There has never been a more critical time to forge unity in recent memory, and yet there’s never been a time, in my lifetime, where unity has seemed so hopeless. We should all feel we have the freedom to say emphatically that this is wrong. If we don’t feel we have that freedom, something has gone deeply wrong. What are we chained to? Each other, perhaps?
Kurt Vonnegut said you should write to please one person. I’m writing this analysis of the now-infamous Trump dossier to please a certain Trump supporter I know, or, really, at least appeal to him. Hope it resonates with all of you, though.
First of all, this report finally gives us, weirdly, a chance to begin to heal each other after the campaign. This is mostly on you, actually, as the winner; sorry. I have my responsibilities in this, too, but in the end it’s up to you. The important thing, I think, is that we not ask too many questions about Trump. In the long run, when it comes to Trump’s involvement with Russia, Trump isn’t an end in himself, but part of a larger plan. When we can, let’s ask the questions about the questions. Let’s both try to start not from our irreconcilable differences but from what we share. Then we can work our way back.
What do we share? Well, we don’t want our country to kill itself. That might happen, if you haven’t been paying attention. And it would be our own fault: Trump is just an instrument of division, and though the most powerful he’s just one among many, both liberal and conservative, mainstream media and whatever sphere of information you live in. And many people not in America would love to see us rip each other up and collapse on ourselves, Putin foremost among them. So read the full dossier, and allow me this one essay to you.
Let’s talk validity first. I want to establish the fact that I’m reasonable so that later I can rationalize it to myself when I go off the rails again.
I’ll begin with this: “If it’s true.” I don’t want to have to hedge everything with “reportedly” and “allegedly” and “the unverified report” and so on. So right up front: I’m not taking the report for granted. We don’t yet even know the name of the retired British Mi6 spy who submitted the report, and we have to remember he was paid to produce it for political clients with an agenda—they wanted to find dirt on Trump.
We also have to question if his sources are as reliable as he figures them to be or presents them, how he had access, whether the information is hearsay, transcribed, recorded, etc.—which I’m in no position to do. No one has claim to absolute truth, though, and there is plenty of motivation for all parties involved to spin the information.
That said, a great many U.S. officials have praised the guy, said they know him and his work well and they trust him as being meticulous and honest. They also said they knew him to be “well sourced” in Russia, which the variety of sources in this report bears out. The variety is certainly a plus, unless for some reason he’s fudging that, but I think we’re getting a little too far into knee-jerk territory there. You can find doubt anywhere, and I take these officials at their word. Doesn’t mean the guy’s infallible, though.
Note also that many of these officials are already on the chopping block the minute a Trump administration takes over. You could say they have a motive to spin, sure, but if they were outright lying in an effort to unseat or delegitimize the president, it would be petty, personal, unpatriotic, and possibly criminal. And that claim is purely speculative, zero evidence. We have to let it go and give these multiple public servants the benefit of the doubt—with a grain of salt.
As for BuzzFeed, the site itself qualified the release, admitting its fact checkers had found a few petty errors, such as a misspelling and an inaccurate description of a neighborhood. This actually speaks pretty well for their fact-checking diligence and, you could reason, for the confidence the site has in the report.
These, however, are much more compelling arguments than those offered by our next president, who pronounced the report “FAKE NEWS” and “A POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!,” and he cited the Kremlin calling it a “TOTAL AND COMPLETE FABRICATION.” Most importantly, though, he doubled down on his fake news claim in this morning’s press conference, this time not calling the unverified document itself “fake news,” but the synopsis that the intelligence officers gave him in the private briefing.
That charge is troubling. I think we can expect a near-total purge of our intelligence services in the near future. That, my dear friend, is what a dictator would do. Trump, you’ll probably see, will build an inflexibly obsequious regime. Then we are fucked, you and I.
And once again please note he’s invoking Russia’s support of him in an effort to discredit claims that Russia supports him. And in the same breath he dismissed out of hand the work of our own intelligence community. Again. Also, the Kremlin’s language—“total and complete fabrication”—sounds a hell of a lot like Trump.
But after many hours researching the report I’ve gotta tell you, many of these explosive accusations seem at least grounded in truth. And that conclusion frightens me a bit, because of what it might mean for the future of American democracy and, frankly, the prospect of a whole lot of slow and steady work at the local level, which I admit I have a hard time coming around to.
One reason I buy it is the simple fact that it takes a long, long time for the intelligence community to verify something this explosive. As it should. But also, leadership in the U.S. intelligence community (I know, Iraq; but getting an F on a test doesn’t mean you will fail the next one) felt confident enough in their investigations so far to present the synopsis. They were giving a heads-up: They believe there is some validity to the report, no matter how you slice it.
Another reason I buy a good chunk of it is because we’re approaching from the wrong premise. That means we are asking the wrong questions. The end target isn’t Trump. Trump was targeted because Russia thought he would make an easy tool.
