Permanent paranoia is destroying our politics.
What is the real story regarding the foreign threat to U.S. elections?
The online media giant Politico magazine’s investigative staff has produced authoritative evidence that a native Soviet citizen so interfered in the presidential election it forced the resignation of a U.S. campaign chairman, critically disrupting his party’s ability to function.
Alexandra Chalupa, a former White House and party official, went directly to the former Soviet nation’s Washington ambassador Valery Chaly with proof of foreign involvement and his embassy officials contacted American journalists to influence their reporting.
This story actually was reported six months ago and it exposed Ukrainian government efforts against Donald Trump’s campaign in Hillary Clinton’s favor, orchestrated by “veteran Democratic operator” Chalupa, forcing Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to resign in the heat of the election.
Did you miss this important story? It is the only one where a foreign nation actually was found to have influenced the 2016 election — and it was to favor Clinton, not Trump, who has borne all the media fire. It has been mentioned in the mainstream media but very sotto voice.
Donald Trump Jr. did meet with a person he was told by email was a “Russian government attorney” who was “part of Russia and its government support” for the Trump campaign and was anxious to present damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Junior’s response of “I love it” to the offer was called collusion with a foreign power in the explosion of mass media that followed.
Sound serious? It was of course top headline in the New York Times, the Washington Post and TV news for days as even reasonably sane media personalities went berserk crying “guilty.”
“Spelling it out” for us dunderheads, Washington Post moralist Ruth Marcus explained it this way: “A candidate for president of the United States and his campaign have no business, none, trucking with an emissary of a foreign government peddling incriminating information about their opponent.” It is “unacceptable behavior.” There “can no longer be any doubt” that a full investigation of the president himself is in order.
Ms. Marcus found President Trump’s behavior in general a “slap in the face,” with his countless “deviations from democratic and political norms”: his “attacks on federal judges,” on “news organizations,” “misstatements,” nepotism “run amok,” transparency “abandoned.” But all her allusions to democracy came down to Trump not playing nice with the media, using tweets rather than hallowed news conferences — imagine going 41 days without reporting to the Post!
Didn’t the president know that reporters are the “surrogates of the public,” only conceding the media cannot force Trump to speak to it but still threatening that the media would no longer “supinely” accept such behavior? She apparently missed an Emerson College poll a few months before that had already found the media even less trustworthy than Trump.
Marcus’s neoconservative fellow Post columnist Charles Krauthammer likewise considered the Trump Jr. actions as conclusive proof of collusion with a foreign power. Unlike many of his compatriots he demanded evidence but found it with the “I love it” statement, calling them “fatal words.” What matters is not whether anything substantive happened at the meeting but what Junior and Manafort “thought going into the meeting.” The “evidence is damning” and provided by Trump Jr. himself. “There “is no going back” from the fact there was collusion.
Krauthammer conceded that Americans have tried over the years to influence foreign elections too, from the CIA in the 1940-50s to President Obama against Benjamin Netanyahu in his last election, up to recent U.S. attempts to influence the Russian parliamentary elections. Marcus even added Democratic assistance to Ukraine against Trump. Both considered Trump Jr.’s collusion worse because Russia is (in Krauthammer’s terms) a “hostile foreign power,”
But he then concedes there is no law against helping such a foreign power. We are not at war. So it was collusion without a crime! Collusion merely is working with someone and is not illegal unless there is an underlying infraction. There is none here. Simple collusion is everywhere.
Yes, the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton and they are opponents. But what good did it do? The electoral machinery is so decentralized it cannot be penetrated. Government leakers have told us pretty much everything they have found and evidence even of Russian-generated propaganda is non-existent even if it would work, which is doubtful. Do the media contend that Russian propaganda would have fooled them? Ms. Clinton did enough herself to earn bad publicity and is still less popular today than even Trump.
No American president has taken an unreservedly hostile position to Russia or even the Soviet Union. In 1982, cold warrior Ronald Reagan did tell the British Parliament that while the U.S. had an obligation to promote freedom and democracy in the world, he also said — referencing Winston Churchill — that war with Marxism, including the “evil empire,” was not inevitable, promising the competition “can be conducted on a peaceful and reciprocal basis.”
Anyone worried by threats to American democracy should be more concerned by xenophobic simplifications overcoming common sense than an amateur like Trump Jr. investigating something he thought might help his father. A professional might have been more discrete (and Junior did present the so-called damning evidence himself, unlike Ms. Clinton) but he would have investigated it. Listening is not collusion and not immediately reporting it to the house of sieves that is our intelligence bureaucracy is more prudence than perfidy.
It was not just Alice in Wonderland who has been the target of “sentence first, verdict afterwards.” After criticizing Trump for trying to undermine the sanctity of the electoral process before the election when they assumed Mrs. Clinton would prevail, the mainstream media have colluded with their political allies to undermine the legitimacy of the Trump presidency. This conclusion is no paranoia on Trump’s account but merely requires the ability to read and listen to supposed “news” stories reported by the mainstream media.
As early as February, two-thirds of voters said the media was tougher on Trump than on his predecessor Barack Obama.
That Trump’s executive power is a threat to democracy has been a persistent journalistic theme. If the mainstream media were not so blinded by its thorough control of the culture, able to ignore threats other than to its own power and wealth, it should consider that its relentless de-legitimacy campaign against Trump is the much greater threat to American democracy.
What are the likely results of the media campaign against Trump? As the polls now demonstrate, President Trump and the Republican Congress have historically low approval ratings from swing voters. Both polls and history suggest that Republicans are likely to lose the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate in 2018.
Democrats have been talking impeachment for months and in the surge of victory who would be surprised if they did impeach Mr. Trump, which would be followed by two years of trench warfare between a get-even left and alienated right in both Congress and the nation?
The 2020 presidential election would then lead to attempts to de-legitimize the victor, no matter whom. Republicans have no comparable cultural power to undermine presidential legitimacy if they lose but an irredentist alienated right is not the best foundation for liberal democracy either.
Both left and right should understand the danger. It would not be a few screwballs at the extremes but whole political parties and ideologies, states and localities — California and Texas hardly speak the same language today.
The U.S. Constitution was instituted as a means to dissipate factions not provoke them. James Madison’s solution was to localize animosities and minimize national conflict. This is a lesson from America’s founders both President Trump and his opponents would be wise to relearn.
Hillary Clinton and President Yanukovych in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 2, 2010 (Wikimedia Commons)