Featuring essays by Elizabeth George on the future of our country

Agent of Influence

Bear with me. I must begin with the topic of "professionalism" because, after my last message, I received an email from someone who had once applied for a grant from my foundation, which gives support to various charitable organizations, provides scholarships to MFA programs, and supplies monetary assistance to unpublished writers. He labeled me as unprofessional for expressing my opinion. I've been expressing my opinion on Presidential elections since the election in 2008, so I'm assuming that this was the first time he received one of my missives. I'd like to take a few sentences to explain that if you have ever written to me or if I have ever been forwarded an email from you, there is a chance you are among my contacts. Because I'm utterly clueless in the area of sending out mass emails, if you end up receiving one of my opinion essays, it's largely a matter of chance because of the byzantine manner in which I do it. (Sad but true.)

The individual who wrote to me, also told me that I was "preaching to the choir." From that, I assumed again that the essay he received was the first one, again the legacy of my being a technological dope. I have from the first declared that we all know Trump voters even if we think we don't know Trump voters. The Trump voters we know without knowing them are those who won't tell anyone they're voting for Trump because they're ashamed. Are some of them among the people who receive my opinion pieces? Perhaps. But it has long been my hope that these essays would be passed along to others whom I don't know, for their reading pleasure or displeasure as the case may be. And some of them might be closet Trump voters.

Having said that, I'd like to write about something called "an agent of influence." At the moment, I'm listening to a thought provoking Podcast called "Whirlwind"--highly recommended for the Podcast listeners among us. The first episode explains not only what an "agent of influence" is but also how one is created. If you think about the relatively new phenomenon of internet "influencers", you can, perhaps, understand what I'm talking about. For those who don't know what an internet influencer is, these are the people with tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms who talk about, display, use, or otherwise promote products and receive payment for doing so. They are, hence, agents of influence for the company that manufactures the product.

When it comes to countries infiltrating other countries, we tend to think of secret agents, i.e. spies. Those of us of a certain age remember them from television: I Spy, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, the spoof Get Smart etc., and more recently, The Americans. Those of us who love to read may have been consuming John LeCarre's wonderful espionage novels for as long as he's been writing them (fifty years and counting). And, of course, you would have to have lived in a concrete coffin for the last fifty years not to know who 007 is.

The agent of influence is different from the secret agent or the agent-in-place because whoever grooms the agent of influence has to be willing to play the long game. This involves patience, endurance, cunning, and an understanding of human nature. The groomer has to be able to see the big picture, which involves having an end in sight that might take decades to reach. For the point in having an agent of influence in place is not learning state secrets or having the formulae for this or that. The point is having an ally who knows when and how to hold his tongue, who is willing to deny, to obfuscate, and to lie. Not about himself, mind you, but about the groomer. If the agent of influence is powerful enough--i.e. the leader of a country with its own influence among nations--this allows the groomer more room to "take care of business" in his country and in other countries, knowing there will be no strong voice of condemnation from his agent of influence. All the better, then, if the agent of influence if the leader of a Superpower.

People have asked for the last four years what Vladimir Putin "has" on Donald Trump. People have said Putin must be blackmailing Trump. After all, Trump said nothing in condemnation when it was revealed that Putin had put a bounty on American soldiers; he said nothing in condemnation when Russian dissidents living in England were poisoned; from a world stage in Finland he announced that Putin had assured him there had been no Russian interference in the 2016 election despite his intimate knowledge of exactly what the Russians had done. Most recently, the US in the person of Trump has been silent about the poisoning of Russian dissident Aleksei Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok, a substance so deadly that only the most skilled poisoner can use it without also poisoning himself. Because of Trump's consistent refusals to condemn Putin's activities as well as those activities having their genesis in orders given by Putin, it follows as the night the day that Putin must have "something" on Trump to make him behave so unlike the ostensible leader of the free world.

Perhaps. If this is the case, then I believe it's going to be financial. Trump has already shown the US that the revelation of anything else neither bothers him nor touches him: sexual predation, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, white supremacy, outright lying to the American public, etc. He doesn't even bother to deny any of it. But the one thing about which he is obviously concerned is his financial situation. So my guess is that Trump's financial situation is what Putin has intimate knowledge of and what he's holding over him if he's holding over him anything at all. .

There is, however, another way to look at Putin's relationship with Trump. First, their relationship goes back quite a while, years before the Presidency was even a twinkle in Trump's eye. This has given Putin a long time to study something more useful to him than knowledge of Trump's finances: knowledge of Trump's character. Putin has been an astute student of those elements of Trump's personality that define his weaknesses and make him malleable to anyone who knows how to play upon them. Putin has seen his narcissism, his need for attention, his craving for approval from powerful men, his desire to be seen as powerful himself, his abject need for adoration, and his greed. These weaknesses have allowed Putin to manipulate Trump, molding him into what we have now in the Presidency: Someone who has isolated America, someone who has stood by in silence and, perhaps, in admiration, as Putin has operated freely on the world stage. By carefully feeding the bottomless pit of Trump's neediness, Putin has given us what we see occupying the White House. He has assisted Trump in a way that has given him a worshiping world--tiny though it actually is--to cheer him on. By playing up Trump's obvious weaknesses and by playing upon the ignorance, hatred, selfishness, fears, and greed of his supporters and of his GOP sycophants, Putin has managed, through Trump, to reduce America's standing in the world. Thus, Trump has brought America to the brink of chaos at the same time as he has refused to condemn a single action taken by Putin or the Russian government.

But you think I'm being hysterical, don't you? You don't believe a word of what I'm writing. I don't blame you. I don't want to believe myself. So do some digging. Do some reading. Do some listening. Turn off Fox News. Turn off everything. Think about what's been going on. Decide if this international spectacle that we have become is what you want the future to be. For here we are, America, in 2020. And what I believe is that if we are to climb out of what the United States has become--a pariah nation where people are daily dying of a virus our President knew about and denied, a nation of joblessness and racial injustice and a sinking economy and governmental indifference to everything from Climate Change to the plight of millions without health care or education or the means to attain either--then we are going to have to do it together, and we are going to have to do it now.

This is my opinion. Feel free to pass it along or to delete it as you wish. And, if you have not yet voted in the 2020 election, do it now.

Elizabeth George



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