Magazine article The New Yorker

A Long Year

Magazine article The New Yorker

A Long Year

Article excerpt

A Long Year

It was only a year ago that voters delivered Donald Trump to the Presidency. It feels much longer. Trump's Twitter storms and erraticism can seem to slow time. There was his initial travel ban, last January, followed by protests at airports, court injunctions, a new travel ban, further injunctions, and an intervention by the Supreme Court. Add to this his adventures in nuclear brinkmanship; his assault on Obamacare; his moves to tear apart the world's free-trade system; and his use of the White House bully pulpit to normalize white supremacy. It may seem many months ago, yet it was only in mid-August that he took note of the "very fine people" attending a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, where a white nationalist murdered a counter-protester. Steve Bannon may think of all this as a strategy of disruption. But Trump's conduct rarely suggests deliberation; it more often seems to express his anger, his tiresome ego, and his instincts for performance.

It requires fortitude to accept the likelihood that the Trump Presidency is about to become more eventful still. The investigations into Vladimir Putin's interference in the 2016 election, and the possibility that Trump's campaign colluded with Russia, are intensifying. The accusation that Russian covert operations influenced the Presidential vote clearly drives Trump to distraction. He has repeatedly denied that his campaign collaborated with Russia, and he insists that Putin's activity contributed nothing to his victory. Yet the latest revelations do not bode well for the President.

Last week, congressional committees summoned representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to grill them about how they could possibly have allowed polarizing, race-baiting ads to be placed on their platforms by companies linked to the Kremlin. On Facebook alone, during the campaign, Russian ads reached more than a hundred million Americans. It is shocking that only now, and after early denials from Facebook that the ads were a serious problem, are we discovering the vast online spread of manipulative content linked to Russia. At a minimum, as Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, put it, "the Russians mounted what could be described as an independent expenditure campaign on Mr. Trump's behalf." Yet Facebook has often evaded accountability, whether regarding privacy violations, its monopoly power, or abuses of its platform by malevolent actors. Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, its chief operating officer, did not go to Washington last week. They were on a conference call about Facebook's quarterly profits of nearly five billion dollars.

The Justice Department has also made a leap forward in its efforts to clarify Russia's interference and to prosecute anyone involved in illegality. Last week, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, announced the indictment of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and an associate, Rick Gates, on charges of fraud and money laundering stemming from their work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Most of Manafort's activity was previously known, and the charges did not touch upon collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Still, the indictment served notice to Manafort that if he wishes to avoid a long prison sentence he might consider talking with Mueller's investigators about, for example, what Trump knew about Russia's efforts to help him get elected. …

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