Thursday, August 02, 2018

E Pluribus Unum

Out of many, one.  This was the original motto of the United States, and has appeared on the Great Seal since 1792.  Wikipedia says,
"Never codified by law, E pluribus unum was considered a de facto motto of the United States[5] until 1956 when the United States Congress passed an act (H. J. Resolution 396), adopting "In God We Trust" as the official motto.[6]
Or, as I would have put it, until the McCarthyites panicked about the godless Commies in the 1950s and replaced it with In God We Trust, to prove that We were different from Them.  But the original motto of this country was, Out of many, one.

We've heard a lot lately about Russian interference with the 2016 election, and potentially with the 2018 midterms.  I've been reading a lot about this, particularly in Clint Watts' excellent book, Messing with the Enemy - Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News.  I recommend it.  It's clear that the Russians did hack the socks off the Democratic National Committee computers in 2016, and stole a whole load of emails.  The purpose of that was to leak the emails, via WikiLeaks, and to make the DNC, and Hillary Clinton, look bad.  It wasn't to directly affect anything the DNC was doing. 

The broader Russian propaganda effort, based on American-developed social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Google, was not to damage any particular candidate.  It was to cause dissension around all candidates, and around the process itself. The purpose was to turn Americans against each other, and maybe against democracy itself.  Russian agents set up fake accounts on all the platforms, and had both humans and bots creating multiple propaganda posts, aimed at making Americans more angry with each other.  Some of these posts were adapted from existing posts - America has plenty of angry people. The Russians intended to intensify the polarization, and they played both sides of the aisle.  They posted white supremacist rants; and they posted rants which seemed to come from Black Lives Matter; anything to make somebody angry.

You may have read that Facebook just took down a bunch of pages they thought were run by Russian operatives.  The CNN article I linked notes that one of the pages was an organizing site for a "No Unite the Right 2" march planned for Washington.  This appears to have been a genuine rally, planned in opposition to a white supremacist rally (also planned for Washington), and partly supported by Black Lives Matter.  Since Black Lives Matter is a very decentralized organization, it's relatively easy to appear to be speaking for them.  What this means is that Facebook is still learning how to spot the genuine bad actors.  May they learn quickly.  I know from personal experience that it's much easier to create a "fake" account on Facebook than they want to admit. 

Out of Many, One.  In many ways, the various waves of immigration over the last 2 centuries have in fact created a single America out of families whose ancestors originated everywhere else in the world. How many Americans do you know whose ancestors were German?  Russian?  Italian?  Greek?  Mexican?  Chinese?  Japanese? Korean?  Haitian?  Nigerian?  And the descendants all now speak American English and eat American food, and vote in American elections.  But some of these Americans are now challenged by other Americans - "you don't belong here."

We've become extremely polarized, at least partly due to Russian propaganda.  How do we back off of that?  Can we?  E Pluribus Unum is one of those phrases, like the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, which was not totally true even when originally published, but which slowly became more true than it had been over time - a goal or aspiration, rather than a statement of fact.  (See my post, I Miss the America I Thought I Knew.)  In the 2 World Wars, America was pretty united; since then, perhaps less so; it's much easier to be united when you have a clear and present enemy to fear. 

The enemy we should fear right now is Russia and its propaganda.  We need to question extreme social media posts, especially if they appeal to us - not only, "is this true?", but "who is saying this?"  Russia is no longer a Communist state; but it's still an enemy.

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