The Trump-Putin Disinformation Campaign to Destroy American Democracy

Donald Trump is a textbook example for psychological projection, i.e., unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits he doesn’t like about himself and attributing them to someone else.

Although in Trump’s case, I am not so sure that it is unconscious. Trump has never developed past the childhood schoolyard taunt of “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say about me, bounces off of me and sticks to you.” His infantile intellect genuinely believes this, as if it is a magical talisman.

The latest example is Trump’s response to numerous news organizations now having confirmed the reporting by Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers’.

Talk about your psychological projection! It’s like he’s looking into a mirror and describing himself. He is confessing to what he is doing himself.

The Washington Post reports today, Trump and allies ratchet up disinformation efforts in late stage of campaign:

For President Trump and his allies, it was a week spent spreading doctored and misleading videos.

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For the president and his top supporters, it was a campaign push brimming with disinformation — disseminating falsehoods and trafficking in obfuscation at a rapid clip, through the use of selectively edited videos, deceptive retweets and false statements.

The slew of false and misleading tweets and videos stood in contrast to the approach taken by Joe Biden, the former vice president, who in 2019 took a pledge promising not to participate in the spread of disinformation over social media, including rejecting the use of ‘deep fake’ videos.

Trump has built a political career around falsehoods, issuing more than 20,000 false or misleading statements during the first three-plus years of his presidency. But many experts said the onslaught of the disinformation efforts by Trump and his team in the late weeks of the campaign make the deception particularly difficult to combat, not to mention dangerous to the country’s democratic institutions.

“When you have this disinformation and it is introduced to one side of the forest, for example, it can travel so quickly through so many different communities and it does so many unintentional things before you can even do a factcheck,” said Whitney Phillips, assistant professor of communication ans rhetorical studies at Syracuse University. “He’s able to muddy the waters so thoroughly that democracy wilts on the vine.”

This is the Gerasimov Doctrine of asymmetric warfare as practiced by Putin’s Russia:

Gerasimov took [dezinformatsiya] tactics developed by the Soviets, blended them with strategic military thinking about total war, and laid out a new theory of modern warfare—one that looks more like hacking an enemy’s society than attacking it head-on…

Russia’s modern strategy [is] a vision of total warfare that places politics and war within the same spectrum of activities—philosophically, but also logistically. The approach is guerrilla, and waged on all fronts with a range of actors and tools—for example, hackers, media, businessmen, leaks and, yes, fake news, as well as conventional and asymmetric military means. Thanks to the internet and social media, the kinds of operations Soviet psy-ops teams once could only fantasize about—upending the domestic affairs of nations with information alone—are now plausible. The Gerasimov Doctrine builds a framework for these new tools, and declares that non-military tactics are not auxiliary to the use of force but the preferred way to win. That they are, in fact, the actual war. Chaos is the strategy the Kremlin pursues: Gerasimov specifies that the objective is to achieve an environment of permanent unrest and conflict within an enemy state.

The Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agencies are, once again, pursuing a cooperative and coordinated campaign in 2020 to destroy American democratic institutions, and using Americans to do it.

Nancy Le Tourneau at the Political Animal blog writes, Is it a Coincidence That Moscow Is Peddling the Same Lies as the Trump Campaign? (No!):

No journalist has done a better job of fact-checking Donald Trump during his presidency than Daniel Dale. But now the CNN reporter, formerly of the Toronto Star, has done an invaluable service by outlining the nine conspiracy theories the president is continuously peddling. As Dale suggests, “Trump has been a conspiracy theorist for years.” but never before has he pushed so many at one time.

Two of them align completely with disinformation campaigns coming out of Moscow. For example, we learned that the Russian government began promoting the lies about mail-in ballots as early as last March.

Russia has sought to “amplify” concerns over the integrity of U.S. elections by promoting allegations that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by ABC News, again echoing a frequent and unfounded complaint raised by President Donald Trump.

