The following piece was originally published in the Portland, Maine monthly, the West End News.
Robert Mueller’s long-awaited investigation is finally over and for Democrats it is like waking up to a stocking full of coal on Christmas Day. That is because the decidedly anti-climactic conclusion to “Russiagate” more or less exonerates Donald Trump.
(At least on the matter of “colluding” with Russia, anyway. I think there is ample evidence that Trump’s many efforts to block Mueller’s investigation constitute obstruction of justice.)
The “Russiagate” conspiracy theory has completely collapsed. Trump is not a Russian “stooge” (witting or unwitting), nor has he somehow been “compromised” by Vladimir Putin.
As Mueller’s report plainly states:
“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
But then, the ludicrous premise behind Russiagate — that Trump is a Manchurian Candidate-style Russian agent, installed by the Kremlin through covert interference in the 2016 presidential election — was always more farfetched and convoluted than the mythology story arc of The X-Files.
Yet the U.S. media — including stalwart journalistic institutions like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR — obsequiously and uncritically regurgitated the baseless lies and empty talking points that Russia “stole” the 2016 election on behalf of Trump. It is the same careless stenographic reporting these same media outlets used to sell the American public the Iraq War 16 years ago.
Sadly, the press has learned nothing.
For two years now Russiagate and its complicated array of characters and former White House cabinet members has dominated the print and television news. Night after night, talking heads on CNN and MSNBC breathlessly assured us that Mueller “knows everything” — that he has “the goods” on Trump’s illegal, unconstitutional activities that will bring about his downfall. Mueller was going to save us from this rogue, brazenly criminal president.
But it was always silly for the left to invest its hopes in the likes of Mueller (a Republican and former director of the FBI), James Comey, John Brennan, and James Clapper. The CIA, FBI, NSA, and other affiliated alphabet-soup government agencies are no friends of the left — and historically they never have been. They are agents of the state. They are professional liars who do everything they can to mislead the public, subvert democracy, and undermine and destroy activists, socialists, communists, and social justice organizations.
Could William Barr, the attorney general, simply have misrepresented Muller’s findings…? It is quite possible.
“[T]hose still holding on to a flicker of hope that Mueller will emerge on horseback, thick stack of papers in hand, with details and conclusions running counter to Barr’s summary need to get a grip. If there was something there, it would have leaked a long time ago.”
From the beginning, the chief allegations of Russiagate have consisted of suspicion, speculation, and classified information from anonymous sources — a practice journalist Glenn Greenwald, one of the most outspoken Russiagate critics on the left, considers “shoddy,” and “unreliable.”
Those on the left like Greenwald who have been skeptical of the Russian narrative from the beginning have been marginalized by the corporate media, dismissed as “fringe radicals,” and often viciously smeared and attacked as Russian apologists. The furious demonization and silencing of serious journalists like Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Aaron Matte eerily mirrors that of the few voices opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq back in 2002-2003.
And the risks this time around are no less significant.
The Russiagate story has now intensified and fiercely ratcheted up tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear-armed countries. It is as if we have been thrust back into the Cold War. The-Green-New-Deal-hating liberal elite, Jonathan Chait even published an absurd story in New York Magazine claiming that Trump has been an undercover Russian agent since 1987.
The irony of Russiagate is twofold:
For all the talk of Trump’s alleged coziness with Vladimir Putin, he has actually been far more hawkish and antagonistic toward Russia than Barack Obama. Back in February, Trump abruptly withdrew the U.S. from the longstanding Russian nuclear arms pact known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF). He has renewed sanctions on Russia. And Trump has sought military intervention in two of Russia’s key allies — Syria and Venezuela.
The other irony is Russiagate has diverted attention away from the actual culprit of election interference in 2016: The Electoral College.
The proponents of Russiagate are correct in one respect: The presidential election was stolen. Hillary Clinton won 3 million more votes than Trump, yet thanks to the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ thoroughly undemocratic Electoral College, Trump, who never intended or probably even desired to be president, is sitting in the Oval Office. This marks the second time in the last 16 years that the candidate who won the popular vote nonetheless still lost the election.
The Electoral College — along with the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the rest of the bourgeois capitalist state — should be abolished. Imagine if the left had spent the last two years organizing toward that end, rather than tilting at Russian windmills.
And therein lies the great tragedy of this whole pathetic, epic media fail. Leftists initially responded to Trump’s unfathomable election with massive marches throughout major cities, local peace vigils, protests, and the spontaneous airport occupations against Trump’s racist Muslim travel ban. The Women’s March on Washington marked Trump’s first day in the White House. It was the single largest day of protest in U.S. history.
As anyone who participated in a march, rally, protest, or discussion group since Nov. 9, 2016 can attest, these events were simultaneously marked by a sense of fear, disgust, and outrage, but also a renewed spirit of radical politics and revolutionary action. It really did feel at the time like Trump’s election might be capitalism’s breaking point. Working-class people were angry and mobilized in a way they had not been in years.
But Russiagate (and, to a lesser extent, the 2018 midterm elections) sucked all of the air out of the room. The liberal “Resistance” has all but atrophied into complacency with a false sense that Mueller, the Democrats, impeachment, Michael Cohen or Joe Biden will save us from the Orange Menace.
The last major anti-Trump rally was against Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions shortly after last fall’s midterm elections. That’s right: Liberals were rallying in support of a racist, white nationalist Trump-appointee. I will let that sink in for readers for a moment…
Meanwhile, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), a revolutionary group I have been a dues-paying member of for the last five years, has been rocked by recent disclosures of a sexual assault incident from 2013 that the organization’s national leaders actively worked to cover up. The future of the ISO is now very much in question.
Worst of all, the left may have inadvertently handed Trump a major boost to his re-election bid. Mueller has effectively proven Trump right (at least, to an extent). Trump can now convincingly make the case that there was “no collusion, no obstruction,” on his part.
Russiagate only adds credibility to his constant attacks on the “fake news,” and “dishonest media,” and his claims that they are only interested in carrying out a zealous “witch hunt” against him. Indeed, working-class Americans, who do not see their own lives or struggles reflected in the pages of the New York Times or on CNN, have every reason to be distrustful of the corporate-owned news media. Russiagate merely gives them one more.
Sadly, it does not appear the media is ready to let go of the Russiagate narrative anytime soon — even as it has crumbled to pieces right in front of them. The press has merely moved the proverbial goal-posts, now calling for the report’s complete publication, or casting doubt on Barr’s summary. Rather than admit they were wrong, figures like Rachel Maddow have simply doubled-down on this absurd conspiracy theory.
Russiagate became a convenient replacement explanation absolving an incompetent political establishment for its complicity in what happened in 2016, and not just the failure to see it coming. Because of the immediate arrival of the collusion theory, neither Wolf Blitzer nor any politician ever had to look into the camera and say, “I guess people hated us so much they were willing to vote for Donald Trump.”