was some combination of too busy and depressed to actually get down to it. In light of recent events, most notably Robert Mueller’s Russian indictments and Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin, I finally have enough rage to write. This is not the same post I had in mind in the immediate shadow of that disastrous election, but it has the same theme: Character Matters.

I am going to piss everyone off. But I’m also going to make you wait for it. In the 2016 presidential election,“We the People of the United States” committed multiple acts of self-harm and it is important that we look at them closely so that we never do it again. Let’s start by looking at the basic logic of the Russian/Trump conspiracy to suborn the Executive branch, shall we?

It’s late September 2016. Trump is an incompetent buffoon, who has some skills at rabble rousing which he honed in gladiatoral world of professional wrestling. There is no way he could get elected on his own, and Clinton is probably going to win. Then the Russians dump another tranche of Clinton emails which spurs the FBI to reopen their investigation into Clinton’s potential security violations. This led fairly directly to a drop in her pre-election polling numbers, throwing the election into doubt. After months of investigation showing it to be more of a bureaucratic error than a national security risk, the cry “But Her EMails!” threw gasoline on the fire just in time for the election a little over a week later. And so, Donald Trump became the President-elect.

The ongoing FBI investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election has made it clear that much of the news cycle through the campaign was orchestrated through information leaked from the email servers of the Democratic party and others. It feels outrageous that the Russians should have so blatantly spread propaganda, and while it is not yet proven, the evidence is strong that Donald Trump’s campaign had a lot to do with this - making it an inside job. If it was the Russians on their own, then fair enough: it’s dirty pool, but we’ve never exactly been buddies with them, anyway. But if they were acting on behalf of the Trump campaign — well, it’s the Watergate break-in all over again, isn’t it?

Remember Nixon? He was a Machiavellian schemer and tactician of no mean skill, and he surrounded himself with people who could make things happen without actually getting him involved. He has turned out to be (relatively) innocent of being involved in the break-in, and so the story has become “The problem was not the problem. The problem was the cover-up.” To be clear, the original problem was the Watergate break-in, which was for the purpose of gaining campaign intelligence from the Democratic party. Nixon made it worse by obstructing justice and trying to hide his connection to the problem, presumably to save face, since he stated that he did not order the break-in.

The parallels here are fairly obvious. In the 2016 election, we have campaign espionage occurring - courtesy of the Russians, and via the internet rather than lockpicks, tape, and cameras. We still don’t know the full details of the command and control over the 2016 break-ins, but we have evidence strong enough for the FBI to present indictments of 12 people. People who happen to be Russians. That report to the Russian military. And ever since, the President has been working on damage control measures, mostly using the media to discredit the investigation but also by manipulating the personnel who are in charge of the investigation.

None of which makes Donald Trump guilty. But what we know of his character certainly leads one to think he might well be. And what we see of his actions in international diplomacy appear to all benefit Russia at the expense of long-standing American interests. To some degree it doesn’t matter if he is a traitor, because we know from his history as a businessman that he is dishonest, and ready to break his word at any point where he sees an advantage to himself. His betrayal of American interests is consistent with his character. And now this man, of demonstrably bad character, has the power to bend the American government and potentially hide his malfeasance.

Which brings us to the Democratic Party, who appear to have fallen for the same tricks that lost them the Presidency, 44+ years ago. And these tricks are likely to have been perpetrated by the same party that did them the first time around. It would seem that organizations have as much character as individual people do, at least if you look at repeated attitudes and actions. However, outside of the campaign espionage, the 2016 campaign was quite different for the Democrats: their candidate was Hillary Clinton, not George McGovern.

The difference between the two is not that important, because the 1972 election wasn’t even close. Nixon won by a landslide. But Clinton won the aggregate popular vote, and only lost the election by failing to correctly consider the influence of the smaller states in electoral politics. Most people thought that Clinton was going to win, and by a significant margin. “But Her EMails!” seem to have defeated that expectation.

So to close the loop here, Hillary Clinton, who considered the White House rules for handling email to be an inconvenience that she could just step around, as long as she was careful with sensitive data; actually helped to create the conditions for the 2016 version of the Watergate break-in. Her arrogant assumption that she could be sufficiently careful turned out to be false. Emails just aren’t very secure, and you can’t assume that you know what your enemies care about. Regardless of whether she compromised American secrets with her private email server, isn’t it ironic that her loss – over a scandal about email security – came about through a demonstration of the importance of email security?

But even more important here, is the demonstration of character. As Secretary of State, Clinton held a lot of power and used it in ways to flout rules for national security. To me, given the choice of any better candidate, that would utterly disqualify her from access to further power. And the ongoing email scandal proves this point. Her disregard for basic rules of security, established by professionals in the field, has actually endangered the institutions of American government and allowed a known oathbreaker to assume the office of the President.

And no, this is not blaming Clinton for Trump’s egregious corruption (and quite possibly worse than corruption). This is pointing out that the email scandal had been casting its shadow over her campaign at least as early as March 2016. This was a problem entirely of her own making, because if she had followed the rules given to her for National Security there would have been nothing for the Russians to leak. And the Trump campaign would not have had the opportunity to collude with them, either.

There is no point to be angry with the Russians for interfering in our election. There are not our allies, and have never been. This problem lies directly at the feet of those in power. Both parties served up candidates with significant character flaws that should disqualify anyone from holding office. Both parties followed their own flaws down this road to a merry hell; the Republicans through subterfuge, and the Democrats through their arrogance. Their character shines through.

But Her EMails!” really did matter after all.

This document was translated from LATEX by HEVEA.