Perception Problems 12/11/19

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Recently, the final report of a probe into the FBI inquiry of the Trump campaign of 2016 was released. Trump, all along, has argued that the probe was politically motivated aimed at helping his Democratic opponent to find dirt to help her defeat him. The investigation was initiated by a report from a British secret service agent, some of which could not be confirmed, but including credible evidence that the Trump election campaign had approached Russia to help dig up dirt on the Clinton campaign. Basically, the claim was exactly the same, except that the claim of the Trump campaign involved working with an external government.

The Mueller investigation did not exactly exonerate the Trump campaign, although the president claims that it did. This investigation resulted in serious criminal charges, multiple confessions, and now a guilty verdict from a court trial of multiple people close to Trump and within his campaign. It also concluded that it did not have the authority to charge the president himself, but also stated, explicitly, that the investigation could not exonerate him, but that it would be up to outside agencies of higher authority to pursue further investigations and charges. None the less, the Mueller investigation more or less was the end of discussions that focused on Trump and the alleged request for Russian interference.

The FBI inquiry report stated, explicitly, that there was no political motivation behind the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign regarding seeking help from the Russian government. That’s not to say that there weren’t FBI agents that were, oh, shall we say “concerned” that Trump might win the election. Private text messages between some agents have been uncovered discussing what to do if he should win, but there is no indication that this was official policy, and the messages read as private conversations of citizens rather than as officials of the FBI.

To say that there was no political motivation, however, does not exactly exonerate the FBI of all wrongdoing. The report also identified seventeen separate errors in their decision to record the phone conversations of one of Trump’s aides, Carter Page. These seventeen charges can be lumped into fewer categories, but these categories do represent serious breeches of civil rights. For example, when seeking the required court approval for the “wire trap”, the FBI omitted certain bits of information and oversold their case for suspicion of wrongdoing. Omissions of this type should be of significant concern to all American citizens, but I also fear that it’s a far more common practice among law enforcement agencies at all levels and locations than we would like to admit.

In the next few days, no doubt, we will be hearing very different interpretations of these findings from very different perspectives. The Trump administration and its allies will no doubt claim, once again, victory. They’ll look at the Carter Page findings and extend these findings to say that the FBI never should have been investigating in the first place. On the other hand, those who believe that he is guilty of wrongdoing will read the statement that there was no political motivation will argue that, despite errors with the Carter Page surveillance.

This is a common problem with communication, namely, interpretation. See, when we communicate, we are only aware of half of the conversation, specifically our half. We try to state our meaning clearly, and often do so in a fashion that we believe is clear and cannot be misinterpreted, but the people receiving that message are hearing it through the filter of their own personal experiences, beliefs and desires.

Politically, the problem is that currently everybody is talking, but nobody is listening. It’s even worse than filtering through the personal filter. In fact, if there is any hearing at all (which is distinctly different from listening), it’s only to sift through the message to find sound clips to support the message to support the individual’s own agenda. In this situation, it doesn’t matter what the speaker’s intended message is at all; the listener will only hear what they want to hear.

I have found myself in this situation more than once. I’ve learned that there are times that, frankly, trying to give your side is not worth the effort to begin with. If the listener is refusing to hear, then there is no point to expending the effort to explain. I’m guessing that we’ve all been in that situation. My sister would argue with me when she was convinced that I’m wrong, so it didn’t matter what my perspective was. I’ve had supervisors that listened to people who decided they dislike me and were not interested in hearing my side at all. This is what is happening in politics today, and until politicians re-learn how to actually listen to each other we’ll be stuck where we are, unable to grow, unable to move and unable to progress.

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