Amanda Taub

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Another repercussion of having a Constitution-shredding sociopath in the Oval Office is the possibility that a foundation will be laid for a long-term bifurcated government, with the executive branch and the intelligence community constantly angling to undermine one another. 

The concern of a “Deep State” in Washington or worries of the White House operating a shadow National Security Agency speak to the fathomless rift orchestrated by a deeply polarizing President. Intel leaks about the Administration’s involvement in Russia have become a deluge, spies are reportedly withholding information from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for fear they’ll be shared with the Kremlin and Trump has threatened a review of the intelligence community to be spearheaded by one of his billionaire buddies.

Agents anonymously leaking the truth may be the best bet to prevent the end of American democracy, but in the long term (should there be one) the intelligence community being put in a position where it has to go rogue could have serious ramifications. As Karl Rove said: Elections have consequences.

From “As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America,” by Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times:

Though the deep state is sometimes discussed as a shadowy conspiracy, it helps to think of it instead as a political conflict between a nation’s leader and its governing institutions.

That can be deeply destabilizing, leading both sides to wield state powers like the security services or courts against one another, corrupting those institutions in the process.

In Egypt, for instance, the military and security services actively undermined Mohamed Morsi, the country’s democratically elected Islamist president, contributing to the upheaval that culminated in his ouster in a 2013 coup.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has battled the deep state by consolidating power for himself and, after a failed coup attempt last year, conducting vast purges.

Though American democracy is resilient enough to resist such clashes, early hints of a conflict can be tricky to spot because some push and pull between a president and his or her agencies is normal.

In 2009, for instance, military officials used leaks to pressure the White House over what it saw as the minimal number of troops necessary to send to Afghanistan.

Leaks can also be an emergency brake on policies that officials believe could be ill-advised or unlawful, such as George W. Bush-era programs on warrantless wiretapping and the Abu Ghraib detention facility in Iraq.

“You want these people to be fighting like cats and dogs over what the best policy is, airing their views, making their case and then, when it’s over, accepting the decision and implementing it,” said Elizabeth N. Saunders, a George Washington University political scientist. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

“Leaking is not new,” she said, “but this level of leaking is pretty unprecedented.”•

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  • For his racist trolling of the first African-American President over his birth certificate, which was based on an “extremely credible source,” Donald Trump deserves every Twitter urine joke splashed his way, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t bizarre for BuzzFeed to release unverified, unsubstantiated documents (though WikiLeaks should really leave the criticism to others). The site certainly was right to have reported on the intel briefings Trump and President Obama received on the matter, but things should have been left there until the rest of the information was corroborated. It’s no surprise that didn’t happen since BuzzFeed isn’t a pillar of journalism but what was offered as a cheap substitute once the towers began foundering. That’s where we are now, and BuzzFeed is hardly the worst of what we’ve got. It’s still nowhere near as egregious as Breitbart, Fox, the National Enquirer, etc.
  • Wouldn’t be surprised if the peeing-on-the-Obama-bed detail originated from the same type of mentality that turned out the Rolling Stone faux UVA rape article, a piece seemingly engineered for maximum outrage. Anything is possible–I mean Trump is sick–but if Russia has recordings of deviant behavior by the President-Elect, I would guess the details are different. How much worse can it be, though, than the sexually predatory abuses we already know about?
  • The potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, however, is a huge deal. From the GOP candidate publicly encouraging the Kremlin to hack the election to the close ties he and and his inner circle have to Putin to the Fisa warrant request to Rudy Giuliani’s cryptic comments about a “pretty big surprise” days before James Comey’s shocking (and baseless) reopening of the FBI investigation into HRC emails, there likely were plenty of machinations to subvert a free election. There always are some degree of shenanigans, but this election was extraordinary by normal standards. It wasn’t business as usual. 

In addition to upsetting journalistic traditions by changing the economy of news, the Internet has proven to abet political tribalism, allowing for narrowcasting and encouraging groups to circle wagons. Amanda Taub’s New York Times piece “The Real Story About Fake News Is Partisanship” looks at these phenomena, though I’ll risk being labeled a partisan by saying that I don’t think there’s exact equivalence on the left and right in this matter. The heartbreaking demagogic appeal to racism and anti-Semitism during this cycle has been almost solely the product of a perversion of the modern GOP. An excerpt:

Partisan tribalism makes people more inclined to seek out and believe stories that justify their pre-existing partisan biases, whether or not they are true.

“If I’m a rabid Trump voter and I don’t know much about public affairs, and I see something about some scandal about Hillary Clinton’s aides being involved in an assassination attempt, or that story about the pope endorsing Trump, then I’d be inclined to believe it,” Mr. Iyengar said. “This is reinforcing my beliefs about the value of a Trump candidacy.”

And Clinton voters, he said, would be similarly drawn to stories that deride Mr. Trump as a demagogue or a sexual predator.

Sharing those stories on social media is a way to show public support for one’s partisan team — roughly the equivalent of painting your face with team colors on game day.

“You want to show that you’re a good member of your tribe,” Mr. Westwood said. “You want to show others that Republicans are bad or Democrats are bad, and your tribe is good. Social media provides a unique opportunity to publicly declare to the world what your beliefs are and how willing you are to denigrate the opposition and reinforce your own political candidates.”

Partisan bias fuels fake news because people of all partisan stripes are generally quite bad at figuring out what news stories to believe. Instead, they use trust as a shortcut. Rather than evaluate a story directly, people look to see if someone credible believes it, and rely on that person’s judgment to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.•