“I don’t know much,” Norm Macdonald explained (and repeated on subsequent occasions) in an interview last year, “but I know coups are not undertaken by the president of the United States. If anything, it looks like a coup going on the other way. They’re talking about impeaching a guy before any investigation has even begun.”
Sometimes it takes a comedian, or a Canadian — or a Canadian comedian — to see plain truths Americans do not see. Perhaps the dots blind Americans too close to see the big picture or the comic’s penchant for turning situations on their heads allows him to glance through alternative perspectives. As in Shakespeare so in life, the wise fool utters the truth that so many do not dare speak — or even consider.
A few liberals who many conservatives consider fools advance wisdom on the Russian-collusion matter. Mark Penn, the former pollster for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, perhaps lent the loudest voice to this chorus castigating their kind for rationalizing a painful electoral defeat through a comforting conspiracy theory.
“Today you can sit down with an impressionable elite — a Harvard-educated lawyer, for example — and they know with absolute certainty that somehow Trump was laundering money with the Russians in exchange for help in the election,” Mark Penn writes in his new book Microtrends Squared: The Small Forces Driving the Big Disruptions Today. “They have no evidence for these claims and yet they ‘know’ it just as strongly as elites once believed the earth was flat.”
The Nation, which spent much of the 20th century throwing water on the idea that Russians sought to infiltrate and influence our politics, at least remains consistent in publishing articles knocking holes in the present-day Kremlin conspiracy theory.
“The first problem with blaming Russia, besides the fact that there is no evidence its efforts had any tangible affect on the outcome of these votes, is that doing so denies agency to voters,” James Carden explains at the Nation regarding Russian intrusions into various national elections. He continues, “By now even the most tireless promoters of the idea that Russian ‘bots’ pose some sort of existential threat to Western democracy are no longer so sure.”
The best from if not the left then the center comes from Lee Smith writing at Tablet, who earlier this month cast the Russia story as a massive instance of “virtue signaling.” Smith writes that “there is a growing consensus among reporters and thinkers on the left and right — especially those who know anything about Russia, the surveillance apparatus, and intelligence bureaucracy — that the Russiagate-collusion theory that was supposed to end Trump’s presidency within six months has sprung more than a few holes. Worse, it has proved to be a cover for U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement bureaucracies to break the law, with what’s left of the press gleefully going along for the ride. Where Watergate was a story about a crime that came to define an entire generation’s oppositional attitude toward politicians and the country’s elite, Russiagate, they argue, has proved itself to be the reverse: It is a device that the American elite is using to define itself against its enemies — the rest of the country.”
Many people inclined to dislike Trump dislike the story that weighs down his presidency. Russiagate adds up for people needing no evidence to think the worst of the president. For those requiring evidence, it appears far-fetched.
For more than a century, Russians have interfered in politics abroad. Why, but to use the current instance as a brickbat, decontextualize all this history and act as though something unusual occurred in 2016? Beyond this, the campaigns and their proxies spent a few billion on the election. How did a few million — less than one one-thousandth of all money spent — expended on activities that sometimes contradicted the aims of other activities, prove the difference maker? Certainly the notion of foreigners colluding with campaigns to influence election outcomes alarms most Americans. What to make, then, of the blind spot for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National committee hiring — and the laundering of the payments through a law firm and a consulting group strongly hints that they knew they did something shady here — a former British intelligence officer to compile dirt on Donald Trump? And after all the investigations — the special counsel, Congress, Christopher Steele, the media — why does not a shred of evidence show collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
As Penn, Carden, and Smith show, one needn’t be a Canadian or a comedian to view the prevailing narrative with skepticism. But it certainly helps.