Back when I was in college, one of the games we had in the UCLA Computer Club was Flying Buffalo’s Nuclear War. This is a card game where the players launch missiles at each other. If an opponent wipes you out with missiles, you can attempt to shoot off whatever is left in your arsenal to wipe them off the face off the map. Good times! But the game had a catch: If you lost your population due to a well played propaganda campaign, there was no chance of a final strike. You were wiped off the map, without retaliation.
Back when I was in college, we were in the middle of a cold war with Russia. They were our enemy. We had just come out of the era of Richard Nixon. The Russians were the bad guys, and there wasn’t any equivocation about that. After all, it was Khrushchev who said “We Will Bury You?” Even post college, politicians would distance themselves from Russian politics and Communism. Often, the strongest politicians to do so were the Republicans: “Better dead than Red”.
Then the Soviet Union fell. The wall came down in East Berlin. We established relations with Russia. We believed we had won the Cold War. But the Russians remembered. They still promised to bury us. Russians are patient.
Then came Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. They figured out how to play the media game. Taking advantage of C-SPAN and the power of talk radio, they played up the tribalism and separation. They turned the ability to compromise and work together for the nation, despite differences, into partisan warfare. They turned it into a battle of Us vs. Them. This was a battle we saw during the Clinton presidency, during Bush 43, during Obama. The partisanship grew.
The Russians were also watching.
Then came the election of 2016: the first election where social media was significant (yes, it was there during Obama, but not like this). The Russians knew how to use propaganda. They manipulated social media to convince blacks not to vote — that neither Clinton nor Sanders were on their side. They launched a pro-Jill Stein blitz to siphon votes away from Clinton for the folks that couldn’t stand Trump. They whipped up Trump supporters with memes, and launched a specific campaign to elect Trump to office. They used every major (and even minor) social media platform to do this. They have continued to do this, spreading disinformation about the Mueller probe. They continue to run interference for Trump.
Was there collusion? The Russians are too smart to leave evidence of it, unless they specifically want to bring someone down. But that’s not their goal: their goal is to bury us — to destroy to US. They have already achieved their goal to do that: elect Trump, and destroy trust in the US. They didn’t need collusion, when people work towards the same goal without explicit cooperation.
Although we might have won that battle and outlasted the first USSR, that doesn’t mean that Russia didn’t remember. Russia and China are indeed burying us and destroying us by exploiting the very strengths of our political system — a free press and voting — to achieve their goals of electing a leadership too inexperienced and narcissistic to stop them, by electing a leader who cares only about himself. Essentially, by electing a Russian Oligarch, one of their own.
But what is most galling about this are those who are still Trump supporters, those who still espouse the Trump line, share the Trump memes, spread the same negative lies on social media from the same Russian-controlled and influenced sources. These are Conservatives — the party that hated the Reds, hated Russia, hated large deficits, believed in the power of the US military and working together with our allies against the Russians and Communist influence. These are the people that should be most up in arms about how they were manipulated. Instead, they roll over and say “Scratch my belly. More more.” As long as the Russians keep their party in power, they no longer care about the nation. It is tribe before country, party before patriotism.
It is insulting, and makes a mockery of their party.
It has also made me question my Conservative friends to continue to repeat these memes and these lies, who have not rebelled against the abduction of their once Grand Old Party. They have “drunk the kool-aide” and used it to wash their brains. I hate to say this — and I’ll still try hard to correct them — but we may need to write them off.
It is up to us — those who care about this nation, and those who see this propaganda attack for what it is — to fight back. We must say “enough”, and expose Russian involvement. We must investigate, investigate, investigate, and bring down those who are misusing and abusing the freedoms we have in this nation, or using power power for personal gain, or violating the laws. We need to figure out how to stop propaganda while still preserving a free press, to answer the question of when misinformation and leading information crosses the line.
Most importantly, in 2019 and beyond, we must not play into the propaganda games. We must spread truth, not disinformation. We must work for and elect candidates who will work for American interests, and not those of Russia (especially when those Russian interests are hidden behind purported American patriotism). We must take our country back.