I have been sort-of following the story about possible Russian interference in the US election. I say ‘sort-of’ because it seems to me that the ratio of actual facts to elaborate hypothesizing is tiny. Each day seems to bring with it some new allegation based on anonymous sources that gets people worked up into a frenzy. As I see it, many possible scenarios are being merged into one big mess. Here are the various possibilities as I see them, going from the most serious to the least:
- Elements of the Russian government or groups allied with it hacked into voting machine and deliberately changed the vote count.
- Elements in the Russian government recruited members of the Trump campaign or Trump himself, using blackmail or who knows what, so that they became effectively Russian agents.
- Elements in the Russian government made some secret quid pro quo deal with the Trump campaign to release damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign in exchange for future concessions.
- Elements in the Russian government or groups associated with it hacked into the emails of the Clinton campaign and released them because they hate Clinton or just wanted to stir things up.
- Elements in the Russian government had talks with various members of the Trump campaign in order to gain information about his plans and while this was neither illegal nor unusual and indeed pretty normal information gathering by governments during elections of leaders, for some reason the people in the Trump campaign who talked to them lied about these fairly routine conversations and now are freaking out and trying to cover their tracks.
The phrase ‘hacking the election’ is being tossed around freely to describe any Russian involvement, although only the first item merits the label, while the fourth comes under the heading of ‘dirty tricks’. What is required to clear this fog is a careful, thorough, and transparent investigation to see which, if any, of those scenarios is the right one but this effort has been stymied by the absurd shenanigans of Devin Nunes, the chair of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives, who seems to see his role as providing cover for the Trump campaign, and is astoundingly inept even at that.
Matt Taibbi states that reporters and Democratic partisans seem to be taking a hardline stance on this case just in case their worst charges turn out to be true.
But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true?
What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Timesi last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense?
This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.
Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump’s history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own.
He warns that the sudden adoption by Democrats of hardline anti-Russian stances, coupled with adoration of the CIA and vicious criticism of anyone who dares criticize the DNC and its standard bearer Hillary Clinton that have spilled over to include even those who supported Bernie Sanders, carries with it considerable risks for the party.
Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of “unwitting” cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.
Imagine it’s four years from now (if indeed that’s when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.
Or, even better: that same candidate reminds us “what happened last time” when people decided to vote their consciences during primary season. It will be argued, in seriousness, that true Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin candidate. It would be a shock if some version of this didn’t become an effective political trope going forward.
There is much to be puzzled about Donald Trump’s deferential attitude towards Vladimir Putin. He keeps justifying it by saying that Putin has said nice things about him and so he does not see why he should not be nice to Putin in return. Or it may be that Trump genuinely admires Putin for the way the latter seems to be able to get his way by riding roughshod over any opposition. It may be as simple as the sense of camaraderie that one authoritarian feels towards another, similar to the way that Trump and Egypt’s president al-Sisi seem to get along well personally. There may be some financial interests that Trump has in Russia (and with Trump’s history some of those deals may well be of dubious legality and involve shady people) that Putin can use to expose and embarrass Trump if he gets annoyed with him and so Trump is trying to keep on his good side.
One can invent any number of scenarios with varying degrees of seriousness. But speculation without any basis just confuses the whole picture. That is why I am waiting for real evidence to emerge and not hurrying after the latest hot rumor.