It is a natural human tendency to want all good things to go together and all bad things to go together. That’s why we don’t like hearing that Hitler built great roads and was kind to animals, or that Mahatma Gandhi could be petty and nasty. In other words, we hate hearing good things about our villains and bad things about our heroes.
This sort of thinking is downstream of tribalism. The essence of tribal thinking boils down to: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and the friend of my enemy is my enemy.”
Politics has its own kind of tribalism as well, bending facts and principles to partisan loyalties.
The clearest sign that one has given over to a kind of tribal partisanship is when someone — or whole groups of people — cannot countenance inconvenient truths.
In the 1990s, for example, feminists had laid down a series of arguments about sexual harassment. Then Bill Clinton got in trouble. Rather than maintain the principles they’d been asserting or acknowledge the facts they found regrettable, they rallied to Clinton’s defense. In their rush to help him, they left behind the baggage of their credibility.
Which brings me to Julian Assange and the issue of Russian hacking.
Donald Trump and many of his supporters are having a hard time acknowledging the following: Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is an avowed enemy of the United States who has openly admitted — and acted on — his animosity toward America. A onetime TV host for Russia Today, a Vladimir Putin-directed propaganda network, he is if not in the employ of Russia than objectively in service to it.
The government of Russia, through surrogates and proxies, meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, much as it has done in numerous other countries. The Russians used WikiLeaks as a very effective tool for their mischief. That mischief probably had some effect on how the election played out. Russia, under Putin’s authoritarian rule, seeks to undermine the legitimacy of American and Western democracy and to weaken NATO.
Democrats and many people in the media are having a hard time admitting the following: All of the election-related documents leaked to and by WikiLeaks have been authentic and pertain to legitimate issues for news organizations to explore. Much of the evidence for Russia’s meddling may in fact be circumstantial or hard to prove unequivocally.
The appointed leadership of the U.S. intelligence community, under Barack Obama in particular, has been politicizing intelligence (downplaying ISIS and Islamic terrorism generally, hyping the extent of al-Qaida’s degradation, soft-peddling Iran’s intentions, etc.). Skepticism toward what they say on the way out the door is warranted (though perhaps not in the way Trump has expressed it). Even if Russia meddled in the election, Trump was legitimately elected.
Now, I consider all of these things to be true. But that leaves me — and many like me — in the middle of a partisan shooting war.
Trump and his subalterns have found themselves in the position of rehabilitating Assange as some kind of heroic truth-teller, because they feel it necessary for political reasons.
In 2010, Sarah Palin described Assange as “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.” Recently, she apologized.
In 2010, with a bit of hyperbole, Newt Gingrich declared: “Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism. He should be treated as an enemy combatant.” Recently, Gingrich told Sean Hannity (one of Assange’s most prominent fans these days) that Assange is a “down-to-earth, straightforward interviewee.”
In 2010, Michael Moore put up $20,000 for Assange’s bail — he’d been charged with rape in Sweden — because “there is a concerted attempt to stop … anybody that is trying to do the job of telling us the truth.” Now, Moore says Trump has no right to be president because of Russia’s use of WikiLeaks’ truth-telling.
The Huffington Post was initially enthralled by WikiLeaks, running pieces with such headlines as “Let Us Now Praise WikiLeaks.” Now, the Huffington Post’s hyperventilating threatens to suck the oxygen out of the atmosphere.
Of course, people are allowed to change their minds when new facts present themselves. But those facts should be relevant.
The problem is that the most pertinent facts — about Assange, Russia, etc. — have not changed. The only truly relevant new fact is that Assange is a useful tool for Republicans, and all other facts must be bent — on the left and right — to fit that new reality.
JONAH GOLDBERG is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior editor of National Review. His column is distributed by Tribune Content Agency.