Can We Talk About Something Else?

Issue 236

The Dems are obsessed with Russiagate at the expense of issues impacting people’s lives.

Danny Katch May 31, 2018

Two seemingly contradictory trends are competing for space amidst the usual multitude of horrors in our news feeds.

The revelation of a shell company network connecting Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen to corporations with business before the White House — as well as Columbus Nova, an investment firm connected to a prominent Russian “oligarch” — has turned the daily drip of information about the investigations into “Russiagate” and Trump’s other scandals into a deluge.

At the same time, polls show that the Democrats leads are shrinking in Congressional ballot races and that the party might squander the anticipated “blue wave” in this November’s midterm elections. That Republicans are rising in the polls while evidence mounts against Trump doesn’t prove that voters don’t care about corruption, but it does show that it doesn’t crack the top of their list of concerns at a time when more than a third of the country is struggling to afford food, shelter or medicine.

Since November 2016, Democrats and their media supporters have hammered away at the idea that Russian interference played a key role in Trump’s election, but all they’ve proven is that it’s their own utter lack of a way forward for the working-class majority that was, and continues to be, the central reason for Trump’s success.

The Democrats’ singular focus on Trump’s scandals is telling when compared to their lack of attention on countless other important issues. That was clear in April when the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced a lawsuit against Trump campaign and the Russian government over the 2016 hack of DNC servers. They also sued Wikileaks for publishing the hacked information, which, as The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald pointed out, is a major threat to all whistleblowers and journalists who publish classified information.

It goes without saying that there have been no high profile lawsuits or headline-grabbing Congressional hearings about the crimes of voter suppression — primarily against poor people of color — that we already know played a major role in giving Trump the presidency. Perhaps Democrats would gain more traction from Russiagate if more people trusted them to be serious defenders of election integrity. 

Many liberal strategists understand that they can’t limit their message to scandal-mongering, but a party based on the contradiction of getting money from wealthy donors and votes from working-class people, people screwed by those wealthy donors, can’t seem to tear itself away from the path of least resistance.

Russiagate supplies endless grist for the partisan rage mills at MSNBC and Daily Kos, while keeping the base’s white-hot anger safely absorbed by what is essentially a self-contained conspiracy theory (keeping in mind that some conspiracy theories turn out to be true). By contrast, Trump’s injustices against immigrants and his favors for corporations receive only passing mention, which is convenient for the many Democrats who any sustained attention would reveal to be deeply implicated in pushing mostly the same policies.

None of this is to say that Robert Mueller’s special investigation doesn’t matter. The answers to the many questions about Donald Trump’s Russian connections — whether they are illegal or merely improper, with Russian business interests or the Kremlin itself — range from possible to highly probable, and journalists should keep digging until the full story is known. Even the most skeptical critics of Russiagate should want to know why the Russian-linked equity firm spent the summer of 2016 registering “alt-right” internet domains.   

It’s also important to understand that for the 1 percent, Russiagate is more than just a scandal but is part of a strategic debate that is pitting those who want to continue exerting U.S. hegemony through international bodies like the World Bank and NATO against those who favor Trump’s “America First” unilateralism (even if they’d prefer a more competent and less corrupt spokesperson). Through this lens, Trump’s Russia connections reflect not only his shady business ties but more importantly his tolerance for fellow “rogue” leaders like Vladimir Putin who violate international agreements and norms — and his firm belief that it’s China rather than Russia the United States should be worried about.

This is a historically important debate, but unfortunately for Democrats, it’s one that has little appeal for the majority of Americans who are seeing their wages continue to stagnate even as unemployment falls near record lows. The problem isn’t, as well-heeled liberals too often suspect, that ordinary folk are too simple or selfish to care what happens overseas. Rather, it’s that from the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina under George W. Bush to the bank bailouts under Obama — they’ve been getting screwed by their government’s lies and incompetence long before Trump entered the scene.

Trump’s unlikely political success is based not on secret Kremlin backing but because his rants about ordinary Americans being sold out by a cabal of globalist elites resonate. He’s put forward an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, but one that connects with the growing anger of people who have been sold a bill of goods for decades by people who told us to salute the flag while they raided our pension funds and stashed their wealth in overseas tax havens.

Hard right nationalism is emerging as one of the main political challenges in the coming years, here and around the world. In that context, the Democrats’ fixation on Russiagate is not just a pathetic attempt to go back to sleep and reset the alarm for November 7, 2016. It’s a troubling sign that both parties see their road to power through accusing opponents of disloyalty to the homeland.

And if Democrats are prepared to throw the treason card at Republicans, you better believe they’ll use it against their opponents on the left. It already feels inevitable that Green Party candidates and other progressives arguing for left-wing independence from the Democrats will be smeared as Russian-backed trolls in the months leading up to November.   

On the bright side, the wave of teachers’ strikes in red states from West Virginia to Arizona and parts in between is showing that there’s a different way to fight. It involves thousands of people organizing to use their power to shut down their workplaces and quickly bring formerly arrogant Republicans to their knees.

But be forewarned. If these ideas about workers’ power get popular, it won’t be long until we see a revival of the original Russian scare.

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Photo: GEE MAN: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Trump enters its second year. Credit: West Point.

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