National Commentary

Russian Facebook Ads Sow Division

The first reports of the contents provided by Facebook to Congressional investigators of the Russian advertising blitz in support of Donald Trump on Facebook in advance of last November’s presidential election reveal something very instructive concerning the operative “MO” involved.

How did the Russians try to wield influence through this means to turn votes to Trump, their preferred U.S. presidential candidate, their “Manchurian candidate,” if you will? Did this effort have anything to do with matters of honorable values and policy initiatives the Russians were hoping to advance? Did they have anything to do with a demonstration of respect, on any level, for the U.S. democratic political process at all?

Of course not. But sadly that does not seem to come as any surprise. This was not like the pricey pamphlets that the Russians, Chinese, Indians and others have placed in major U.S. newspapers, for example, to tout their aspirations and achievements. On the contrary, the ads were of the most divisive sort, all aimed in one way or another at sowing discord, anger and confusion in the U.S. electorate.

More will be coming out on the content of these ads, but they did not stop short of advocating for marginal candidates who could deflect votes away from their clear nemesis in that election, Hillary Clinton. Most significantly, the ads were all hateful and contrarian.

So much for the mindset of our Russian adversaries. It is doubly sad that such propaganda did not stick out like a sore thumb on the U.S. political landscape last fall, if only because it conformed to such a troubling degree with what has become the lowest common denominator of our own nation’s political discourse. In other words, they were able to hide in the wide open because of this.

When are we going to get it through our own thick skulls that this astonishing decline in the quality of our political conversation is laying our nation wide open to our demise, to the demise of democracy?

This has everything to do with my effort to focus on what Clinton wrote in her now-universal best-seller, What Happened, about “Love and Kindness,” that chapter which was so pivotal to her book even if it did come late into it, starting at Page 429. It contains the same sentiment that animated her earlier book, It Takes a Village.

Now, yes, I do think that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a brilliant mind and leader. There’s a reason why it is so important to affirm now, to not let her get kicked under the bus and dismissed as just one more uppity woman who tried to do too much and failed.

It’s because, among other things, no one in the high stakes game of national politics has taken the time to address the issues that speak more to the serious ills of our cultural discourse than she, even if it was relatively low key in this first post-election literary effort.

She had the nerve to cite the influence of the theologian Paul Tillich in her life as he was introduced to her in the mid-1960s by her youth minister Don Jones in Park Ridge, Illinois, where she grew up.

In particular, she quoted from the Tillich sermon, “You Are Accepted,” that influenced her so much. That sermon was cited by Peter J. Gomes in his introduction to the second (2000) edition of Tillich’s best selling compilation of Yale lectures, The Courage to Be, as being where Tillich “made his famous definition of sin as estrangement or separation” and then “redefines grace as acceptance,” as “the grace coming to us as a wave of light into our darkness, as if a voice were saying, ‘You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you.”

This is “a self-affirmation which presupposes participation in something which transcends the self.”

This powerful juxtaposition of separation and grace became the “ground of being,” defined by Tillich, for strengthening the ties and solidarities by which humans share common lots and pursue common aims.

This is the polar opposite of the divisive and hate-mongering contents of those Russian Facebook ads.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at