I voted Libertarian yesterday, and the New York Times has me really worried. In an article yesterday entitled “Russians Meddling in the Midterms? Here’s the Data,” the authors, Jonathan Morgan and Ryan Fox, state that while Russian meddling in the midterm election was not as extensive as it purportedly was in the 2016 election, it was nonetheless still pervasive. Morgan and Fox, who run a cybersecurity company, pointed out, “Indeed, our company is currently detecting more overall activity in real time from continuing Russian online influence operations targeting the midterm elections than has been disclosed by social media platforms or detected by researchers during the same period before the election in 2016.”
Okay, so what am I worried about? I’m worried that the Russians might have influenced me into voting Libertarian. Here’s my question: How is a person supposed to determine whether his vote was the result of an independent, reasoned judgment or instead a result of Russian meddling?
After all, lots of people would say that it’s not rational to vote for a Libertarian, given that he or she has virtually no chance of winning. They say that to vote for a Libertarian is just throwing away one’s vote.
Well then, wouldn’t that indicate that the Russians influenced me into voting Libertarian? What else would explain why I voted in what would appear to be an irrational way?
When you think about it, this Russian election meddling thing is really scary because it means that the minds of the American people are susceptible to being influenced or manipulated by the Russians. It all brings to mind the prospect of Americans being brainwashed by the Chinese, North Korean, or Cuban Reds during the Cold War.
But here’s an important question, one that Morgan and Fox unfortunately failed to address in their article: What is it about Americans that makes their minds so susceptible to Russian influence or brainwashing, at least when it comes to voting?
If I had to guess, I would say that a big part of the problem is public (i.e., government) schooling, which I believe weakens the mental ability of Americans to resist government propaganda. Given that public schooling molds the minds of America schoolchildren to defer to authority, memorize, follow rules and regulations, and obey orders, by the time the entire 12-year ordeal is over, many 18-year-old minds have turned to mush, which, I suspect, makes them more susceptible to being influenced by propaganda, perhaps even for the rest of their lives.
But as scary as Russian propaganda might be, it seems to me that a much bigger danger in yesterday’s election was meddling by President Trump, like with his scary fear-mongering about that caravan of Central American refugees that is heading north through Mexico to seek refugee status in the United States.
By calling the caravan an “invasion” and by sending US troops to defend America from the “invasion,” Trump succeeded in scaring the dickens out of millions of his followers, some of whom even grabbed their rifles and headed down to the border to help Trump’s troops defend America from a few thousand unarmed women and toddlers who are still slowly walking to the border. I don’t think anyone would dispute that Trump’s propaganda had a much bigger effect on the midterms than did Russian propaganda. In fact, it will be interesting to see if Trump continues his scary invasion drumbeat going now that the mid-election is over. My hunch is no, but I’ll bet we’ll see it again several months before the 2020 presidential election.
Of course, none of this mental manipulation, by either Trump or the Russians, compares to the propaganda that government officials use to influence people into supporting a war. That’s when the mental manipulation becomes of prime and urgent importance, especially through a strong propaganda campaign based on fear.
A perfect example of this phenomenon took place in the run-up to the Iraq War. By the time the actual US invasion of Iraq was initiated, a large number of Americans were absolutely convinced that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was coming to get them and explode mushroom clouds in cities all across America. It was a testament to the power of US officials to manipulate and influence people’s minds through the use of propaganda.
One of the masters of influencing people’s minds through propaganda was Nazi official Hermann Goering, who expressed the matter perfectly when it comes to war:
Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.In any event, if anyone has any insights into how I figure out whether the Russians influenced me into voting Libertarian in yesterday’s mid-term elections, please let me know.
Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.