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What's On My Mind...

I am writing this while Minneapolis is still burning a few miles away from my home as a result of the police murder of George Floyd. I am watching the rioting and looting on my television. It’s an odd counterpoint to the political divides opening up like canyons. Republicans vs Democrats. Blacks vs Whites. American citizens against immigrants. Rich vs. poor. Masks vs no masks. Science fact against anti-virus conspiracists. And in many ways the truth vs lies.
   
Everything may feel amplified right now because we have all had to endure a long isolating time where we have all been left prey to all our demons in ways perhaps we have never experienced before.   

 But why now? Why during a crisis when normally Americans would find a way to come together as one powerful prideful nation. Why now are we feeling more torn apart than ever? And maybe this is just as important as the original question: Why we all feel we have the high moral ground in every side we choose? 

 I am going to suggest a theory. You can call it a conspiracy, but unlike many conspiracy theories, this one is substantiated by all the United States intelligence agencies. 
  
I am going to ask for your patience here while I make some points. Some of these things are going to make you roll your eyes and call me a whack job liberal or a product of the lamestream media or some such thing. But that just kind of further proves my points.
I like to think of myself as a student of history and I have a deep-seated love of America and what I believe the founding fathers had in mind when they drafted the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. I have always tried (not always successfully) to look at each side of a dispute and tried to apply a simple principle “assume positive intent” to the person with whom I disagree to allow me to try to see what motivates them to do the things they are doing.   

 This approach with an eye to the historical past lets you see some interesting things…
It used to be known as chapter one in the dictator playbook, the first thing you do to overthrow a government is to take over the radio and television stations and shut down the press. The reason for doing this is obvious. Dictators do not want the truth to reach the common people. They need to control the story to control the people.  

 This is why I became suspect of Donald Trump from the first minute he declared war against the American Media. Fake News! How easy has it been for him to deflect every important question ever asked of him by declaring its fake news? For Trump’s faithful followers the mainstream network news outlets are an organized force pitted against everything Donald wants to do. Yet if you pay close attention, Trump treats even his supporters with the same contempt the minute they question one of his hair-brained comments. Famously, he berated FOX News for making it clear ingesting cleanser will kill people when he suggested injecting cleanser and inserting bright lights into the human body as possible treatments just the day before. This tells you something very important. It’s not the mainstream media he wants you to hate. It’s any media that contradicts him or makes him look bad by accurately and responsibly reporting what he says and does. 
  
It’s happening again with his favorite form of communication: Twitter. This week Twitter found it necessary to put a tag on Trump’s tweets that what he was saying was not supported by facts. Immediately Trump moved to suppress Twitter’s right to post whatever they like amending Trump’s falsehoods (it is after all a private company that provides a service. They set the rules for how their service is used. Even if that abuser is the president). You either believe in less government reach or you don’t, right? 

 I am never going to say the media is flawless. It’s not. But most of the time news reporting… not political punditry… but real news reporting is accurate. NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and all other news organizations spread across the world, compete with one another. They are all trying to find inside stories and root out corruption and find out what’s going on behind all our political leaders no matter what their party affiliation might be. They are not an organized group working against the President. But they are constitutionally obligated to do what they do for the protection of the American people. Just like the right to free speech, and the right to bear arms, freedom of the press is a Constitutionally protected thing. The founding fathers wrote it into the Constitution because they knew there needed to be independent watchdogs making sure the people in government were doing the work of the people and not lining their own pockets or selling out our principals for their power gains.   

 This splitting of how we might believe a news story goes a long way towards telling us why we are so divided in so many different ways today. If you do not believe the people who responsibly report the news… and rather put your faith in political pundits who spin the news… you end up in a group divided from reality because they want to believe an opinion that might more closely reflect what they wish was happening. And perhaps not what really happened. 

 That's one reason why it’s misleading to call FOX News a news organization when they dedicate a mere fraction of their 24-hour broadcast day to actual news reporting. 70% of their broadcasts are dedicated to commentary. Not news. This is a fact. Check your TV guide and count up the hours and the type of shows occupying those hours and you cannot deny it. Yes, MS-NBC dedicates a lot of its time to commentary too but there is arguably more news reporting happening over there and they do not wrap their punditry in the guise of news reporting. You might not like Rachel Maddow, but if you watch her show you will find it incorporates a lot of hard news reporting, research, and it is all sourced. That's a big difference from just an opinion show.   

 And I bring up these opinion shows because they too exist to divide us. To put us in boxes with our core believes. And we have enough choices that we can turn the channel to find the opinions that most support what we want to believe, not necessarily what is the truth.
Oh, I am not blaming Trump for orchestrating this. He is manipulating the results of what divides us in ways I am sure he does not fully understand in the same way Forest Gump understood the Shrimping business. There was a lot of dumb luck involved in both cases.
This wanting to believe something is true even when it is not is yet another thing that has divided us. There are some people out there who want you to believe there are two sides to the truth. This is patently false. There is only one truth. Everything else is opinion. There is what actually happened and then there are the countless miss-tellings of the story than once again end up dividing us. It’s when we stop at the opinions without digging into the actual truth that we all get into trouble. 

 One other principle often used by real news reporters to get to that truth is “follow the money.” That's the process by which if there is corruption or a cover-up you can often find out who the source of the problem was by finding out who profited from the crime. 
 