Analysts with the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence branch issued the warning on Thursday to federal and state law enforcement partners after finding with “high confidence” that “Russian malign influence actors” have targeted the absentee voting process “by spreading disinformation” since at least March.

The timing raises the question of where the conspiracy theory originated—in the Kremlin or the White House.

Similarly, we now know that the Department of Homeland Security hid a report about how Moscow was promoting the idea that Biden is mentally unfit. Their excuse for not sharing that information is that the intelligence report was “poorly written and thinly sourced.” But according to the document that was finally released, their data was incredibly solid.

The report cites posts by Russian state media outlets RT and Sputnik about Biden’s mental health between September 2019 and May 2020. In March, a Russian proxy website “refuted media claims that the candidate’s gaffes are the result of a stutter, instead arguing these verbal miscues are symptoms of dementia,” the bulletin said.

Once again, if this disinformation campaign began in September 2019, the attacks on Biden’s mental health seem to have started in Moscow and migrated to the Trump campaign.

This is all reminiscent of the coordinated attack on Hillary Clinton’s physical and mental health in 2016. What we now know is that conservative author Jerome Corsi was in contact with Julian Assange on the release of hacked emails by Wikileaks. He communicated with Roger Stone, who then coordinated with the Trump campaign. Here is what Corsi wrote to Stone on August 2, 2016:

Word is friend in embassy [Assange] plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging…Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke—neither he nor she well.

When it comes to the lies about mail-in voting and Biden, it is clear that both Putin and Trump are drawing on the same playbook. Perhaps that’s just a coincidence. But given this history, that is unlikely.

Donald Trump is a goddamn traitor to his country and is working under the tutelage of Vladimir Putin.

The Post continues:

Democrats argue that the messages spread by Trump and his allies go beyond mere political trickery.

“Spin has been something that folks in politics have come to expect, but this is an invention of a totally new reality,” said Lily Adams, a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee’s Trump response team. “Because they can’t run on the reality that every American is seeing, they’re inventing a new one.”

This reminds me of Ron Suskind’s report in the New York Times Magazine in October 2004, a disturbing quote that’s been widely attributed to Karl Rove, though he has strenuously denied it. The statement was about the “reality-based community.”

The aide said that guys like me [Suskind] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” [The New York Times Magazine]

This is not something new under Donald Trump. Republicans have been practicing the dark arts of disinformation and propaganda for decades.

John Donovan, research director at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, described Trump’s strategy as “terminal incoherence,” a deliberate effort to so “flood the zone” with misleading information that “it really makes it hard for people to understand what the stakes are of life-and-death information, like what’s going on with the coronavirus.”

Trump has repeatedly retweeted false, misleading and controversial videos and content [which Twitter enables him to do by not shutting down his account], with his aides sometimes claiming that he never watched the videos or did not fully understand what he was sharing. His team has declined to put in place any system to prevent the president from blasting out disinformation [and neither has Twitter].

“Retweeting is now his plausible denial strategy. He now says, ‘I didn’t watch the video, I just retweeted,”” Phillips said. “If it’s not an active strategy that they sat down to work through, it is still what is communicating the most pernicious elements of his communications strategy in 2020.”

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Daniel Effron, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School, said that from a psychological perspective, repeating a false claim is an effective strategy because it makes the falsehood more familiar.

Yes! The Nazis knew this almost a century ago, it was known as the big lie technique of propaganda, a term coined by Adolf Hitler in his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Sound familiar?

“The concern is not just that we’re post-truth in the sense that you can say anything and people will believe it,” Effron said. “It’s that we’re post-truth in the sense that people won’t believe anything that anyone says and, worse, they won’t care. It’s that we become morally numb to all the falsehoods swirling around.”

I would disagree to the extent that Donald Trump “can say anything” and his personality cult followers “will believe it.” They exhibit blind loyalty to their “Dear Leader.” The world has seen this nightmare before. This represents a clear and present danger to the survival of American democracy. Trumpism is the new American fascism. And the survival of American democracy itself is on the ballot.