We already knew that a dossier compiled by a former British spy named Christopher Steele was commissioned by a Republican honeypot – widely assumed to be an associate of the Jeb Bush campaign. After Bush got bullied out of the race, the opposition-research project (conducted by an American firm in DC) continued with funding from Democratic Trump opponents.
Republicans are treating new reports that confirm what had already been widely reported as some kind of bombshell, and it took mere hours before they indulged an intellectual cardinal sin called false equivalence. We are to believe that Democratic funding of the Steele dossier is on the same order of magnitude, as un-American activities go, as Team Trump’s alleged collusion with Russians.
Rational thought, which Trump supporters have abandoned en masse, involves the application of valid principles – arrived at through observation, experience, and basic assumptions about utility and morality – to the facts of a situation as they actually exist. Right thinking is syllogistic in its structure, but it also involves problem solving that is definitional, analogical, and consistent with our common knowledge and common sense.
This is why Sesame Street did such a service in developing reasoning skills in multiple generations of Americans: it asked the question of toddlers and children, “Which one of these things is not like the others?” (That’s analogical reasoning.) Although even toddlers tend to develop impressive proficiency when confronted with this test, it’s a test that adult Trump supporters fail with alarming regularity.
To conclude that the financing of the Steele dossier is just like Trump-Russia collusion, we would have to perceive that hiring an American firm is the same thing as relying on Russian intelligence assets or Julian Assange of Wikileaks; that seeking real information about an opponent is the same as spreading false information about an opponent; that Clinton’s non-use of any information developed in the dossier is the same as Trump’s use and exploitation of the fruits of Russia’s mischief; and – most astoundingly – that associating with a former British intelligence officer is just like roosting in a den of Russian spooks and hatchet men.
It’s also another example of whataboutism, a debased form of argumentation that enjoys widespread popularity among Trump’s base. Their answer to every new Trump outrage is, “Well what about Hillary and [fill in appellation of non-scandal here (Vince Foster, Benghazi, emails, etc.) – in this case, “the dossier”]. The answer, of course, is, “What about it?” Let’s assume that the financing of the Steele oppo-research dossier by both Republican and Democratic sources is, somehow, a political scandal in league with Watergate and Iran-Contra. If that is so, then the allegations against Trump – that his people directly colluded with a hostile foreign power to influence an American election – is, by comparison, nothing short of tectonic. Republicans never explain how it is that the imagined wrongdoings of Hillary Clinton exonerate Trump in all his criminality and vulgarity and fraud. They just point and say, “But, but, but, what about …?”
Trumpism (whatever that means) requires a mind that abides the utter debasing of logical structures and processes. It requires a measure of unreason that would cause a full-grown adult to flunk Sesame Street.