But for what reason? Just to have him up there, tweeting? Not, it’s part of Putin’s broader plan to create political instability in Western democracies, especially including the United States, to make it easier for Russia to assert itself without having to exert much effort (which it cannot afford).
So here’s one question: Given that scenario, what should we do about Trump? You and I will definitely not agree on that one.
Okay, so better, let’s ask the bigger question, the question about the question: What should we do about what Trump might do, purposefully or not, to America?
Now if you’ll meet me at that point, the place beyond the Trump, maybe we can get somewhere. This isn’t really about him, in the end. This is about America and the stability of our democracy. Trump is in the way—for all parties. You and me included. Most importantly, Trump is in the way of two halves of America. He’s a wedge, and Russia has driven him deeper—but we’re finishing the job ourselves and don’t even seem to know it. And that, my friend, is exactly what Russia wanted in the first place.
Let’s see if we can let go, then, connect as human beings who care about our world, and agree.
Here’s the news in brief:
Yesterday CNN reported that U.S. intelligence officers had presented President-elect Trump and President Obama with a two-page synopsis of a well-known dossier that had been circulating for months, which contained compromising and—if substantiated—incriminating allegations that puts Trump and top campaign officials at the very heart of a sprawling conspiracy with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to commit espionage on the United States in order to influence the 2016 Presidential elections in Trump’s favor. The document was later published in full by BuzzFeed, because what do they have to lose.
What in the report seems grounded in truth:
—Trump has been exchanging information with the Kremlin for quite some time.
—Putin groomed Trump and supported him politically, beginning several years ago, and had the aim of destabilizing the U.S.—that’s you and me, my friend—and, as the report puts it, causing “splits and divisions in western alliance.”
—Trump defended Putin and Russia almost pathologically, and several times diverted his answers to questions about the Ukraine invasion to the U.S. commitment to NATO—noted with a weird predictive specificity in this interview
—The Kremlin, under Putin’s direction, sent Trump or aides intelligence about his political opponents, including, of course, Hillary Clinton.
—The Trump campaign colluded at some level or at least was complicit with the Russian government’s efforts to hack the DNC and spread misinformation.
—And, perhaps most devastating to his presidency—or chances of escaping impeachment—the Russian government might have enough dirt on Trump to blackmail him in two forms: Video of Trump having sex with escorts; and damning evidence of corruption at the highest levels of his businesses, though not necessarily those in Russia.
—Jill Stein is involved at some level. I’m serious. This, believe it or not, is one of the things that are actually verifiable in the report. Right. Yeah, I don’t know, either.
Trump led the defense himself in three very brave, slightly desperate tweets, starting with “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” And to support that argument, Trump tweeted a link to a real fake news site (if that makes any sense) run by Laura Ingraham, a campaign adviser he’d been considering for Press Secretary.
Hard to blame the guy. The leak couldn’t come at a more pivotal moment. Or, another way of looking at it, a strategic moment: Ten days before the inauguration. And this week, on the heels of allegations of Russian interference in the election—accusations that Trump just weeks ago called “ridiculous” and likened to the CIA’s mistaken WMD claims in Iraq, but which he now publicly accepts as true—Republicans are trying to shoehorn several Trump cabinet nominees through Congressional hearings.
Most notably, Trump’s Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson—who’s literally in Putin’s “circle of friendship”—is up today. Tillerson, in his testimony, refused to pledge that the U.S. would not lift Russian sanctions over the Ukraine. I point out that the dossier said this was “a priority” for Putin in his arrangement with Trump. I also refer you to dig up the many times Trump dodged on Ukraine and redirected to questioning our NATO commitment.
The doc dump also came a day before Trump’s first press conference in 167 days, in which he’d have to field questions on his conflicts of interests, on the Russia hack, on his nominees, on nepotism, on his foreign policy gaffes and bizarre twitter attacks, on the status of inauguration entertainment, and on and on and on. It’s well worth noting that at Trump’s last press conference—July 27—he invited Russia to commit espionage on his political opponent.
But as the Wall Street Journal included in its headline, the report is credible enough that U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating the report, and apparently have been for some time. The case was also apparently strong enough to justify appending it to a highly classified briefing for both the President and the President-elect. Even if all the allegations here are false, Trump should have known the report was out there.
And it is fucking outrageous. Have you read it yet?
No? It is 35 pages. BuzzFeed put in helpful highlights at all the juicy parts. Golden showers. For real.
Anyway. The dossier was commissioned by Democrats and Republicans as opposition research during the campaign. It was compiled in a series of memos over the summer (first date is June 20) by an unnamed British spy who, again, is by every single account I’ve read highly respected and trusted in the U.S. intelligence community. The memos were well known and had been circulated between government officials and the media for a long time. For example, Harry Reid called out James Comey publicly for a double-standard in not coming clean with this report in October, following his outing the “new” Clinton emails.
