And so it was left to Robert Mueller to decisively answer why so many Americans were so stupid that they voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election: It is because they were stupid.
That is the inescapable subtext of the special prosecutor's indictment last Friday of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations for using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to contact millions of voters through a Russian troll farm in a brazen and less-than-subtle effort to sow political discord by disparaging Hillary Clinton in the service of boosting Trump's candidacy.
"The Americans are very impressionable people and they see what they want to see," declared Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who bankrolled and helped direct the propaganda attack, in response to being indicted. "If they want to see the devil -- let them."
And the devil they did see in waves of ads, fake news, bogus social media accounts and videos targeting voters in eight "purple states," as the troll farm project called them, where the election appeared to be a toss-up.
Most of the propaganda effort was focused on Florida, the largest swing state.
Trump campaign officials there kept being surprised by the robust grassroots support for the future president. They said it just didn't make sense at the time because . . . well, just because. That unarticulated "because" was because Trump was damaged goods and they knew it, but they didn't detect the hand of the pseudonymous Russian conspirators nailed by Mueller in early August 2016 when they approached the campaign with a plan for some 20 "Florida Goes Trump" rallies -- actually a series of hypercharged anti-Clinton displays -- held throughout the state on August 20.
The conspirators' sense of the theatrical was greased with greenbacks.
As the indictment noted, these payments resulted in a variety of anti-Clinton displays, including a cage on a flatbed truck with a volunteer portraying the Democratic candidate in a prison uniform. Other Trump supporters picked up on the theme and displayed cages in their front yards, while the candidate himself led chants of "Lock her up!" at rallies while routinely declaring that if he lost, it was because Democrats had rigged the vote.
"We looked out for things when people came to rallies," recalled Susie Wiles, one of Trump's top Florida organizers. "We weren't looking for fake Americans that were really Russians. The world seems different now."
A few others were not so easily fooled.
"It was all the social media stuff, that's where you could see something was weird," said Florida Republican Party executive director David Johnson with the clarity of hindsight. "It was syntax errors and odd ways of saying things that were apparent."
Read one typical message: "Florida is still a purple state and we need to appoint it red. If we lose Florida, we lose America." And another: "Tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary voters are being reported in Broward County."
Political scientists have been studying for decades what voters know and how they think, and their conclusions are truly frightening. Voters generally know who the president is, but little else. They don't know who controls Congress, what Congress has done recently, and whether the economy is getter better or worse.
Vladimir Putin's scheme succeeded magnificently. This, according to those political scientists, is because most voters are ignorant or misinformed. For them, the costs of acquiring political information (as opposed to the research they would do before buying a new car) exceed the potential benefits. They believe they can afford to indulge in delusional beliefs because they believe that it doesn't cost them anything.
Trump son-out-law Jared Kushner haughtily declared last summer after testifying before a congressional committee investigating Russian interference that "Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him."
But at the heart of the social media attack is what Prigozhin knew, Russia took advantage of and Kushner would never acknowledge: American voters are so stupid that many of them are unable and unwilling to assess the credibility of what they read, see and hear.
They don't care enough to know the truth.
|FORT MYERS (FLA.) NEWS-PRESS|
ONE OF THE PERSISTENT LIES ABOUT THE ELECTION is that Trump supported the little guy while Clinton was a choice of the privileged.
In reality, Trump voters had an average income of $72,ooo a year, which didn't make them rich, but didn't qualify them for food stamps. They were, however, just as vulnerable to the Russian disinformation war as the knuckle-dragging Trump supporters whom Clinton infamously called "deplorables."
As it turned out, three people of our acquaintance drank the Kremlin Kool Aid.
One is a highly-educated registered Democrat who has a high-powered job that turns on decision making and would seem to be too intelligent to not have succumbed to decades of anti-Clinton hype, including the evergreen that she murdered Vince Foster, Bill Clinton's deputy White House counsel, and then be hoodwinked all over again by the Kremlin's cyber juggernaut.
But on Election Day, she wrote in a prominent national Democrat on her ballot in a Pennsylvania district rather than voting for Clinton because she believed the fake news, and being a Jew was especially aggrieved about a fake news story that financier George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew and Holocaust survivor, was secretly working with Clinton to undermine the Netanyahu regime in Israel.
Clinton lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a razor-thin 77,744 votes out of 13.9 million cast.
It is well documented that Russian operatives -- in my view with the help of the Trump campaign -- targeted undecided and vulnerable voters in those high-impact "purple states" through social platforms. Clinton, who won the popular vote outright, would have won the Electoral College by a 275-248 electoral vote margin if 22,147 Pennsylvania voters -- including our acquaintance, who by not voting for Clinton in effect voted for Trump -- and a mere 5,353 Michigan voters and 11,375 Wisconsin voters had voted for Clinton.
Then there were two anesthesiologists who had so completely bought into the fake news campaign that they had troll farm talking points on their smartphones, as well as YouTube videos purporting to reveal Clinton's manifold sins, that they would relentlessly bring up during pre-election water cooler discussions.
RUSSIA WON TWICE WITH TRUMP. As Putin rose from KGB spy to director of the FSB, its successor agency, to the leader of a reborn Russia determined to return the motherland to its status as a global superpower at the expense of America's standing, the perfect patsy in the form of a New York developer, celebrity reality show star and billionaire had made himself available long before the 2016 election.
Conveniently for the Kremlin, Trump had a fawning admiration for autocrats, unknowingly became snared in the KGB's web and then was further drawn in by sleazy investors whose ties to Soviet and then Russian government agencies he overlooked because of his insatiable need for cash and narcissistic craving for power.
Trump's ensnarement grew even deeper in 2016.
Putin's cyberespionage of the presidential campaign was as much to stop Hillary Clinton, whom Putin openly loathed and feared would build on Obama era economic sanctions and further freeze out Russia, than to elect Trump. And so Russia was not merely able to manipulate a pliably uncurious American electorate, but it additionally scored with Trump, who as president continues to do the Kremlin's bidding.
After Mueller's latest indictment, which devastated Trump's long-playing argument that the scandal was a "hoax," his predictable reaction was to claim personal vindication ("The Trump campaign did nothing wrong -- no collusion!"), not voice concern that a foreign power had been trying to undermine American democracy and that would not be tolerated.
In a remarkable nine-hour, profanity-laced tweet storm over the weekend, Trump then attacked Mueller for saying that the Russian interference effort was intended to push voters toward him and away from Clinton, again tried to shift blame to Barack Obama and the Democrats because Russian interference began before the election, denied he has ever said Moscow was not involved in something he has claimed never happened, and attacked H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, for saying Moscow was involved.
A democracy is supposed to reflect the will of the people. But in 2016 -- and since with the Trump presidency -- it has done anything but.
Click HERE for a comprehensive and searchable timeline of the Russia scandal.