There is also a very helpful tactic I pulled from being an artist. It’s simply “step back so you can see the whole picture.” The origin of this one is simple enough. Most painters get so close to their painting to brush in the most delicate details that they might get paint on their nose. They can lose themselves in the details at the expense of the whole painting. By stepping back, and taking in the entire picture, the artist can assess color balances, lights, and shadows. The overall tone of the paint and the emotion the painting provokes.  
By looking at the bigger picture and asking yourself who profits from America being so divided you do come up with only one villain.   

 Russia.  

 Our old foe and still a bad actor in the world. 

 Oh, sure other countries would like to see America torn apart from the inside. These recent years have done nothing for our popularity. We have stopped being the beacon of freedom that the rest of the world’s people wish they had. The promises chiseled into the base of the Statue of Liberty may as well be sandblasted away. Now those monickers belong to Canada, Germany, England, Sweden, and maybe France. Countries that seem to care about their people and have the protective successful programs in place to prove it.  

 We could regain our prestige in the eyes of the world. We have the pathway back written clearly in the Constitution we are currently ignoring.   

 When you look at who has gained the most from our recent failings, it’s Russia.  
Even if you don’t believe Trump is a Russian puppet, the fact remains that no other country has gained more from our losses.   

 China? China is already incredibly wealthy from our business partnerships. They don’t want to do anything to change how America behaves within itself. They make almost everything we consume. Why would they want anything to change? Again I am not saying China is completely innocent. There is no doubt their respect for international copyrights and patents needs to be addressed. And we can argue about trade, but can we agree they have the better end of the deal right now and might not be inclined to support radical change within the US? 

 You can go through a long list of US advisories but only one has the means and the motivation to encourage divides within America.  

 Russia. 

 By Russia, I do not intend to blame the common Russian civilians who are just like us. Struggling to get by and the victim of state-controlled media. Of course, I mean Putin. The former head of the KGB and the President of that country on and off since 2000.  
 
Don’t you think it’s weird for so-called self-proclaimed patriots here in America proudly wearing “Better Russian than Democrat” t-shirts to Trump rallies?  

 Where did the shift happen where our well known historical foe, the Godless Commies, the Reds in the “Better Dead than Red!” Cold war slogan becomes the enemy and the Russians (for whom we have maintained a constant military guarded border since the 1940s) become a more preferred option to Democrats? The folks whose defining principles are free education and healthcare for all (how dare they!). How do our differences as political counterparts suddenly (and this is historically recent) make being a Democrat worse than being our worst known enemy? 

 How do I know this is a very recent thought?  

 Because George W Bush and Barack Obama are well-documented friends. Those are the two most recent Presidents. They occupied the White House with two completely different approaches and it can be argued that they both succeeded and failed because of it. But the country transferred gracefully from a two-term Republican to a two-term Democrat and there was an air of civility through it all. You might have disliked either of those men and what they did in office. But we stuck together pretty well and there was usually some civility across America. And those men now serve as an example of how things should be. Different approaches by two different people of two different political affiliations who honestly wanted to do what they felt was best for the country.  
 
It should be noted that the political divide we feel today happened when the Republican-led Congress refused to support anything proposed by  President Barack Obama. And it should also be noted that this is about when the intelligence agencies started to report Russia was flooding social media with trolls and disinformation.  

 Since then, Russia’s economy has improved. Russia’s status as a world player has greatly increased. Russia’s military has rebuilt itself. Russia has succeeded in reclaiming forcefully sections of the old Soviet Union. And perhaps most disheartening, young Russian people no longer look at the liberties and freedoms of America as an example of something better than the oppressive Russian form of government.   

 With the dying of the American dream, with these ever-widening divides, the light of hope for the rest of the world’s people is also fading. And that is immeasurably sad.   

 The entire US intelligence community has confirmed this. Its the topic of many reports that Trump has deemed fake news despite them all originating from within the United States' intelligence agencies. The reports say Russia cannot compete with us militarily. We are the most powerful military nation on the planet with seven times more defense spending than what the Russian economy can muster. They know they cannot defeat us on the battlefield. But what they can afford to do is set up rows and rows of cheap computer consoles and hire thousands of internet trolls to develop a constant drumbeat of little posts, then support groups and online clubs. That seems innocent enough, right? But then gradually slip in a little racial slant here, or a mention "someone's coming to take your guns" there. Maybe an outrageous but real-enough looking news article that claims vaccines give your pets two heads, or that a political opponent you don't like might somehow be connected to a sex trafficking ring. Perhaps they do this enough that you start to wonder why the mainstream media isn't reporting this stuff? Maybe they are part of the problem! Maybe this happens so much that you start your own YouTube channel where you take it upon yourself to report the stories no one else is reporting. And now you have followers and you have become an even bigger voice that is unwittingly chirping messages that these Russian computer trolling sweatshops want you to repeat. Because now you’ve covered their trails. Now its middle America broadcasting for them. Supposedly good patriotic citizens demanding their version of the truth. Meanwhile, another group develops its channel to proclaim how full of shit your views are. And here we are with yet another big divide. This sort of thing is happening again and again and again and has been happening now for years. 

 By the way, a lot of this could have been stopped immediately by checking the source of the inflammatory article you decided to forward to all your friends. Did it come from a real news source or did it come from some political pundit? CHECK THE SOURCE, people! Better yet, make sure you tell us in your comments where the article that got you so riled up originated.
 
If you want to see a very beautifully researched and documented film that proves these points much better than I ever could, go to NETFLIX and watch the movie Active Measures. 

 So next time you feel like I do. Wondering why there have become so many things tearing us apart these days, let’s all get behind the fairly provable theory that we can all rally behind!  

 Blame Russia. Blame Putin. Try it. It feels nice to get together again on something.

... Sincerely, Joseph Pillsbury