By far the lamest response to last week’s indictments by Robert Mueller was Trump’s tweet over the weekend in which he wrote: “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong—no collusion!”
First of all, it’s a complete non-sequitur. Sentence C has nothing to do with sentence B which has nothing to do with sentence A. Second, he seems to be admitting here that Russia was meddling in our presidential campaign, which he had long denied. He couldn’t quite bring himself to type “meddling,” but he sure implied it.
But most telling of all is this. What does he think it proves that Russia started meddling in our elections before he was an officially declared candidate? (He’d been flirting with a run since the Reagan administration.) One supposes he thinks it means that since the meddling sorta predates him, it can’t have been about him. In a way, he’s right. All this Russia stuff happened in the first place not because Vladimir Putin loved Donald Trump, but because he hated Hillary Clinton. It’s an extremely important point to remember, because only when we remember this do we see how surreal this whole episode is and recognize the gravity of the danger we face.
It’s late 2013. You’re the world’s leading reactionary cultural ethno-nationalist. After having been out of power (at least officially) for four years, you became president again a little more than a year prior. You rigged the elections of the previous two years to make sure you’d win, and you did.You’re back in the saddle for as long as you want to be, and now you’re playing for keeps.
You crack down on the homosexuals, throw the book at Pussy Riot (who were arrested, interestingly, the night before the election you won). Those are your appetizers. Then come the main courses—you roll into Ukraine and Crimea. The United States and the EU start placing sanctions on you. Your economy tanks, the price of oil drops, the ruble collapses. Who you gonna blame? Well, it’s the United States that led the sanctions push more than anyone else, banning transactions with Rozneft, Gazprombank, and other big Russian entities. You blame Barack Obama.
Then you start thinking Obama’s on his way out. Who’s going to succeed him? You can read American papers just as well as anyone, and in mid-to-late 2014, the American papers are saying unanimously, whether approvingly or not, that the next president of the United States is almost certain to be Hillary Clinton.
You especially hate her, more than you hate maybe anyone (Michael Crowley and Julia Ioffe did a great job in this 2016 Politico article explaining why). She harshly criticized the 2011 parliamentary elections as rigged. She compared your annexation of Crimea to “what Hitler did back in the 1930s.” She promoted social media networks as vehicles for democracy promotion against dictators.
In other words, she supports everything you oppose and opposes everything you support. She must be stopped—or at the very least, bloodied.
So that, I am certain Mueller will tell us when he issues his report, is how and why the Russian meddling started. It was to damage Clinton. And it wasn’t merely personal. It was also ideological. Her victory—the ascension to the presidency of the United States of a liberal woman who backed democracy and women’s rights and girls’ rights and gay rights and the rights of ethnic minorities and a free press—would have constituted a victory for everything a reactionary cultural ethno-nationalist despises. And on top of all that, she’s a liberal woman who backed all those things and wasn’t afraid of Putin. She was his worst nightmare.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that the indictment noted that Russian meddlers “were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them.)’”? What did Sanders and Trump have in common? They were running against, and regularly attacking, Clinton. Of course the Kremlin loved them!
So Trump, as I said, is right, to a point. Putin wanted to kneecap Clinton. At first. But then—lo and behold: The world’s leading reactionary cultural ethno-nationalist could scarcely believe his good luck, because the world’s second-leading reactionary cultural ethno-nationalist entered the Republican primary. And look—he was winning! Could this possibly be happening, Putin had to think to himself? I don’t know, but we’d better go all in here. Imagine having a racist, xenophobic, rights-trampling, free-press-hating partner in of all places America!
Putin never could have dreamed that in his plot to challenge global liberal democracy and spread authoritarianism, he would have an ally in the president of the United States of America—the country that has for 70 years, in ways both good and admittedly quite bad or hypocritical, been the front-line defender and champion of global liberal democracy. Talk about boring from within! You don’t get any deeper inside the belly of the liberal democratic beast than the Oval Office!
And now, we have the surreal spectacle of one of our two political parties cheering on and excusing and defending all this out of fear of any fact that might implicate Dear Leader. The Republican Party is on the same side as Putin. Partly because Putin was against Hillary, and she is the Great Satan (a fellow American, a bigger enemy than Putin!). And partly because they’re pretty comfortable with reactionary ethno-nationalism. I don’t know how we can go lower, but I suspect we will.