President Donald Trump expects us to believe that President Barack Obama tapped his phones during the 2016 election.
I don’t buy it for a second.
Nor do I believe that the CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA, OIA or some other lettered agency we’ve never heard of wouldn’t do so in a heartbeat if it thought it wouldn’t get caught.
Conservative radio host Mark Levin swears the tap occurred. I don’t believe him. FBI Director James Comey swears it didn’t. His word means nothing to me either, sad to say.
I don’t take anyone’s word as gospel anymore — my wife, family and a handful of friends excepted. And you know what that makes me? Normal.
My learned distrust of the U.S. government, legislative bodies and large U.S. commercial institutions is shared by an overwhelming majority of Americans today. Ask Gallup, whose annual confidence survey looks like a stock market crash.
TV ads? Carefully scripted deceit. I teach my children to see through the language.
Anything in the mail from a bank or credit card company? Fine-print larceny.
Warranties? Swiss cheese.
Solemn government promises? Hah! Just checking to see whether you’re still reading.
The list goes on: government regulators, institutional polling, political media, clergymen, appointed prosecutors, the judiciary . . . Bill Cosby! He was America’s dad, for God’s sake.
On Tuesday, WikiLeaks — a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a vigilante truth squad or a diabolical creation of the “deep state,” depending on whom you ask — released a trove of documents supposedly showing what we already knew: The CIA and the National Security Agency can spy on us through our TVs, smartphones, Alexa devices, computers and toaster ovens. It also can send our cars careening off a cliff from a remote connection in Fairfax, Virginia, should we step too far out of line. That wasn’t news either. Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson warned of that government James Bondian capability a couple of years back in “Stonewalled,” her eye-opening chronicle of what happens when a pushy reporter crosses over-caffeinated U.S. intelligence. And, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now says the organization would give further leaks to technology firms first.
With its release of CIA documents, WikiLeaks now has unleashed a narrative that the alt-right will have a field day with: The CIA is so wiley and sophisticated that it could have hacked the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee during last year’s election and pinned it all on the Russians by pointing false digital signatures at Moscow. It’s great conspiracy material. Who’s happier than Mark Levin? Besides Rush Limbaugh, I mean.
This is the world we now live in, one full of conspiracy theories half plausible when viewed through a well-assembled lens. That’s what makes them so corrosive. No matter the theory, no matter the narrative, there is an online cottage industry of proselytizers selling it widely and half-convincingly.
Americans are desperate to believe in their government again. The Stephen Bannons of the world say that’s why Trump was elected, to be the hero who will honor the Constitution, drain the swamp of corruption in Washington and disassemble runaway federal bureaucracies. All good, until Bannon’s hero reminds us in a single Twitter rant that our government might be headed by a madman. Not exactly a confidence builder.
I trust my wife. Completely. I must remember to tell her that tonight.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.