The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!
Scarcely an hour passes when a Trump detractor is not filling the airwaves with innuendo about how our president is a Russian stooge who won the election with the help of KGB agent Vladimir Putin and an assortment of Kremlin gremlins.
The drumbeat is constant. While pretending to uphold the highest democratic ideals the Resistance is undermining confidence in the election. It’s not a pretty picture.
Writing in Quartz James Carden argues that it reminds him of the Red Scare from the 1950s, and thus, of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society. For record Carden has extensive conservative bona fides while also writing for the decidedly liberal publication, The Nation.
True enough, as the bard aptly pointed out, “comparisons are odorous,” but still the current Red Scare does have a certain affinity with the manias of prior days.
The tendency to blame domestic disappointments on foreign bogeymen is not new and is perhaps better understood as a wave that periodically surfaces, then temporarily subsumes American politics. Indeed, this current reliance on conspiracy theories and accusations of unpatriotic disloyalty has been a feature, not a bug, of discourse regarding Russia since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine in early 2014. Yet this paranoia is, so far, little more than a distraction. By blaming Clinton’s loss on Russia, the political establishment is able to largely ignore the way economic, trade, and foreign policies failed large numbers of Americans. And, by elevating Vladimir Putin to supervillain status, this neo-McCarthyism is hindering debate and undermining legitimate attempts to deescalate tensions with our Russian colleagues.
The current Red Scare is a loser’s lament. It signals the political establishment’s failure to accept that it lost the election. It signals the Democratic Party’s inability to accept that it was decisively repudiated by the American electorate. After all, Trump was anything but the strongest of Republican candidates. If you cannot beat Trump, you have a problem. Ergo, the establishment has declared that it didn’t really lose. That it cannot possibly be as incompetent as it appeared. That the American people still loved Barack Hussein Obama. That the American people could not be so lacking in gratitude that they would reject the wisdom of government bureaucrats and behavioral economists.
One can only conclude that the election was stolen … by the big bad Russians. One recalls, if only for the sake of amusement, the moment in 2009 when newly minted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—a woman whose qualifications consisted of her name and her XX chromosomes—presented the Russian foreign minister with a plastic toy.
She wanted to show that the big bad Bush administration was no longer in charge and that she, in her vainglorious superiority would reset relations with Russia. This supine and mindless gesture showed that Hillary was not ready to play in the big leagues. Kowtowing to the Russians she was suggesting that the Bush team had been too mean.
For the record, the Russian minister looked at her pathetic attempt to be diplomatic and said that the State Department has mistranslated the word for “reset.” In diplospeak he was dismissing Hillary with contempt. If he had wanted to be more respectful, he would have said that he accepted the gracious gesture.
Just think what we are missing.
Anyway, Carden points out that Rachel Maddow—presumably a towering intellect—now known for having hyped the death out of two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax returns—it’s the ratings, stupid—has been suggesting that Trump is really a Russian agent. Conspiracy theories and paranoid thinking have found a home on the American left:
Rachel Maddow has been among the most vociferous and, at times, most incisive critics of president Trump. Yet she also recently questioned whether Trump is actually under the control of the Kremlin.
Is there any evidence that Russia rigged the election and is now pulling the strings in the White House? All indications say No:
While many have convinced themselves that Russia tipped the scale of the election toward Trump, the more sinister allegations of Putin infiltrating the White House have not been born out. Even the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in early March that he has “no knowledge” and “no evidence” of “collusion” between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Think of it, Rachel Maddow is leading the new Red Scare:
Yet Maddow’s charge recalls some of the worst excesses of the early 1950’s, when our political life was marred by the Red Scare and a climate of paranoia prevailed. Unsubstantiated allegations, not dissimilar to the kind Maddow just levied, were characteristic of that era. Back then, none other than senator Joseph McCarthy himself, wondered: “How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster?” Several years later, Robert W. Welch, founder of the far-right John Birch Society, accused president Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.”
Maddow is hardly alone. Consider the case of Jonathan Chait, from New York Magazine:
“Today’s Russia dupes” wrote Chait, “are a smaller, more pathetic lot. Above all they are just plain weirder, because they lack a clear ideological motive for their stoogery.”
What is driving the narrative? What is making these otherwise rational minds get mired in the fever swamps of paranoid thinking? Carden attributes it to resentment, a failure to accept the fact that they and their champions, their heroines, lost an election that they should have won easily. Call it Nietzschean resentment or the plaintive wails of the sore losers. In no way is it going to become the rallying cry for a political movement:
Rather than being driven by a wave of popular sentiment, today’s hysteria is a product of elite resentment, suspicion, and anger over Clinton’s loss to the populist Trump. Then, of course, there is the added element of blame shifting. Democrats are clearly seeking to blame Clinton’s loss on Russia, and the Kremlin offers a convenient foreign target. But is it the Russians, or is it the Clinton campaign that is really to blame?
Not the most difficult question of the day.