Anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to be in my presence in the last few months knows I have developed an unhealthy obsession with Russiagate. Just about every time I sit down at my laptop, I compulsively Google terms like “trump russia” and “mueller,” and before doing anything actually important, I will read everything the internet spewed in the last 24 hours on the topic. And I mean everything. I’ll read the same news on WaPo (to whom I finally copped and bought a subscription) and again on Vox and again on CNN and again on Vanity Fair, just for good measure. Just in case there’s anything I missed in the other five articles I read on exactly the same subject a minute ago.
I don’t do it to be informed, or because I think it’s that important. I just devour, compulsively. Mindlessly. Sometimes, gleefully.
The best way I can describe my Russiagate obsession is akin to the way some people watch the Kardashians. I need to know everything about everyone and ol’ Bob Mueller is my Kim. Russiagate is my happy place. It lets me turn the volume down on the real world and bask in the drama of people I don’t know and problems that don’t matter.
My love of Russiagate might seem strange. Indeed, I find it strange. I am just about as disparaging of the #Resistance as I am of the Donald (because pushing the agenda of a neoliberal warhawk who courted support from Henry “I’m Responsible for Pol Pot and Pinochet” Kissinger, AIPAC and Goldman Sachs is so revolutionary.) I loathe the FBI (see: COINTELPRO, the USA PATRIOT Act, Muslim surveillance, pretty much all surveillance, working with ICE to coerce ‘informants’ at threat of deportation, working with ICE at all ever, et cetera.) And as for my shining star, the great Robert Mueller, we’re talking about the guy responsible for the Dubya-era FBI. ‘Nuff said.
So why the hell do I like Russiagate so much?
Because it’s like watching the Capital play in the Hunger Games. Because it isn’t news, it’s just fun. Because I like the ever-so-slight brain teaser of looking beneath the surface of each leak and plea deal for some clue as to the larger scope of the investigation’s direction. And, of course, because it speaks to the part of me that would love to see Trump get impeached, for no other reason than just because I hate everything he stands for.
But do I see the Trump-Russia investigation as any kind of turning point in American politics? Hell no. Is it the “Most Important Case of Our Lives”? Nope. Not by a long shot.
If I may destroy any credibility I might have had by quoting Tyler Durden, it’s “polishing brass on the Titanic. It’s all going down, man.”
For those of you who think Trump is the pinnacle of American Evil, Russiagate might seem like an incredibly important story. The Greatest Scandal in American History. It blows Watergate out of the water. It exemplifies moment of truly American reckoning, where the contemptuous in power are toppled by the mighty force of the rule of law. Blah, blah, and also, blah.
It sounds like it’s important if you completely ignore the part where rule of law in America was literally designed to protect the contemptuous in power, and has continuously done so since like, the Stono Rebellion, before the US was even a thing.
And more to the point, America’s Russia obsession is downright dangerous. It’s a red herring, a big fat distraction from the real problems of American politics that seems eager to return to good ol’ McCarthy days.
Let’s talk about it.
Russiagate, or, Throw Back Thursday: Ain’t No Cure for the Common Cold War
Remember, children, USSR = Bad, Bad = Harmful to American Empire, so everyone who criticizes or threatens the US establishment is a Soviet shill. Wait, the USSR collapsed? I meant Russia. Russian shill.
Can we, as a nation, once and for all, refute the notion that being critical of the American establishment means you’re in Russia’s pocket, and that any support from Russia means your criticism of the US is illegitimate?
Wikileaks may have been instrumental in Russia’s alleged hacking of the Clinton campaign in the 2016 election. And yet, Wikileaks branded Russia a mafia state with thousands of cables it released in 2010. And yet, in 2017, Wikileaks published classified documents on Russia’s own extensive surveillance of its citizens. And yet, Wikileaks has criticized corruption and mass surveillance of governments and institutions all over the world.
In 2016, the New York Times ran a story detailing how Russia’s interests and Wikileaks’ publications seem to dovetail, despite US intelligence believing Julian Assange and Wikileaks have no direct ties to the Kremlin. The article set Wikileaks within a global zero-sum game: anything damaging to the US is a boon to Russia, and Wikileaks has certainly been damaging to the US.
The danger of this kind of thinking should be obvious. Should we not be free to criticize our own institutions? Just because it might make some other government look less awful by comparison doesn’t mean we’re not still awful. And can we not shed the Cold War superpower struggle for hegemony and claim human rights and transparency to be irrevocable values, regardless of national allegiance?
Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein have come under fire for the Kremlin’s alleged support of their candidacies, as though the Russian government preferring them over Hillary Clinton or viewing them as divisive enough to get Trump elected somehow discredits their actual politics (and any public appeal of their politics.)
Edward Snowden has been called a Russian spy for seeking asylum in Moscow, though he initially intended merely to pass through Russia en route to South America. Journalists critical of the American establishment such as Glenn Greenwald and Abby Martin have been called puppets for the Russian state. Martin got her start on RT, but I dare you to sit through five seconds of The Empire Files and tell me her outrage at American imperialism isn’t genuine.
Even if Vladimir Putin were personally paying all of Julian Assange’s bills and tucking him into bed each night with a kiss on his white-haired temple, it wouldn’t change the reality of the US committing probable war crimes in Collateral Murder.
The focus on Russia, as though it is the source of all criticism of the United States and the only possible beneficiary from such criticism (excluding, say, the American people, or the people of anywhere else who have suffered at the hands of US policies), is not only misguided, it is downright dangerous to American democracy. Aligning all criticism of the US with some cobbled-together image of an international enemy demonizes legitimate dissent and opens the door for further horrific abuses of power at the hands of the US government.
Blaming your problems on Russia does not a resistance make. And on that note:
#Resistance, or, What I Learned About Morality from Democrats
Every time I hear Democrats call themselves members of the #Resistance, I just about piss myself. A for effort, guys. The American political system does need a strong and healthy resistance. So let’s eradicate money from politics, scrap the hegemony of corporations and capitalist institutions, stop promoting political dynasties, radically redistribute wealth, end mass incarceration and police brutality, stop invading other people’s countries, and destroy the nuclear arsenal! Come on Resistance, who’s with me?
Guess not. So here, instead, are a few things I’ve learned from the Democrats in the past decade:
- Election meddling is only bad if Russia does it.
If Russian bots and Wikileaks are a huge threat to democracy, then when the US, say, provided military aid to extreme right-wing fighters in Greece and went on to support Greek leaders with deplorable human rights records, that should have been a problem. Right? Corrupting Italy’s democratic elections after WWII? That’s bad, right? What about organizing and financing a military coup to overthrow the democratically elected Mossadegh in Iran after he threatened to nationalize British oil and installing a pro-US dictator in his place? Or, organizing and financing a military coup to overthrow the democratically elected Arbenz in Guatemala after he threatened to nationalize the United Fruit Company, bringing into power a series of brutal dictators? Repeated efforts to overthrow the communist government in North Vietnam, support a puppet government in South Vietnam, and then invading Vietnam for two decades of brutal war? How ’bout years of repeated coups to overthrow democratically elected leaders in Laos and repeatedly bombing civilians across the nation? Supporting ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, the brutal Haitian dictator whose regime slaughtered thousands and thousands of people? How about the Bay of Pigs? The CIA orchestrating the assassination democratically elected Lumumba in the Congo but proving unable to install a pro-USA puppet regime, subjecting the country to years of political strife? What about overthrowing the democratically elected Bosch in the Dominican Republic and installing one of the most brutal, right-wing dictatorships the world has ever known? Or, doing the exact same thing to the democratically elected Goulart in Brazil a year later? Or, the exact same thing in Indonesia with the democratically elected Sukarno a year after that? Or, crushing a popular rebellion against the US-backed dictator in the Dominican Republic? Or, backing a military coup to overthrow the widely popular Papandreou in Greece, paving the way for years of brutal military rule? Continuing to support “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti despite his continuation of his father’s brutality? Overthrowing and assassinating the democratically elected Allende in Chile and installing a military dictatorship helmed by the infamously brutal Pinochet? Backing anyone anti-Soviet in Afghanistan, setting off years of bloody civil war? Aiding the military government in slaughtering its people in El Salvador? Supporting brutal anti-revolutionary military forces in Nicaragua for over a decade? Rigging Haiti’s elections to install a pro-USA government? Overthrowing the CIA’s own golden boy Noriega in Panama when he outgrew his loyalty to the US? The US has decades of blood on its hands from repeated interventions, coups and election tampering to install pro-US governments.Abhorrent, right? An absolutely disgusting display of complete disregard for human rights and democracy. The Democrats were furious. I mean, just look at what Bill Clinton had to say to the CIA in 1993: “For five decades,” Clinton said, “Your honor, your heroism, your judgment, and your intelligence has helped America to meet every challenge we have faced. Now, on the brink of the 21st century, with your help we can do that all over again for another 50 years. Once again, you stand at the forefront of America’s defense, you embody America’s best values, and you must help to carry us into a brighter future. Thank you, and God bless you.”
