On Friday, the CIA announced that “the consensus view”1 of US intelligence agencies is that Russia used computer hackers to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump. Democrats agree. Can you blame them? It’s comforting to think Americans didn’t really choose Trump. Like the Michigan recount, the CIA report holds out the possibility that last month’s disturbing vote didn’t really happen. And even if it did, blaming Russian cyberspies lets Democrats off the hook. They wouldn’t have lost to the worst major-party candidate in history, if Vladimir Putin hadn’t put his thumb on the scale. Never mind that we don’t know how much this possible Russian hacking actually influenced the election. The important thing is that the CIA is right, and to suggest that they might be mistaken is unconscionable. After all, those people are heroes:
Men & women of CIA serve, risk their lives -often anonymously w/o glory or fame- to keep rest of us safe. Attacking them is NOT ACCEPTABLE.
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) December 12, 2016
Updated head count of sacred cows after the jump.
So the list of American heroes: soldiers, firefighters, cops, first responders, and CIA analysts. Basically everyone who works for the government is a hero, unless they got elected. Teachers are heroes unless they form a union. But the boys from Langley are definitely heroes, risking their lives to keep America safe or, at the very least, spending all day inside analyzing reports from people who risk their lives to keep us safe. Attacking them is NOT ACCEPTABLE, a Twitter term used to refer to something you’re going to accept but complain about.
The attacker to whom Navarro’s tweet presumably refers is our president-elect. On Sunday night, his transition team issued a statement noting that the US intelligence community comprised “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”2 In an interview recorded Saturday for Fox News Sunday, Trump said Democrats were only embracing the CIA narrative because they were disappointed at losing the election.
He’s not wrong. The Democrats are disappointed at losing the election, and that might account for their sudden confidence in the CIA. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Even if Democrats believe the CIA report for the worst reasons, it doesn’t mean Russian hackers didn’t try to swing the election for Trump. If they did, that doesn’t mean the election would have come out any differently, as previously noted. What we have here are three separate propositions, all of which are related but none of which proves or falsifies any other:
- The CIA is right that Russian hackers tried to help Trump.
- Trump would not have won without this help.
- The Democratic Party is run by stupid pussies.
Each of these three claims combines scant evidence with vast implications. Because everything the CIA does is secret, we have to accept or reject its assessment solely on the basis of credibility—that of the agency and of the politicians to whom it reports. Hence the “CIA analysts are heroes” argument; it suggests that challenging their credibility as analysts attacks their status noble guardians who protect all of us (by abducting and torturing some of us.) This pressure to argue from authority in the absence of evidence also propels Trump’s “previous CIA assessments encouraged us toward the worst foreign affairs blunder since Vietnam”3 argument.
If you hold out for evidence, you have to reject all three of these propositions. If you argue from authority, though, you might as well take proposition (2) along with proposition (1). I mean, come on—it’s what so many of us want to believe anyway. It suggests our democracy might be healthy after all. American voters wouldn’t have picked this maniac to be our president, if only they had been left alone to choose. As if redeeming our faith in democracy weren’t enough, believing proposition (2) also lets the Democratic Party off the hook for blowing a very important, very winnable election.
Unfortunately, this element of its appeal probably supports proposition (3) more than it does the other two. Between Iraq, waterboarding, and the giant secret surveillance state we kind of know about, the left has not lately been a fan of the CIA. Now that the agency is offering to undo our collective democratic nightmare, though, it is unacceptable to question its expertise. Of course, Democrats aren’t the only ones who have suddenly elevated intelligence analysts to hero status. Anti-Trump Republicans are doing it, too:
— (((Chris Suprun))) (@TheChrisSuprun) December 10, 2016
The worst tendencies of contemporary rhetoric are coming together, here. We already cheapen the word “hero” for various reasons, including so we can argue from authority instead of evidence. Preferring authority to evidence is already a bad habit we indulge much more than we should. In this case, nearly all the evidence is withheld from us, so we might as well. What you believe about this story is a Rorschach test for what you want to be true. Everyone who agrees with that is a hero, keeping us safe.