Day 8 Conflict of Interest: The Plot Thickens, Edward Snowden, Divisions of Division

Donald Trump Jr. (hereafter ‘Jr.’ for short) boldly and firmly stated that there would be no conflict of interest between this father’s presidency and Trump International. I’ll take his word on it and move onto the next conflict of interest: Putin’s Russia and Edward Snowden. 

You’ve got an axis (let’s refer to the WWII terminology here) that created a haven for dissidents based on the relation between two cults of personality–Obama and Putin–and now that axis is suspended. Where will the resistance go? Venezuela? Sweden? Then you’ve got Giuliani, a hard ball authoritarian who believes the best way to solve an issue is get a bigger hammer. He’s a likely candidate for Secretary of State, and already part of the transition team, meaning ‘tough’ will be interchangeable borderline unconstitutional in terms of approaches to security. He’s got his own conflict of interest since he’s overseen foreign governments projects in Qatar, Canada and Iran. You’ve still got Dakota Access Pipeline police who are trolling Facebook event attendees trying to determine how to implement an Orwellian reality on the central plains. Let’s just put the historical human injustice treatment to the side for a moment. Meanwhile, Wikileaks allegedly hacked the DNC emails and, in tandem with the FBI arguably leaned the final days toward a demagogue. #TechPrivacy, #pyrotechnics, #homelandPirates. It gets worse.

This is a recipe for a best seller. Here are the main characters, entrenched in their own love triangle / conflict of interest: Will Putin hand over Snowden to Trump’s government who, based on the authoritarian nature of the future secretary of state and the switch of social media from enterprising protest to surveillance ? And what part did Wikileaks play into an ever-surveilling government’s hand? This Business Insider article July 2016 follows the Twitter exchange between Snowden and prior collaborators Wikileaks, moderated by the American Left’s conscience-meter, Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald essentially takes the stance that, while digital critique of power is important, there is too much at stake in the 2016 Presidential Elections. And it’s an important point to take because, although this is basically irrelevant given the reality that’s unfolding, as a Sanders supporter, Greenwald indicates that between Trump and Clinton, of course Clinton is the obvious choice. 

Snowden maybe the closest thing to a hero this generation is going to get. He lived a life in front of a screen like so many frustrated young people who regularly hear from the hippy generation that political protest can’t happen behind a laptop. He’s a regular at cultural events–SXSW and even takes place in debates via VOiP. A small minority of Reagan-esque Republican youngsters may view him as a traitor, but the fact that his actions were not motivated by personal profit of any kind, more view him as an important whistleblower. 

But what’s really coming to light is a division within a division of hacker community. We thought of those spotlight critics of power–Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, Anonymous, Wikileaks, Julian Assange–as a joint front that against the hegemony of the U.S. at home and abroad. Not only did we want this picture, we needed this picture. Culture producers responded by giving us Mr. Robot. But the picture of tech-resistance was really a blind omission of the tech and war technology more generally. There are the XIT schools (Rochester, Mass) that turn out potential military technology, but there are even more defense contractors who are the major counter-resistance-tech industry. So there’s not only the dramatic division with the division of conscientious objectors, but before we even get to that point, we have to concede the scale is already tilted way away. 

The hacktivist division is similar to the division in the general American populist. It’s obvious now that there is a division, but that the divided are more polarized and themselves divided. According to the Pew Foundation the majority of each party’s members are further from their own party’s median. The fight for governmental influence from either ideological perspective is an aim to drive whatever ‘the center’ is nearer to toward one’s own political pole, but likely to a dissatisfying extent. 

Reminiscent of the civil rights movement–which the American left identifies as continuing in this year’s election–our divided country is broadcast around the world. What are American ideals? Mary Dudziak makes a compelling case that the motivation by the federal government during the civil rights protests was catalyzed not by an ethical compass but by the desire to maintain an image of the U.S. abroad, one that publicized protest brought under fire, particularly Russia. Sound familiar? Only at that time, both countries were debating what was the more humane social–capitalism or communism. Today, that debate has ended (paraphrasing Zizek in “Living In The End Times,” the total collapse of the world’s ecosystem is more likely than the collapse of capitalism), and we must ask what debate is occurring in its place? There are humane, rational leaders, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, but there are also democratically elected criminals against humanity, like the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. The debate then is not which is the more humane, but simply which is legal.