Doctor Jill Biden wrote and defended a doctoral dissertation in 2007 — the crowning achievement of an advanced educational process that entitles a person to the professional title, “Doctor.” Hence, her title.

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Jill Biden speaking with young woman in 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

On December 11, 2020, noted literary arbiter and cultural critic, mister Joseph Epstein, declared Biden’s professional distinction “fraudulent, not to say a touch comic” in a Wall Street Journal screed I have no intention of linking to. In fact, I have no intention of linking to any of his pieces here, but they’re easy enough to Google.

Epstein’s newest op-ed has rightly been called elitist, sexist, and misogynistic, and he has earned plenty of venom for diminishing Biden’s professional title. …

Memes, rhetoric, and Russian trolls

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“The Distracted Boyfriend” meme

It is election time again, which means Russia is back in the news.

In early September, Facebook and Twitter suspended multiple accounts affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian propaganda group. Then a whistleblower at the Department of Homeland Security alleged that Trump officials altered intelligence reports about Russian disinformation to make it seem less threatening. That was followed up by Microsoft issuing a warning that, among other things, hackers connected to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) were revving up in the run up to the election. …

At the beginning of September, Facebook announced that they suspended five accounts affiliated with “Peace Data,” a news website launched by Russia’s social media propaganda wing, the Internet Research Agency. The IRA, of course, was instrumental in the Russian disinformation campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 election. This year, they even hired unwitting American freelance journalists to write for Peace Data.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, acknowledged that “Russian actors are trying to target the 2020 elections and public debate in the U.S.,” but he also sought to reassure Americans that “it’s not really working.”

Maybe he’s right. Probably he’s not. …

In 1953, famed political philosopher and Jewish-German exile, Leo Strauss, coined a term to describe a trope that he increasingly saw circulating in public discourse: reductio ad Hilterum. Reductio ad Hitlerum is a fallacy used in arguments to discredit anything that can be associated with or compared to Hitler. Hitler liked dogs? Then liking dogs is discredited. Hitler was a vegetarian? Discredited. A teetotaler? Discredited. And so on.

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Strauss’s identification of reductio ad Hitlerum was little more than a footnote to his main point about social science and political philosophy in the 20th century. Nevertheless, he gave us a very useful shorthand for describing a prevalent form of public argument, and it’s one we’d do well to understand because it continues to play an important role in public debates, though perhaps not in the way we’d expect. …

There has been a veritable flood of new information this week about Russian interference in American elections, including the release of a Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee report confirming the Trump campaign’s coordination with Russian operatives before the 2016 election. In a press release issued upon the full release of the Intelligence Committee report, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that:

“America’s intelligence and law enforcement communities have made clear that the Russian Government is continuing to wage a massive intervention campaign to benefit the President, warning of a ‘365-days-a-year threat’ to compromise the 2020 elections and undermine our democracy.”

Memes continue to be a key element in the Russian intervention campaign, and observing how they work is a valuable exercise for anyone who hopes to understand, and maybe even lessen, their effects. …

A little over a week ago, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, William R. Evanina, released an update in the organization’s ongoing investigation into foreign efforts to influence American elections.

Among its conclusions was the following:

We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment.’…Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.

In short, the NCSC knows Russia is directly attempting to interfere in the 2020 election to help re-elect Trump, and one of the ways they’re doing it is through social media. …

About three weeks ago, archetypal vanilla milkshake, Tom Cotton (R.-Ark), introduced a bill in the Senate to prohibit federal funds from going to support the teaching of the “1619 Project” in public schools. If you haven’t seen it, the 1619 Project is a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles, poems, photographs, fiction, and more published in the New York Times, which connects the founding of the U.S. with the arrival of the first slave ships in the Virginia Colony more than a century and a half before the Declaration of Independence was written.

Cotton — the Senator, not the cash crop around which so much Southern slavery revolved — is not a big fan of the 1619 Project. In an unintentionally absurdist interview that would have made Andy Kaufman blush, he was kind enough to explain. …

On November 5, 2016 — just three days before Election Day — the Princeton Election Consortium at Princeton University released results from a survey indicating that Hillary Clinton had a 99% chance of winning the presidency. The survey results raised doubts among some esteemed pollsters, but they also reinforced a lot of common sense about Clinton’s inevitability.

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Evidence that Clinton was going to be America’s 45th President was plentiful. For one, Republicans were supposedly concerned. …

Today marks one month since George Floyd was killed by four Minneapolis police officers. The uprisings that resulted from Floyd’s murder continue to rage across the country, and will likely continue for some time. In a number of cases, they’ve had significant positive results.

Despite their continuation, news coverage of the uprisings has significantly died down. In the slightly quieter moment in which we find ourselves, it is useful to take stock of what we can (and should) learn from the past month, including what we can discover about common reactions to the protests. …

In times of high emotion or intense passion, it can be helpful to try and understand current events by triangulating them with less provocative parallels. Such is the case for people trying to make sense of the protests and riots growing across the country in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

In the 1999 cult favorite, Office Space, there’s an iconic scene in which the three main characters steal a printer from their office building, drive it out into a field, and beat it to death. …


Ryan Skinnell

Author, speaker, rhetoric professor, father, husband. ~views mine~

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