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[ Narrative Warfare in America ]Image: Adobe Stock
Disparity is an important element of enterprise narrative. Regarding the analysis of business and political activity, differences between the overt and covert actions of relevant actors present narrative patterns. The story we see happening in front of us hides a more important story unfolding behind the scenes. To paraphrase the poet Kenneth Koch, one story may hide another.
The disparity between various actions of the Trump administration, now entering its final month, reveals a threat to our democracy. A disjointed sequence of events, culminating in what appears to be a frenzied response to losing the election, hides a meticulous narrative. Moreover, the unreliable narrator responsible for those events acts as a proxy for the real narrator standing offstage.
While the Department of Health and Human Services continues to mismanage its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, bungling the delivery of vaccine shipments now languishing in warehouses, Trump’s Pentagon appointees have proposed splitting up the leadership of the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command. Lame duck administrations typically do not attempt such a major change, particularly in the aftermath of a major cyberattack, the full extent of which has not yet been determined.
The familiar call-and-response — Secretary of State Pompeo’s statement that Russia was behind the attack, and Trump’s immediate contradiction — fails to hide the significance of the proposed organizational breakup. How does such an impulsive regime decide on such a surgical move?
In the first ten days of the Trump administration, an executive order put Steve Bannon on the principals committee of the National Security Council, and downgraded the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a lesser role. Bannon repudiated his devotion to Leninist principles, and his abhorrent behavior eventually cost him his seat on the committee, but his disruptive role was no accident. The appointment, a bookend to the proposed NSA/Cyber Command breakup that would require the approval of the Joint Chiefs chairman, was too surgical to have been devised in-house. Who devised this pinpoint tactic?
Last summer, Pompeo rolled out the Clean Network program, an initiative meant to protect our cyber infrastructure from “aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.” No mention of Russia.
The forensics suggest that our networks had already been compromised. Though Pompeo has now identified Russia as the malign actor, Trump continues to deflect any such accusation, insisting again that it “might have been” China.
A declaration of war does not happen as a discrete event, but as the climax of an enterprise narrative. Cyber warfare has evolved into a narrative process. As a result, every disruptive message, particularly those published by an unreliable narrator, constitutes an act of narrative warfare.
When a joint session of Congress convenes on January 6th to formally declare President-elect Biden the electoral victor, Trump supporters will run the streets, encouraged by their lame duck leader to contest the results. In a Washington Post piece (12/17/2020 - link not included because of possible paywall), Trevor Potter, a Republican former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, states flatly: “Jan. 6 is not another Election Day. Don’t let President Trump convince you it is.”
The fact that a lame duck president has the temerity to suggest a “rigged” election illustrates the growing danger. Narrative warfare transcends an administration. Whether or not Trump remains viable, a disruptive narrative has been embedded in our system. The future of our democracy rests on the strength of our response.