I’m in favor of anything that undermines, or brings about the downfall of, Donald Trump. He’s a monster. And to the degree that focusing on his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to game the 2016 election helps with this, then fine. The Senate should investigate and independent journalists should look for more damning information. But it’s high risk to bet the resistance on finding a smoking gun, proving that Donald Trump—not an associate, not some weird hanger-on, not even an in-law—knowingly worked with Putin to hack the DNC, or offered some back-channel dollars for a détente deal. Anything short of tying it to Trump means Trump survives. Tim Weiner, a former New York Times national security journalist and Pulitzer Prize–winning author, says the investigation of the Russian story could last years.
As many others have pointed out, an obsessive focus on Putin absolves the Democratic Party from having to reckon with their own failings, as if it was Moscow that tricked Hillary Clinton to not campaign in Wisconsin, or to spend the whole month of August (after Bernie Sanders’s gracious call on his supporters to back her campaign) courting neocons.
Meanwhile, MSNBC has turned itself into the equivalent of the Christic Institute, which in the 1980s lost a lawsuit surrounding an Iran/Contra bombing by chasing “unsubstantiated conspiracism.” Iran/Contra was a real conspiracy, much of which by nature was “unsubstantiated.” But as Alex Cockburn liked to remind, conspiracies are natural terrain for the right but a rough one for the left. At best, they exert a powerful pull toward depoliticization and cynicism. At worst, they lead to Alex Jones Infowars–style anti-government lunacy.
With Trump on the ropes—arguably because of the Russia entanglements but also arguably not, especially in the parts of the country the Democrats need to win back—now is the time to put forth an aggressive social-democratic platform, one that includes single-payer, student debt relief, a real industrial policy, and free education.
Instead, we have Rachel Maddow giving 20 minutes of her show to a petition on the whitehouse.gov site calling on the United States to return Alaska to Russia. Less than 40,000 people signed that petition, but Maddow smells something rotten. “Our examination of those signing and posting on its petition revealed an odd pattern,” she begins the segment, going on to connect dizzying constellation of dots leading back to Putin: “It is fascinating, boy, they’ve come a long way from their give Alaska back to the Russia of petitions, right?” Right. Like Holmes’s Moriarty, Putin appears to be the “organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected….He is a genius, a philosopher, and abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations.” And Maddow will pluck each one.