Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Now in their fourth year, previous installments are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen deeply regrets that the discussion must begin again with neo-McCarthyism, but it has become perhaps the most important factor in today’s American political-media establishment, and it is growing by the week. In recent days, for example, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has cast wild aspersions and specific allegations of “Russian connections” and Putin puppetry at both the White House and State Department—all without any verified facts. A reliable stenographer of Clinton-Obama opinion declares, while denying any McCarthyism on his part, “We do have evidence of Americans having actual contacts with Russians,” in addition, it seems, to familiar narrower charges that “Trump associates” have been “in contact with Russian intelligence officials.” Where, Cohen wonders, is this headed?
A CNN “documentary” on Russian President Putin—The Most Powerful Man in the World—provided the kind of degraded historical narrative needed for McCarthy-like hysteria and witch hunts. Traumatized by the end of the Soviet Union, Putin has since been afflicted by an abiding fear of “revolution” in Russia. Hence his dictatorial politics at home, hence his “hatred for Hillary Clinton,” who encouraged Moscow protests in 2011–12, hence his plot to hack the Democratic National Committee and disseminate its embarrassing e-mails in order to undermine her presidential campaign, hence the possibility of “collusion” with Donald Trump’s campaign, etc. The many social, political, and international factors that have shaped Russia, and Putin himself, since the end of the Soviet Union were all but omitted or scarcely credited. Among the many “experts” presented in the documentary, none challenged this pseudo-history, except obliquely Putin’s own press spokesman, hardly a credible counter-expert. Meanwhile, developments in Congress, including ample funding, suggest that a latter-day Committee on Un-American Activities may be in the making, one that would again ferret out “Russian apologists” and censor them.
“Investigations” of nefarious “Russian connections” in American politics begin in Congress next Monday. Cohen asks what they will investigate, since no documented facts have actually been publicly presented for any of the allegations—only “assessments” based on presumed Kremlin motives and Trump complicity. Cohen thinks it’s more likely that the “investigations” will produce months of enhanced demonizing of Putin and Russia, and thus, in the McCarthyite tradition, of Trump’s guilt by implied association—as in wanting better relations with Russia and refusing to vilify Putin personally, which is being adduced as evidence. We should hope, Cohen adds, some actual facts are presented that we can “investigate” and evaluate them, but so far there are none.