That said, if you read the original document you’ll know exactly why no one publicized it. It’s not, I don’t think, entirely because the information hadn’t been verified. One big reason for holding back was that the information couldn’t have been verified immediately. Had this report come out during the chaos of this election, the senior security officials CNN quoted in its report would not have dared to give those quotes, even anonymously. But now we’ve seen they’ve built a case and begun to take their accusations against Russia public. There is ground to build on, and, given the approaching inauguration, a certain urgency.
This information is explosive, to put it mildly. To be clear, there’s treason in here. Really. Multiple definitive acts of literal, Constitutional, “adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort” treason, committed by the next President of the United States of America in order to get you—yes you!—to commit to him the most free and radical political power that you have.
In a previous election, America might have turned against Trump as one nation. We might have called for immediate investigations, his immediate resignation, the immediate arrest of him and his top advisers. We might have seen this for what it is: A new kind of ICBM from Russia. One that hits all of us in the brain. Then we transfer those explosions to each other, hitting the hearts.
That is, in our time this report presents an existential threat to democracy. Even more important than the report itself, though, is the way we react to it.
Considering this political environment—a poisonous loam that Trump himself has worked diligently to sow and cultivate; though you’d for some reason immediately say against all evidence to the contrary that Obama somehow started it—if Donald Trump doesn’t step aside of his own accord, I fully and without hyperbole think a significant amount of political violence is likely.
Trump simply can’t control what he’s created in his insane quest for whatever it is he needs to fill the gaping black nihility where his humanity ought to be. He can’t control his own crowds. In the doc, Russian leadership admitted as much, with officials expressing hope that Trump would drop out of the race in August because he was psychologically unstable and unfit for high office.
Trump has activated millions of people, literally cultivated them. My question to you, my friend, is that if this goes into a deep investigation, possibly for treason, and he fights this thing to the end—and he’s never copped to anything in his life—will his supporters fight, too?
If you’ll allow for just a moment that some of the core key implications of this report indeed turn out to be true—oh, hell, just one of them… say, just at random, that Trump was in on the hacking—and that though certain details might be gray or outright wrong, would you, loyal Trumper, still defend him?
If so, in the face of treason, of weaponizing Americans against themselves for personal gain at the behest of our biggest political adversary, why?
But I said this wasn’t ultimately about Trump. It’s not. Let’s get going.
I admit that yes, at first I was happy to see all of this surface. But honestly, that didn’t last. This is not something anyone should be happy about. It’s another act in an American tragedy that’s run far too long, and who knows if it’s the last.
More likely than not, a President-elect committed definitive acts of treason against the United States throughout the course of his campaign. And somehow the American public voted him into office.
And we still don’t feel we have the freedom to remove ourselves from the rigid, partisan mentality of that heinous campaign. An attack on Trump is an attack on your vote. I get it. It’s a threat to a worldview that found an unlikely champion in Trump, and it won.
It won. (Sort of.) And in your mind, perhaps it was legitimate. I don’t know, maybe you knew or at least sensed something was up between Trump and Russia. Honestly, you’re smart, I don’t see how you couldn’t have questioned it. But you won, and that’s what mattered. Who cares how, right?
Here’s why it matters. Let’s say Putin had dirt on Barack Hussein Obama. Let’s say BHO had clear ties to Russia and they had interfered in our election in his favor, and that he won the election. Would you think a compromised and possibly even blackmailed (not racist) Barack Obama is capable of governing in our best interests?
If this same information had come out after I’d voted for the guy, and I saw our intelligence agencies felt strongly enough to put it in a classified presidential briefing, no way would I want Obama to run the country, regardless of his name or party or, most importantly, whether I voted for him.
Can you trust a leader who used you to commit a treasonous act on his very own democracy? One who is still exploiting our reactions to further divide that democracy, which, again, is the untold story here, and the truly important one, superseding our political divide.
Or would you call for an investigation?
This summer the FBI tried to get a FISA warrant to tap four Trump operatives, but the application was denied. The Guardian reported today that the FBI successfully secured one in October. Comey, as is SOP, would neither confirm nor deny an ongoing investigation, but given that information it seems quite likely.
John McCain, who personally passed the dossier to Comey in December, said this weekend there will be Congressional committee investigations, namely from the intelligence and armed forces committees. Both McCain and Lindsey Graham have indicated an special investigative panel will be created.
If charges are brought, including treason, it will be by the FBI. One question is how far up the chain they’ll be able go. That depends largely on who turns over to testify against Trump, and, very likely, against themselves.
Another question is how quickly this might go. Once Trump takes office, he can and very likely will purge the intelligence agencies and fill them with people he knows will be favorable to him. Comey will almost certainly go. Also, Trump can use an executive order to immediately lift sanctions on Russia. Will he do that and risk looking like Putin’s bitch right off the bat? Or will his doing that be an argument for his confidence of not being Putin’s bitch?
