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Russiagate Revisited

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The anti-Russian hysteria in Washington has slipped beyond self-parody. We now have front-row seats in a theatre of the absurd, watching the media furor explode after Robert Mueller’s ‘indictments’ of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for interfering in the 2016 presidential elections.

Mueller’s actions deserve the scare quotes because they are not really indictments at all. The accused parties will never be extradited or brought to trial. Nor is it clear that their actions rise to the level of crimes. The supposed indictments are merely dramatic accusations, a giant publicity stunt.

Even if they were real indictments, they would not be convictions. American journalists seem to have forgotten that distinction. In contemporary American jurisprudence, prosecutors routinely get rubber stamps from grand juries. A grand jury, the adage goes, will indict a ham sandwich. For a g-man on a white horse like Mueller, universally lionised in the mainstream media, a grand jury would probably indict a peanut butter sandwich.

One of the most bizarre aspects of Russiagate is the magical transformation of intelligence agency heads into paragons of truth-telling – a trick performed not by reactionary apologists for domestic spying, as one would expect, but by people who consider themselves liberals. There is something genuinely absurd about a former director of the FBI – which along with the CIA and NSA has long been one of the gravest threats to democracy in America – solemnly warning of the threat to democracy posed by Russian meddling in the election.

And what was the nature of that alleged meddling? The pseudo-indictments are clear: the meddlers had nothing to do with the Russian government and nothing to do with the Trump campaign – except that they sometimes ‘communicated with unwitting individuals’ associated with it. And the Russians’ activities had no impact on the outcome of the election. Mueller’s assignment was to investigate whether the Russian government colluded with the Trump campaign to promote his victory over Hillary Clinton. None of the current charges has anything to do with this. (Nor does Mueller’s recent indictment of Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney and associate of Trump’s crony Paul Manafort.) The pseudo-indictments merely add to the billowing clouds of innuendo that have characterised the Russiagate narrative from the beginning.

According to Mueller’s accusations, the meddlers began their operations long before the campaign began and certainly before anyone thought Trump had a snowball’s chance in hell; they posed as Muslims, black activists, white Southerners, among other social types, all posting slogans and invective on social media. After the election, they staged pro-Trump and anti-Trump rallies. Somehow the media have made this mishmash fit the Russiagate narrative, assuming it reveals a coherent Kremlin plan to elect Trump.

So what is the point of these sham indictments? It is fair to speculate that there is more going on here than a simple search for truth. Early on in the 37-page document that was released to such fanfare, the FBI makes a revealing assertion, claiming that the Russians aimed ‘to sow discord in the US political system’ – as if vigorous debate were not an appropriate state of affairs for a democratic polity; as if the normal expression of democracy is bland conformity to policies fashioned by elites. By explicitly linking the Russians with support for the Sanders and Trump campaigns, Mueller’s pseudo-indictments identify dissent from the Washington consensus with foreign subversion. They reinforce the reigning orthodoxy and tighten the boundaries of permissible public discourse.

The consequences are potentially catastrophic. By focusing on the manufactured menace of Russiagate, the Democratic Party leadership can continue to ignore its own failures as well as the actual menace posed by Trump. And by fostering the fantasy of a vast Russian plot against America, the mainstream media can shut down reasonable foreign policy debate and promote a dangerous, unnecessary confrontation with a rival power. The final act in Washington’s theatre of the absurd has yet to be written, but the denouement looks dark.

Comments

  1. Joe Morison says:

    ‘Mueller’s assignment was to investigate whether the Russian government colluded with the Trump campaign to promote his victory over Hillary Clinton.’ Yes, but he was also charged to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” A clause one might name Rosenstein’s Revenge, and which fully justifies everything Mueller has done/is now doing.

    Further, I’m not sure how you get to ‘The pseudo-indictments are clear: the meddlers had nothing to do with the Russian government’. They don’t demonstrate that they did, but they hardly prove the negative. I find it hard to believe that such a huge coordinated effort could have been done without the Kremlin’s support; and then there’s the question of motive – who, in Russia, would want to destabilize the US political system but its government?

    Finally, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that ‘vigorous debate [is] not an appropriate state of affairs for a democratic polity’. It’s rather that such a debate is only genuine when the debaters are sincere (saying what they believe as opposed to what they are being paid to) and truthful (as opposed to, for example, masquerading as members of the polity when they are not).

    • Stu Bry says:

      “I find it hard to believe that such a huge coordinated effort could have been done without the Kremlin’s support; and then there’s the question of motive – who, in Russia, would want to destabilize the US political system but its government?”

      It was a couple of dozen people using VPNs.

      • cwritesstuff says:

        80 at its peak, and funded by an oligarch with links to Putin. But yes, nothing to see here.

    • davideb says:

      I agree with Joe Morrison. And I would label carefully selecting words to make a point “cherry-picking”.

  2. RobotBoy says:

    While I would agree with much of Lears’ analysis, I have to question his statement that the charges have nothing to do with establishing collusion. After all, Trump’s campaign manager was deeply involved in lobbying and money-laundering with Kremlin ally Yanukovych. That’s not nothing from where I’m looking.
    More puzzling is his claim that, ‘…the meddlers had nothing to do with the Russian government…’ Now the NYTimes is ideologically motivated to promote the neo-liberal Washington consensus but I’ll give some credit to the statement: ‘The indictment does not explicitly say the Russian government sponsored the effort, but American intelligence officials have publicly said that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed and oversaw it. The indictment notes that two of the Russian firms involved hold Russian government contracts.’ I find it hard to believe that a large Russian intelligence firm was operating without some understanding with Putin and Co.
    Of course U.S. intelligence does many of the same things in other countries as well. I see no reason why there can’t be some real meat to the indictments while at the same time they’re being used to promote a specific agenda. Lears seems too quick dismiss the possibility.

