Straw-Manning Russiagate

Why do smart people insist on manufacturing demonstrably false straw-man versions of Russiagate? Take this nugget:

“The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump.”

That’s just wrong. If there is a “new centrist-liberal orthodoxy,” it is not founded on a belief about Putin but on a series of empirical facts about the Trump campaign. Literally no one is claiming that the problem was Putin’s “attack on American democracy;” the two central claims are almost invariably that 1) Trump’s campaign, with or without his direction, collaborated with the intervention, likely in violation of US law; and 2) Trump has subsequently obstructed the investigation of this collaboration, definitely in violation of US law.

Very little of this depends on what Putin/Russia did or did not do. When that topic is discussed, it’s usually in the context of a moral panic about social media, not the Trump investigation.

Conversely, the claim that the “new centrist-liberal orthodoxy” is dissembling or diverting attention away from inconvenient truths about the internal rot of American politics is repeatedly predicated on an otherwise superfluous defense of Russia. Here, Lears goes out of his way to dispute the intelligence assessment indicting Russia, as if this is necessary to his thesis that “liberal centrists” are misusing it.

He makes a series of increasingly absurd claims, like this one: “after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election.” The bombshells in question are, of course, proliferating facts about the Trump campaign’s likely illegal efforts to take advantage of Russian offers of help. Not only does Lears know this perfectly well, but it is irrelevant to his larger claim about the deep normality of the Trump administration. Both can be true; neither undercuts the other.

Nowhere does the liberal-centrist consensus depend on linking the two, and Lears offers no actual evidence of anyone making the link. First it’s the CIA, which is hardly part of the liberal-centrist cabal; then, he implies it’s the mainstream media promoting this narrative; other times, it’s the Democratic party establishment. In both cases, he names no one in particular (except the one WaPo report that was very loudly retracted).

Finally, the whole elaborate “analysis” is offered to undermine Clinton’s claim to legitimacy and to promote the “populist” insurgency within and adjacent to the Democratic party. Fine. Except that there’s not much evident enthusiasm for refurbishing Clinton; most of the enthusiasm is actually behind the insurgency, as a series of articles in such centrist outlets as Vox, Fivethirtyeight, The Atlantic, Salon, etc. amply demonstrate. Even the staunchly pro-Clinton New York Magazine has gotten in on the action. One would have to go pretty far out of one’s way not to take notice of these breathless red state activist profiles, coverage of sharp increases in the number of female candidates for local office, surprise special election wins, polling gains, innovative candidate recruitment efforts, and so on.

There is simply no need to debunk a fictitious liberal-centrist narrative of Russian hacking to lend support to these efforts. They are already predicated on a widespread rejection of the party elite. Heck, Chuck Schumer’s well-heeled Park Slope neighbors routinely blockade his brownstone to push him leftward. The likes of Lears and Greenwald quixotically defending Russia is laughably beside the point.

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