Gambling Man, Part II
From the dawn of infancy we are told we live in a binary world of black/white, yes/no, good/bad, either/or, is/isn’t, and so on. As we grow up most of us discover it isn’t that simple…there is the color gray, the word maybe, nuance, uncertainty, a muddled muddy middle ground that can even light the way to relativity.
Gamblers by their trade quickly learn they are in a win/lose world governed by the laws of probability; in statistics probability is defined as “the relative possibility that an event will occur, as expressed by the ratio of the actual occurrences to the total number of possible occurrences.” Gamblers simply call it “the odds.”
A small-time player, I didn’t catch up with the real gamers until I took a college philosophy course that required much forced reading of David Hume; thereafter I became a rejecter of absolutes, a skeptical relativist, a probability addict. I had to quantify in my mind the likelihood of any event happening.
Example? Take the presidential election of 2016. I gave Trump a one in ten chance (10% yes, 90% no) of winning…and thought I was more than generous to him with that spread.
The tectonic shock of Trump’s triumph sent my trust in the laws of probability plunging. When it surfaced from the post-election depths of the Mariana Trench, I resigned myself to the reality that the near impossible was indeed possible. Indeed, it had happened. But why? How?
Yes, there were early rumors that Russian meddling had determined the outcome. I didn’t pay them much mind—10% to 90% chance of that happening. But after the firing of FBI chief James Comey and the ensuing appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel charged with investigating any ties between the Russians and the Trump campaign, I cut the odds to 20% to 80%. Still unlikely though. So I reckoned, ever so briefly.
Wrong again. Mueller and his skilled body of prosecutors methodically proved Russian meddling (and Trump campaign complicity) with awesome detail and precision over the next 22 months. For me, the evidentiary avalanche choked off the lame denials of Trump and his minions, and convinced me he was guilty of “collusion” (actually, conspiracy to defraud the United States).
How could he not be in on the coup when Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals (by name), three Russian companies (by name), 12 Russian intelligence officers (by name), not to mention key Russian agent Konstantin Kalimnik; got convictions of Trump insiders Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, W. Samuel Patten, Richard Pinedo, Alex van der Zwaan; obtained confessions of guilt from Rick Gates among others cooperating with the Special Prosecutor. And how many other cases like Roger Stone’s are working their way through the legal system that we haven’t heard about?
But did Russian interference actually alter the final vote count, you might ask? Put Trump over the top? That partisan debate has raged among researchers ever since November 2016, advocates of pro and con split along ideological lines. While I strongly suspected it must have, the lack of hard numbers in support limited me to assigning a probability of no better than 91 yes, 9 no—not enough to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Would I ever find the necessary numbers to clinch my case? Yes! Only last month. In Volume I of The Mueller Report. We had previously learned late in the Mueller investigation that Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates had met with and given vital polling data to Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik; but I could find no details other than that the meeting took place August 2, 2016 in New York City’s Grand Havana Club. What data? Targeting whom?
Eureka! See page 140 of Book I:
Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election. That briefing encompassed the Campaign’s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, it also included discussion of “battleground” states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota....
Those states are called by political scientists “The Blue Wall”—the Democrats’ traditional stronghold in the industrial upper Midwest that Trump with the aid of the Russians breached. You doubt that such a grand heist was possible? Remember those many millions of bots and divisive social messages secretly sent from Leningrad, not to mention the Russian agents on our own home soil sowing discord and hate among unsuspecting American voters? Then look at the electoral facts and numbers below.
Pennsylvania hadn’t voted Republican for president since 1988—28 yeas ago. In 2012 Democrat Obama defeated Republican Romney by 512,232. In 2016 Trump won by 44,292; that’s a swing of 556,524 votes. Not statistically likely, without some external meddling.
Michigan hadn’t voted Republican for president since 1988. In 2012 Democrat Obama defeated Republican Romney by 449,313. In 2016 Trump won by 10,704; that’s a swing of 460,017. That’s also near impossible without some interference from abroad.
Wisconsin hadn’t voted Republican for president since 1984—32 years ago. In 2012 Democrat Obama defeated Republican Romney by 210,017. In 2016 Trump won by 22,748; that’s an improbable swing of 232,765. Take a bow, you clever Russkies. We may have won the Cold War, but you guys have won the Cyber War…and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Minnesota, which hadn’t gone Republican since 1972, just did manage to withstand the Russo-Trumpo assault on our democracy and stay blue by a mere 44,593 votes.
So let me add up those countless bots, the many millions of rancid social media messages, and the Russian provocateurs on our own turf pitting American against American, then apply the laws of probability. And what do I get? The Russians, beyond a reasonable doubt (98.2 to 1.8 on my probability scale), breached The Blue Wall, flipped the three states’ 46 electoral votes, and swung the election to Trump.
Now that we know what the Trump Campaign did in 2016, are we any better off approaching the 2020 presidential election? Hardly. We’re actually worse off. The Russians, with Trump’s passive encouragement have only further perfected their cyber skills, while we struggle to catch up. Moreover, who knows what grand mischief Target Trump and Dear Vlad are hatching in their ongoing private trysts?
Which begs the crucial question. Could the Trump/Putin axis steal another presidential election in 2020? And subject us all to another four years of enforced madness? Improbable no longer, given 2016.
Democracies are historically rare and short-lived. Tyranny or anarchy are their common heirs. Of course, there is a third saving option: a rational and likeminded people addicted to democracy (say the folks in the Pacific states of California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii) could peacefully form a more perfect union of their own. Call it Pacifica!—with a new and revised Constitution patched where Trump tore so many holes in the former. Please keep the thought in mind. You know, in case of fire, break the glass.