All smears are boomerang smears. That is why anyone worth a damn does not engage in it. That goes for the Russia-Gaters, the left/right smears on Gabbard, the years of left/right smears on Assange, the attacks on the Green Party and now the Russia narrative attacks on Sanders. Falling into line with the secret police will not save anyone. Red Scares target dissenters and promote war. Isn’t the history clear enough?”
– Richard Moser
The despicable exhuming of “Russia!” to smear Sanders recently smacks of desperation and dishonesty.
Of course, the role played by the preposterous Russiagate conspiracy theory has always been the same: to be a distraction from issues that really matter. At best, it makes a mountain out of molehill. At worst, it’s straight up political psy-op.
For those just tuning in, a re-cap:
In 2016, Wikileaks released a cache of emails from a Democratic National Committee (DNC) server. The electronic correspondence revealed numerous unsavory and unethical activities, among them that the party had been rigging the primary process in favor of Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders from the beginning, and that the Clinton campaign was deceptively funneling money from state parties into her national coffers. Various details of these and other shady endeavors were confirmed by other sources, including Donna Brazille, a party chairperson who personally leaked CNN debate questions to Clinton before the event, and ended up fessing up to it later.
Given the graft-ridden history of US politics, none of this was particularly grievous, honestly speaking, but honestly speaking about it was the last thing the DNC leadership wanted to do, so, with the cooperation of much of the corporate media, they aimed their considerable firepower against Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. That’s what’s called “shooting the messenger.”
Clinton had already made it clear that it was her policy to up US antagonism against Russia, so it wasn’t long before that nation was accused of “hacking” the DNC servers and turning the trove over to Wikileaks in order to hurt Clinton and thereby help Trump. Never mind that the most credible evidence pointed to an inside job—a leak, not a hack—with the responsible party therefore being some US American, not a Russian. Also never mind that claiming the information would negatively affect Clinton was up front admitting that it was incriminating.
Not about to let something as minor as facts or actual culpability get in the way, the DNC and their media allies pushed the “Russia!” narrative hard, especially after Clinton’s election day loss—anything to avoid admitting their own mistakes, such as the lack of campaigning or get-out-the-vote efforts in the key “swing” states that Trump narrowly won. Over the course of the next few months, one shrill accusation after another was blared in screaming headlines, only to be quietly walked back within a day or a few. But accuracy was never important; the goal was to create an impression: that the aberration of Trump could only be explained by the nefarious meddling of those pesky Russkies, not something more mundane and far more likely such as good old fashioned voter suppression. Roundly ignored was the work of investigative journalist Greg Palast in detailing just such malfeasance on a widespread basis—including 60,000 votes not counted in Democrat stronghold Detroit, in a state that Trump won by less than 11,000 votes.
But the cooperation of the corporate media was not enough. Non-corporate, independent media—which could call attention to the truth—needed to be squashed as well. Here the internet giants, such as Google, YouTube and Facebook, patriotically stepped up and began censoring outlets and authors across the political spectrum, both by de-platforming them and by burying them in the noise with algorithms. The excuse was fighting so-called “fake news.” Many well-known leftist websites experienced double-digit percentage declines in readership when these new policies were applied. Nor have the restrictions been lifted since then; rather they have been constantly honed, and the reach of many alternative voices continues to be eroded. It’s all been very Orwellian.
The “Russia!” narrative seemed to fizzle out after former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation failed to turn up more than a few dubious crumbs. Are we supposed to believe the election was swung by a Russian troll farm purchasing $100,000 in Facebook ads, only some of which were actually political? If you’re willing to buy that, I’ve got a bridge for sale in Brooklyn…
In the meantime, the Trump administration had been executing a no-holds-barred attack on virtually every environmental and safety regulation of the last fifty years—including those pertaining to clean air, clean water, and endangered species—with virtually no news coverage or pushback. These are actions with very real consequences, potentially including extinction. Is it possible that some species of plants or animals might die from this planet because the DNC and the corporate media chose to focus on a conspiracy theory instead of the very real policies of the Trump administration? Yes, and that makes me livid.
