Silicon Valley’s touted ‘utopia’ helped deliver our current dystopia

When the Vatican complains you’re dragging the US ‘back to the past’ , you know you’re in trouble

President Donald Trump  got into the White House and began yanking the country back to the 1950s – on abortion, on climate change, on women’s rights, on regulations. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Donald Trump got into the White House and began yanking the country back to the 1950s – on abortion, on climate change, on women’s rights, on regulations. Photograph: Doug Mills/The New York Times

 

I am not going to write “a beautiful letter” to Premier Trump, the kind he likes to get from fellow autocrats. But I have to give him credit for one thing. When Trump fatigue seemed to set in after the Mueller report, with cable network ratings dropping, I had total faith that Trump and his crazy posse would find some bizarre way to grab back the spotlight. And, indeed, what could be more insane than this? A president who has spent two years battling accusations that he colluded with a foreign power to fix the 2016 election manages to wriggle off the hook. Just three weeks later, his lawyer unveils their 2020 plan: to collude with a foreign power to fix the election. “We’re not meddling in an election,” Rudy Giuliani protested to the New York Times’s Ken Vogel. “We’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.”

Giuliani had his bags packed for a trip to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, to meet with the president-elect – who made his name playing a president on a TV comedy. Rudy wanted to stir up investigations that might buoy any one of Trump’s febrile rants about Ukrainian connections to “the dirty dossier”, the origins of the “witch hunt” and, of course, how all of it leads back to Hillary and the Democrats. And, while he was over there, Giuliani was going to try to pick up some fresh ammo to use against Hunter Biden, who served on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch, in an effort to hurt the Democratic rival he now calls “SleepyCreepy Joe”.

Uproar

After an uproar, Giuliani cancelled the trip late Friday night, saying he thought he was being “set up” and that Democrats were trying to “spin” the trip. Volume I of the Mueller report garnered less attention than Volume II, but in some ways it was more chilling. The Russian spies, hackers and cyberteams who aimed to upend the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion”, as the Mueller report put it, were far more efficient and successful than the Russians who met with Donald Trump jnr in Trump Tower.

Kirstjen Nielse didn’t even bother to bring it up in his recent phone call with his pal Vlad

Trump’s former homeland security chief, Kirstjen Nielsen, was told not to talk to the president about plans to protect America from Russian interference in the next election. He’s putting his hands over his ears on this one. He didn’t even bother to bring it up in his recent phone call with his pal Vlad. Volume I is dispiriting, both because of the spectre that the Russians are coming for us again, with our digital defenses down, and because of the sad arc it unspools about the existential perils of social media. George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld dragged us into the past. Still stung by rollbacks of presidential power after Watergate, Nixon acolytes Cheney and Rumsfeld had pushed for extreme executive privilege and for America to be a swaggering hyperpower in the world. They mired us in two interminable wars in Flintstones territory when we should have been looking ahead.

Bogged down

When Barack Obama was elected, it felt like we were moving to a bold, gleaming future with a young, appealing president who would reposition America to deal with Asia, AI, globalisation and all the fresh challenges of the 21st century. But Obama’s presidency was bogged down by W’s epic mistakes and his own professorial aloofness. The fears and ire of Americans who felt displaced and left behind intensified and metastasized across social media. We learned the dark side of the fiendish little devices that were supposed to make our lives brighter, and the avaricious side of the lords of the cloud, who turned out to have world domination dreams that rivalled Cheney’s.

Trump always seems like someone who walked out of a Vegas steam bath in 1959

Silicon Valley’s touted utopia helped deliver our current dystopia. “Collectively,” the Mueller report said, the social media accounts of the Russian troll farms and bots, pretending to be American activists, “reached tens of millions of US persons.” Boosted by all the phony content on social media during the campaign, and by his own adeptness using Twitter as a sabre, Donald Trump got into the White House and began yanking us back to the ‘50s – on abortion, on climate change, on women’s rights, on regulations. Most devastatingly, he’s turning back the clock with the judiciary. Trump always seems like someone who walked out of a Vegas steam bath in 1959. And now the whole country is starting to smell of moth balls. When the Vatican complains that you’re dragging the US “back to the past”, you know you’re in trouble. Besides Mark Zuckerberg, Trump is the most successful exploiter of social media in history – and he’s 72.

Frightening

Chris Hughes is not the perfect messenger. He stumbled into a fortune based on a lucky roommate situation and then used it to trash the venerable New Republic magazine and help bungle a swing district for the Democrats. But the co-founder of Facebook is correct that Zuckerberg’s unbridled power is frightening; it’s a story straight out of Mary Shelley. “Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power,” Hughes wrote in a searing New York Times oped piece. “The American government needs to do two things: break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.” It’s time for all our social-media-addicted dictators – in the DC swamp and in Silicon Valley – to have their wings clipped. – New York Times

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