Now that the intelligence chiefs’ report on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election is available in expurgated form—and we have no reason to assume the classified version is any more substantial than the rubbish made public last Friday—it is time to do that most difficult thing: step back and take a cold, hard look at ourselves. What we find, to put my conclusion first, is that most of us will do more or less anything just now to avoid taking a cold, hard look at ourselves and what it is we are up to.
This is commonly done by way of scapegoating. The Russian case is extreme, but it must not be seen in isolation.
It is true that Americans today are a divided people in many respects. But let’s not make too much of this, for we display a striking unity in our tendency to blame others for our difficulties, shortcomings, and failures, of which there are unusually many at this moment—every one our own doing. It is tempting to anatomize our current outburst of scapegoating according to political persuasion—which party abuses whom—but this does not do because almost everyone gives in to flinching from failures that are all our own.
Donald Trump (with a lot of Democratic backing) indulges in a bout of Sinophobia boringly reminiscent of earlier iterations reaching back more than a century. On the other hand, everywhere one looks Democrats (with a lot of Republican backing) assert that Russia strikes at the very foundation of our republic.
Trump’s China-bashing, which I read as unconsciously racist, is not yet institutionalized but shortly will be. Last week’s intelligence report on Russia was a stunning farce—flimsier than even hardened skeptics would have predicted. So were those still-weaker allegations this week to the effect Russia possesses material compromising Trump. But this is no moment to exhale. Russophobia is policy. We are in for many years of it unless Trump succeeds in shutting this project down.
Russophobia, Sinophobia, the always-handy Islamophobia—the scapegoating habit is worth thinking about as an established national trope. It has a long history. What can we learn from it now, as it builds to an unusual height? What does it tell us about who we are in 2017?
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The joint report presented last week by James Clapper, Michael Rogers, John Brennan, and James Comey is so devoid of substance even The New York Times seems to take half a step back. William Binney, one of those whistleblowers we are fortunate enough to have among us for their efforts to keep the conversation sane, described it succinctly (in an interview with the dreaded RT): “It says the U.S. intelligence agencies have lost their professional discipline in providing intelligence. This is a joke.”