How will we know why he did or didn’t do it?
But more importantly, again, is the question about the question: Will we even realize why we disagree about our answers to that question?
Pretend for a moment, just for a moment, that the report is totally true. How would you feel about yourself? How would you feel about me? How would you feel about your relationship to Trump—or his relationship to you? Or anyone’s relationship to what is supposedly America?
Would you honestly accept that this election was legitimate? I defy the most illogical Trump supporters to defy the logic on that one. Even if you don’t think he should step aside, or if you respect how he gamed the system, would you admit this was an illegitimate election?
If so, do you understand what that seed, once planted, means for our hundreds of years of orderly, peaceful democracy?
This isn’t something to dismiss with a meme. This isn’t a time to attack our First Amendment or our media or liberals or—I can’t believe I feel there is a need to write this—our intelligence communities all in the name of defending a hypocritical misogynist billionaire con artist bully with autocratic and militaristic tendencies who scams charities and mocks disabled people (he does; read about it) and has the full-throated support of the most heinous, racist Americans (not all Trump supporters!) among us, and who staffed his cabinet immediately with people who are worth more than one-third of Americans combined and have agendas expressly contradicting what he promised for months to his own base—
—and who more than likely for several years colluded with a foreign adversary in committing espionage against the United States on American soil in order to defeat his political opponent.
(This has nothing at all to do with Hillary Clinton—though the Russians apparently have a file on her, too.)
Pardon the GnR. But Russia’s meddling was an attack. An act of war, in loose terms. However, it wasn’t a traditional act of war. It was, in keeping with the surreality of our times, an outside act of civil war. This is more sinister—corrosive and not explosive.
We haven’t rallied around the flag to fight an outside enemy, the way Democrats and Republicans did after Pearl Harbor or 9/11 or the killing of Bin Laden. No: we’re just tearing ourselves apart. And if you’ve ever scrolled through the trash fire of comments to Trump’s tweets, you’ll know we’re doing it with glee.
In this moment, our enemy is, incomprehensibly but undeniably, us.
You versus me.
Can we collectively understand this is exactly what Russia wanted in the first place? Russia doesn’t want to be our enemy. That would mean they’d have to compete with us. Russia, despite having the second-largest standing army in the world, is in fact quite weak economically and politically and simply can’t take us on. No, Putin wants us to be our enemy. He wants us to do his work for him. And with a few clicks on a keyboard and a few billion shares on Facebook, here we are, not believing a word the other person says, simply because we don’t want to be wrong and can now delude ourselves into thinking we can choose not to be wrong.
But this isn’t about you being wrong about Trump. It’s about Trump being wrong about you. It’s about protecting our democracy and protecting each other.
Honestly, though, I don’t live anywhere near you. I never see you, or rub shoulders with anyone who shares your political values, really. I’m doing fine day to day. I’ve got a great girlfriend, a dog. I write music and play it with my friends. I get hammered with libtards and love it, and frankly, none of this matters to my day to day life.
I suspect you feel the same.
So why do either of us give a shit about whether Putin gets his precious sanctions lifted, or if Trump rigged the game to take the crown? (Trump might well take us to the brink of annihilation, but that’s another argument.)
We need to ask ourselves the questions about the questions. We have a small role to play, but it’s so important. We hold this country together. Not the venomous bullshitters running this thing. We hold it all together, and right now we’re not.
You know, in an in-person survey of about 3,000 people conducted this year, Gallup concluded that one in six Americans would have no problem with military rule. Twenty years ago that number was one in 16.
America is beautiful for its impossibility. The frightening thing is, and has always been, what is possible. Read that survey above. There has never been a more critical time to forge unity in recent memory, and yet there’s never been a time, in my lifetime, where unity has seemed so hopeless. We should all feel we have the freedom to say emphatically that this is wrong. If we don’t feel we have that freedom, something has gone deeply wrong. What are we chained to? Each other, perhaps?
It’s partly my fault, partly your fault. But again, I write to you because you’re in a position to do more about it.
Really—because know what I would say? I’d honestly say Donald Trump should not and cannot be the next President of the United States of America. I think he should step down now, and I believe he will be impeached so quickly he will have served the shortest presidential term in U.S. history. That’s what I now truly believe, and I would not have advocated for that change on November 9, largely for my fear of reasons rhyming with Reich Sense. (I hope I’m proven right, too, terrible as that might sound to you.)
But I get to say that because I’m the loser and it really makes no difference what I say; I get the reward of getting to say things free from consequence. Free from consequences other than widening the gap between us, that is. This is what we talk about when we talk about Trump. And this is why we cannot talk about Trump.
You, however, are the winner. You get the final say. I am happy to listen.
Hope it’s a question.