Streetwise Professor

May 27, 2018

Alice in Swampland: Paging Lewis Caroll

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:02 pm

It is alternately amusing and nauseating to watch the shocked! Shocked! reactions to Trump’s accusation that the FBI (and likely the CIA and perhaps other tentacles of the octopus) spied on his campaign (i.e., on him).  Perhaps only Lewis Caroll could do justice to the verbal contortions:

 “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Only to the Masters of the Word in the swamp could a counterintelligence operation, complete with a codename, NOT be considered “spying.” Further, it is clear that Trump was the target of this counterintelligence (i.e., spying) operation, rather than the beneficiary of its protection (as some of the swamp things would have us believe). If US intelligence believed that the Russians were running an operation against Trump, rather in league with him, they would have informed him.  They didn’t. Hence, they believed he was the enemy.  Not that complicated.

The most satisfying thing about all this is is that whenever anyone engages in such semantic pettifoggery, and obsesses over definitions rather than substance, it is an admission of defensiveness, the inability to win an argument on the merits, and indeed, guilt.

Basic facts are usually robust to variations in the words used to describe them–which is precisely why Trump can be persuasive to many people (most of whom do not live by words) despite his verbal imprecision.  If a particular claim can only be made by playing Humpty Dumpty, and making a simple three letter word like “spy” mean exactly what you want it to mean, that’s a pretty strong indication that your claim is wrong, and moreover, you are making it in extremely bad faith.

The crucial issue here is how this will play with the public.  My inclination–and perhaps this is wishful thinking–is that most Americans are like Alice, looking askance at swamp-dwelling Humpty-Dumptys.

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