26 March 2019

The deadly dud of Russiagate

As has seemed likely to me from the very start, it appears now that there was never any substantial collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Russian government. As my gentle readers know, I was never a great fan of Trump, never supported him, and never really understood those among his supporters who like to make references to classical Greece and Rome (let alone Persia, for crying out loud – what a slap in the face to Jews that comparison is!). I am not and never have been on the Trump train.

But, yes – I fully and cheerfully admit to being one of those folks on the ‘crank’ left, like Rania Khalek, Abby Martin, Caity Johnstone, Katrina van den Heuvel and Stephen Cohen, Margaret Kimberley, Ajamu Baraka, Stephen Kinzer, Michael Tracey, Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames, Max Blumenthal, Aaron Maté, Glenn Greenwald and the fine journalists at Consortium News, who always thought the Mueller investigation was going nowhere fast. Like them, Russian interests never seemed to me to align well enough with a Trump candidacy for me to have supported such a narrative to begin with. The accusations of collusion always had too high a degree of innuendo for my liking and not enough evidence. Trump’s actions in office still seem inimical to the theory that he’s a Russian puppet. And the Russiagate peddlers always stank of an insidious kind of McCarthyist red-baiting paranoia and a ready excuse for liberals to censor and smear the domestic left.

So we ‘cranks’ are all currently doing a small victory lap, which in my view is all too well-deserved. These people called it correctly, just like they called Bush’s lies about Iraq correctly. But the problem is – and I think that my fellow lefty ‘cranks’ recognise this perfectly well – that a lie does not die by mere exposure. For a lot of the people that so assiduously spread these untruths and innuendoes about Russia-Trump collusion in 2016, the thing has taken on a Nietzschean significance. It has become a matter of pride versus memory. Russiagate has become, in the doughnut collective consciousness, a mechanism whereby the sins of the Democrats can be expurgated by scapegoating: it cannot possibly be the case that Clinton lost because of her own failings; therefore, Russia must be to blame. And so, Mueller is not only not going away, but those of us on the left who saw it for the chaff it was must be made to pay the price as well – just as we were made to pay the price for being right about Iraq.

But here’s the real crime. All of that airspace, all of that bandwidth, that was spent paying attention to the utter fiction that was the Mueller investigation into Russian collusion and election interference – all of it – could have been used instead to point to the real problems and real wrongdoing of the Trump Administration: the still-ongoing starvation in Yemen; the needless escalations and violence in the Golan Heights and Gaza; the illegal attempted régime change in Venezuela; the continued dismantlement of environmental regulations for big oil; the continued building of tar-sands pipelines; the continued cuts to basic programmes for the sick and elderly; the continued war on labour rights across the board; and the inaction and heel-dragging on the quiet death-by-overdose of a hollowed-out rural America.

Unfortunately, for pro-establishment liberals, most of the above are inconvenient issues because investigating them would shine an uncomfortable searchlight on the moral status of the status quo ante of the sixth of November, 2016. Trump would no longer be, in such a view, a sui generis stain on American political life and an intrusion from ‘outside’, from Russia. If Trump were investigated on these questions, the moral standing of pre-Trump American liberalism on issues concerning MENA, Latin America, welfare ‘reform’, labour rights and environmental issues would start to come under scrutiny as well. Again, pride would be at war with memory. But there is a real human and œcological cost that comes with preserving the fantasy of a pristine status quo ante, and it is not clear if that cost is something we can afford in the long run. So, yes, Russiagate was a dud – as expected. But as Taibbi and others correctly note, duds can still be deadly, and in this case they almost certainly are.


  1. As far as it goes, your comments are spot on. But I think you understate the "real crime": the deliberate mainstreaming of paranoid conspiracy theories and the explicit racism behind them. We will be paying for this for at least a generation.

  2. Absolutely, Greg. It's sad to say, but the explicitly-racist metastasised "Yellow Peril" canard these people have been indulging is likely all too soon to turn into an actual "Yellow Peril" canard directed against Asian Americans.