- Extreme right, authoritarian, anti-human rights regimes are only bad if they’re in the US.
- Supporting foreign authoritarian, anti-human rights regimes is only bad if you’re Donald Trump.
- Supporting BDS is anti-Semitic.
Granted, this one is specifically from Hillary Clinton rather that Democrats as a whole. Democrats are notably split on the vile anti-BDS bill that would criminalize support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid. Some Democrats are staunchly in favor of the bill, which would criminalize support for the BDS movement by fines of up to $1 million dollars and 20 years in prison. Because abhorrent, hardline policies taken by the state of Israel == the entire Jewish people. So it’s impossible to be critical of the Israeli state and not be anti-Semitic. Obviously.
- Hillary Clinton is a Democrat. Everyone else? Off to the Third Party wasteland with ye.
As we all now know, both the DNC and the Democratic Party were extremely preferential to Clinton in the 2016 primary. Somehow, the Republican Party was able to incorporate the more radical elements of conservatism into the Republican fold (see: the Tea Party, the alt-right). But God forbid socialists, anti-capitalists, Black Lives Matter, anti-militarists or green politics get a voice in the Democratic Party.
- Whistleblowing is treason.
Chelsea Manning? Tried for espionage and sentenced to 35 years in prison under Obama’s justice department, of which she served 7 before being granted clemency in Obama’s final days in office.
Edward Snowden? Forced into exile in Russia under threat of trial for treason and espionage in the US, under Obama’s justice department.
Wikileaks? Decried by the US government, blocked by the Library of Congress, blocked from view for all US government employees. The Obama administration reportedly asked governments around the world to assist the US in bringing criminal charges against Assange and limiting his ability to travel.
Julian Assange? Forced into house arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London under threat of extradition to the US for his work on Wikileaks, under the Obama administration.
Laura Poitras? Placed on DHS watch list and repeatedly detained and interrogated at border crossings, under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Filed a 2014 FOIA claim to know the reason for her repeated detentions and interrogations, to which the DOJ refused to respond until she sued them.
Jacob Appelbaum? Subjected to repeated detention, interrogation and searches at airports, under the Obama administration.
Daniel Ellsberg? … all charges dismissed, under the Nixon administration. Though there were repeated efforts to discredit Ellsberg, they ultimately fell flat, and he was never sentenced to prison time or forced to flee the country for leaking the Pentagon Papers.
- Repeatedly supporting mass incarceration, the prison-industrial complex, and prison privatization doesn’t mean Democrats are racist, because Hillary Clinton keeps hot sauce in her purse.
- Capitalism is good for you.
I could write a lot about this one, but honestly I’m exhausted. If you think the Democrats are any less responsible than Republicans for how American politics sold out to capitalist interests and became a lackey for the irrevocable rights of Wall Street to fuck over America however it wants, kindly shut your mouth.
- The universe started in 2016.
The conditions that allowed a right-wing populist candidate to gain national popularity and win the presidency in America couldn’t have anything to do with decades of establishment politics ignoring the plight of working class Americans and refusing to hold responsible those who destroyed the US economy and turning government into a personal playpen for whatever lobbyist or corporate-sponsored super PAC had the most money. Hillary Clinton’s electoral college loss was due entirely to Russian interference and also Bernie bros, who only liked Bernie because they hate women and not because Bernie represented the left-wing side of the same populist outrage that brought about the rise of Trump. Nothing ever happened before 2016 that could possibly explain the present political climate. It was all Russia’s fault. The End.
When it comes to the #Resistance, I just don’t get it. What the hell are Democrats actually resisting, other than Trumpworld in particular? It’s not like Trumpworld is really that different from decades (or centuries) of existing trends in American politics.
Yeah, Hillary Clinton probably wouldn’t call Haiti a shithole. But Democrats’ history of interventions in and occupations of Haiti, their predatory trade policies in the Caribbean, and the Clinton Foundation’s longtime clinging to inept and imperialistic aid practices have sure done their darndest not to Make Haiti Great Again.
Speaking of Haiti, I had a brief interaction in Port-au-Prince that exemplified one of the things I hate most about Democrats. I spoke to a woman who ran the Democrats Abroad chapter in Haiti, after she offered to sign American expats up for absentee voting for the 2018 midterms. I asked her if it mattered for the sign-up that I’m not a Democrat. Her face hardened, and she made some comment about hoping not to see me on Fox News.