These policy changes have still not received the attention they deserve, by the way, because “Russia!” was followed by “Impeachment!” and now “Primaries!”
What if every social media post about “Russia!” had instead focused on climate change? Or the opening of public lands to resource extraction? Or the gutting of the National Environmental Policy Act? Most people probably don’t even know what that last one is, which is sad. These are issues of immense importance, but they’ve gotten totally short shrift.
And this is where it’s not just about the DNC and their corporate media stooges: it’s about all the people who fell for it and helped spread it around; the people who were not merely gullible, but who were eager to lap up whatever they were served and spit it out again on command; the people for whom “America” was already “great” and who were shocked by Trump’s popularity.
I wasn’t shocked. I’m from Nebraska, and though I was as surprised as anyone that Trump squeaked through on election night, I was not mystified about his appeal. I didn’t need a fairy tale to explain his following. Watching him give his victory speech, I was like, “Yep, I know that guy, and I know the people who like him, and I see why they do.” (I got out of Nebraska as soon as I could!)
But liberal urbanites don’t get that, and they needed an explanation of how His Deplorableness could possibly have won. Hence the psychological attractiveness of the Russiagate narrative: it claimed that the force that propelled him to victory was not “American”; it came from outside. The nation’s deeply ingrained, widespread racism and patriarchy—of which Trump was merely an expression—could be papered over. “We’re better than this,” people could reassure themselves. Yeah, you wish.
A teachable moment came and went. An opportunity for self-examination was passed over. A mirror was held up, but the gaze was quickly averted.
That Trump is as “American” as apple pie was too much to consider.
The new McCarthyism that accompanied Russiagate has exacted a terribly corrosive effect on political and social discourse, besides the damage it has incurred on alternative media.
Anyone disagreeing with the mainline neoliberal Democratic agenda runs the risk of being slandered as a “Russian bot,” “Russian asset,” “Putin puppet” or something else equally as asinine. Maligning dissent—or even merely progressive ideas—with this childish name-calling has become a casual liberal pastime. The range of discussion, which was already far too narrow, has constricted further. Right at a time when the dire state of the planet’s ecosystem and the ability of humans to survive within it requires creativity and big ideas, we’ve been subjected to smack-downs and small-mindedness. It’s enraging, frankly.
So here’s Bernie Sanders, who—realistically—is far from radical, and whose proposed policies fall desperately short of what is needed. But because he’s an FDR capitalist rather than a Clinton capitalist—no, he’s not a socialist—is being maligned by the establishment as if he’s Che Guevara come back from the dead. If only!
The naked antipathy of the DNC and their corporate media shills for Sanders is a sight to behold. They are applying no veneer of impartiality to their smears. It was only a matter of time before “Russia!” was screeched in his direction. The fact that the attack came as a one-two punch from the New York Times and the Washington Post on the eve of the Nevada caucus betrayed its top-down coordination. As has been typical of stories in this genre, hypey headlines are paired incongruously with incoherent articles that fail to support the case. But it doesn’t matter. Again, it’s all about emotional impressions. Edward Bernays wrote the original playbook a century ago, and nothing’s changed except the delivery systems. It’s called propaganda.
Alas, Sanders’ response did nothing to question the false premise of Russiagate, or its toxic effects on discourse, or its irresponsible inflaming of tensions with a nuclear power. If he hasn’t actually been a true believer in the “Russia!” bullshit since the beginning, he’s certainly been giving a damn good impression. But that’s just who he is on subjects of foreign policy: a man of big talk and few principles, all too willing to fold under the pressure of authority, and far too reluctant to challenge the narratives of the establishment. This too, is a teachable moment: If this is the best we can get, then that’s tragic. We need so much more.
So what are we supposed to do?
Well, there’s that old union song, “Which side are you on?” which goes:
“Don’t scab for the bosses,
Don’t listen to their lies.
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize.”
Indeed. Russiagate is just one of their lies and we’ve got to organize. We must remember, too, that we’ve got far, far more common in with the people of Russia than we do with the DNC oligarchs and their compliant media here.