Hearts and minds are not generally changed by externalities. Belief and understanding, for all that they are concerned with the world round us, are not a part of that world. They are internal phenomena; change comes from within. Present us with new experiences, new facts, new perspectives, and we may change. The stories we tell ourselves are the only ones that will persuade us.
With the first sentence of The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, Malcolm Nance offers a terrifying scenario: “On November 8, 2016, Vladimir Putin became the first Russian President of the United States.” The bulk of what follows looks at the last 100 years of Russian espionage as well as current events. Nance is a brilliant orchestrator and analyst of history. The facts speak for themselves, and the author lets readers draw their own conclusions. By the time events get close to current, readers, engrossed in a page-turning look at dirty deeds done in the dark will have made their own internal arguments. We are natural pattern matchers, looking at the fall of Crimea during a long weird Washington summer.
Nance keeps us focused on the import of today by showing us the results of yesterday, and that today’s hot new trend is yesteryear’s reheated leftover from the previous generation. For example, “fake news” is all the rage, and it seems as if it might be impossible without the leg up offered by a ubiquitous Internet and omnipresent social media. But the Soviets were, back in the day (the 1970’s), busy sending trained Russian nationals to India as reporters, to plant stories with the hope (sometimes realized) in smaller, more easily-reached Indian papers, with the hopes that they would be picked up by AP and disseminated to the wider world. (Some were.) In the stream of a gripping run-up from Soviet times to today’s oligarchy, it’s a nice detail that itself makes no argument. It needs no argument. Just look around, and the patterns match whether you want them to or not.
Nance knows how to strip down to the basics, and rips through recent history and the current catastrophe with grace and a sure eye for economic storytelling. By the time he arrives in the present, readers are just the right bit ahead of him. The Plot to Destroy Democracy is tense and gripping, even if we think we know what’s going on. Nance never pulls his punches, and he has a knack for finding the details that bind together disparate strands of events to transform apparent chaos into unpleasant order. You will not read this book with the intention of change. And by the time you finish, you may not feel changed. But it’s quite likely you’ll want to see change, early and often.
Here’s a link to my in-depth interview with Malcolm Nance, or listen below.