Because hating the Democratic Party obviously makes me a Republican. Just like not voting for Hillary Clinton means I hate women (even though I did vote for a female candidate in 2016.)
The entire problem with two-party politics is that you’re left in this contrived vacuum of a zero-sum game where either option is reprehensible and you’re forced to pick the “lesser” of two evils or “waste your vote.” Do you like your racism cooked overt, or do you prefer it to bleed out sideways in global economic injustice, proxy wars and drone strikes? If you dare vote for a third party, you’re criticized for undermining whoever might have been the “lesser evil,” almost always the Democrats.
Allow me to explain my feelings on Democrats in meme. “Two Things About the Democratic Party,” a popular tweet (now meme) by The Hippo wrote in 2017, “1) It’s true, they’re better than the Republicans. 2) That’s the maximum achievement they aspire to.”
Because as we know: there are only two options, and criticizing one means you help the other. Just like criticizing the US means you help Russia.
The Actual Reckoning of American Politics
Hypocrisy, corporate allegiance, flagrant civil rights abuse at home and abroad, unchecked militarism, these things are perhaps even more striking on the Republican side than the Democrat one. But that sure as hell doesn’t mean they’re not also a huge problem for the Democrats.
No, being critical of the Democratic Party does not make me a Republican or Russian shill.
So don’t get me started on one of the most absurd and hilarious tropes to come out of the right-wing misinformation factory: that Democrats are somehow in bed with Leftists.
From where I lie firmly in the Leftist bed, I can tell you I’m not snuggled up against any Democrats. Get real, honey, the Democrats hate us just as much as the Republicans do.
Actually, I’d argue they hate us more, because we make them look bad. If you find yourself on the right-wing end of the spectrum, you can lump Leftists and Democrats in together and point to less “acceptable” leftist politics and tactics as indicators why the Democrats are evil communists. If you find yourself on the left-wing end of the spectrum, you see how grossly the Democrats have failed Leftist values. Democrats are not pinko commies (would that they were.) As a pinko commie, I can attest to this.
And let’s get real. The Democrats’ big problem has nothing to do with Russia, and a lot to do with blaming Russia.
The Democrats failed in 2016. Hang the Electoral College. Hang the Kremlin. Y’all fucked it yourselves.
Yes, Clinton won the popular vote, but not by enough to secure a victory. The fact that the election was even close enough for the popular vote not to match the Electoral College vote when Clinton’s opponent was literally the batshit orange guy who grabs women by the pussy? If that doesn’t reek of Democrat failure, I don’t know what does.
(Side note – where was the Democrat outcry against the travesty that is Electoral College in 2008, when Obama, who won the popular vote with 52.9%, took 67.8% of the EC? That’s an even bigger discrepancy than Trump getting 46.1% of the popular vote and 56.5% of the EC.)
The set up for America’s political crisis dates back long before the most recent election cycle. Long before Bush, long before Nixon, long before even the Civil War. America’s hierarchical power structures, anti-democratic policies at home and abroad, anti-egalitarianism, systemic racism, systemic class segregation, resolute obedience to the military and financial institutions, and continuous hostility to any anti-establishment viewpoint have been woven into the fabric of American politics since the day George Washington became a slave-owner at the age of eleven. And actually, before that.
This is not new. This is not an outlier. Trump’s rise is nothing but the untimely marriage of outrage against long-corrupt political institutions, the failures of capitalist “democracy,” and America’s deeply entrenched system of white privilege.
Russia did not break American democracy. America broke American democracy.
How did this happen? Who’s to blame? To lose all credibility again, I’ll conclude this rant with a V for Vendetta quote: “If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”
The only way we can come out the other end of America’s present political crisis is to stop placing the blame on anyone other than our own institutions and political processes. So stop acting like Russiagate is some major turning point. Maybe Trump knew, maybe he didn’t. Either way, Mueller won’t fix America’s broken political system.
And yet, the media frenzy rages on. And no attempt to deviate from the Russia narrative and get the media to focus on the real problems of American democracy seems to have been particularly effective. Because who wants to talk about the abuses of late capitalism and political corruption and systemic oppression?
When it comes to the Mueller investigation, I’ve just stopped fighting it. The obsession is here to stay, so I’m embracing it. I invite you to pop some popcorn and join me in enjoying this saga like the drawn-out love child of Law & Order and the Kardashians that it is.
Because OMG, Hope is totally resigning because of the Russia stuff, like come on the Rob Porter thing has been going on for a while and she decides to quit now? I don’t thiiiink sooooo.