There is still much that we don’t know and it may be difficult to ever know the truth about Russia and the 2016 election. Both those who say with certainty that it is entirely a truthless hoax cooked up by the deep state and those who say with certainty that Trump is entirely a Putin puppet and Russia got him elected are speaking with undue confidence.
But the truth of what happened is likely much less serious than the dangerous manipulation of the situation by the neoliberal center. We are seeing the rise of a new McCarthyism in which those not loyal to the political and media establishment are being labeled as tools of Russia. Journalists who question the prevailing narrative on this matter or merely demand evidence beyond anonymous government sources are being treated like heretics.
Clinton didn’t lose the election because of some Russian-generated internet memes, a few Facebook posts or a few poorly attended rallies, but the political and media establishment is happy to use the shady actions of a handful of individuals as an opportunity to assert its own agenda. It is difficult to believe, given the history of McCarthyism in this country, that the new McCarthyism is being led by the so-called left wing of the political establishment, but it is.
Whatever Russia’s influence, it was undoubtedly less than the billions in free air time given to Trump, and the constant deriding of Bernie Sanders by mainstream media during the primaries. And without a doubt, it was far less influential than the legacy of a neoliberal system that has left people without viable options for a decent and stable life while being pandered to with blatant hypocrisy (i.e. sorry about NAFTA, the TPP is way better, we promise).
But get ready, the neoliberal and neoconservative establishments (largely overlapping) will increasingly paint those who question the narratives they are pushing in the mainstream media as tools of a Russian agenda.
Thinking for yourself does not make you Russian tool. Nor does demanding some evidence before you will believe something. Regardless of what some Russians did or did not do, this is dangerous thinking.
More dangerous yet could be the empowerment of the giant social media corporations to decide what is considered free speech and what is fake. Facebook, Google and Twitter are working on filtering and deprioritizing certain internet content to protect us from being manipulated, and many voices have joined the chorus urging them to do so.
These calls to regulate online political speech are potentially far more destructive than foreign-generated memes and slanderous comments about candidates. Many have allowed their fear of Trump’s potential to initiate disaster to cloud their judgment. Despite the circumstances, we should not empower corporations or the government to decide what speech is free and what speech is fake.
Under our present system where corporate power and government power largely overlap in their spheres of influence, corporate censorship is government censorship. If all it takes is labeling a story foreign influence to have it hidden, dismissed or ridiculed, you can bet that information that exposes the hypocrisy of the establishment and their media narratives will be labeled foreign influence.
Further, it is important to realize that there is no bright line to draw in this matter. People write about elections in other countries on the internet all the time. They make jokes about candidates, draw cartoons about candidates, and criticize, satirize, and ridicule candidates.
While some Russians were apparently posting information with nefarious intent, do we really want government or media corporations to evaluate and judge the intent behind what people write? Rather than empowering a new thought police to protect us from manipulation, we should all work on being more skeptical.
With media coming at us from all directions, it is difficult to know who is behind what and what agenda are they pushing and why. But whether you are trying to make sense of what happened with Trump and Russia, reading news and comments about candidates on social media or reading stories about Iraq’s WMDs in the New York Times, there is no substitute for your own skepticism.
— Jason Clark lives in Talent.