  3. Graucho says:

    Putin is a nationalist, he wants a strong Russia. Weaker America=stronger Russia. One way to get a weaker America is to put a divisive, inexperienced president in the white house. Mission accomplished.

    • Joe Morison says:

      Equally: Weaker EU = stronger Russia. Nothing has been more damaging to the EU in the last couple of years than Brexit. Mission accomplished.

      (I’m not suggesting Russia orchestrated Brexit but they have certainly encouraged it as anyone reading public comment boards can testify – all those people with very English names but who just can’t disguise that English is not their first language.)

      • Edward Weldon says:

        Joe Morrison sounds suspiciously English, Joe Tesco would sound more plausible… We are all potential Russian spy these days Joe.
        Dont you think you’re being a bit paranoid? I believe in UFO‘s by the way, I read it on the internet & fairies mostly choose Welsh sounding names

    • Paul Surovell says:

      Perhaps Putin dreamed of “putting” a President in the White House, but there is nothing in the real world that suggests that he even attempted to do that (apart from the evidence-free-24/7/365 media-mantra)

  4. Timothy Rogers says:

    While I get Lears’ skepticism about the public (and/or press) reception of the Mueller investigation’s indictments, I don’t get his resistance to the obvious. On points of my agreement with him: it is odd to see the heads of our intelligence agencies being either admired or celebrated by liberals, but, they (our liberals) don’t have too many other places to go when it comes to reining in or undercutting Trump (who, in terms of investor-fraud and tax fraud, is a career criminal); these agencies are actually frightened of the combination of power and ignorance that Trump represents, with possible dire effects in both domestic and foreign affairs. To be fair to the FBI, it seems to have cleaned itself up a lot since the bad old days, and J. Edgar Hoover’s death made this possible – when dealing with real terrorists and those merely “guilty by assumption”, the FBI went on record during the post 9/11 years as criticizing the CIA’s torture methods during interrogations – on both ethical and practical grounds.

    However, with respect to the matter at hand (Russian interference in US elections), Lears seems to be unwilling to make even the most common-sense inferences based on the evidence made public to date. Good, he knows the old saw about “you can indict a ham sandwich”; what about the old saw that “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck”? This would seem to apply to the relationship between the International Research Center and the Rusian government – you don’t have a nice little building that’s totally wired for sophisticated internet operations and a million-point-four dollar a month budget in Moscow without connections to the powers that be. Maybe Lears thinks this is a guess that can’t be proven – but it’s similar to the guess made by most journalists that the armed men appearing in unmarked uniforms and with heavy weaponry in the Crimea at the time of its Russian annexation and those appearing suddenly in eastern Ukraine when things began to fall apart after Maidan were Russian military men and volunteers trained by the Russian army.

    As to Lears’ point that these are ‘pseudo-indictments’, everybody understands that. But you could also call them, less tendentiously, ‘public information (to the American public) indictments’. There’s nothing wrong with that. David C. Johnston’s books, “The Making of Donald Trump” and “It’s Even Worse than You Think – What the Trump Administration is Doing to America“ are full of well-documented materials that would (and should) make Trump indictable in civil courts and perhaps even in criminal courts – but they will probably never be pursued in court. Note, Trump hasn’t sued Johnston yet, a real clue to the likely, supportable truth about Trump’s past activities, as described by Cay.

    Special-counsel investigations, unfortunately, have broad and poorly defined remits – they are designed to be “fishing expeditions” This is what allowed the Whitewater investigation to turn into what it did. Nothing of significance could be found against Billary on the supposition that their real-estate deal gone bad was criminal, so we wound up with a recommendation for impeachment based on perjury regarding the randy neo-liberal’s sexual behavior. There are lots of reasons to dislike various aspects of both Clintons’ politics and policies, but the whole impeachment-episode stank from the outset.

    Like other investigators of white-collar criminals, Mueller’s team will “follow the money”, opening many avenues that seem to terrify Trump. Johnston himself admits that Trump’s “personal connections” to Putin and his circle of influential cronies was nothing but puffery and braggadocio, but there’s the other matter of criminal money laundering via real-estate purchases and transactions with various Trump properties, committed by Russians and an international host of malefactors that will make him look even worse than he already smells, once they come to full light. American journalists themselves are remiss for not having looked into these matters in 2015 and 2016; there were plenty of clues out there, but our reporters went with personality-driven stories and the conventional electoral “horse-race” reporting that essentially ignores all matters relating to public policy.

    Let’s ask Mr. Lears what he really thinks, and what his reasons for thinking so are. Does he doubt Russian attempts to meddle in the election? If he believes it happened, does he also believe it was insignificant, trivial? By the way, his equation of the kinds of Facebook and various other website stunts put together by the Russian hackers with “vigorous political debate” is laughable. We don’t really have much of that in the US (once again, shame on the majority of our journalists, be they of the print, TV, or internet ilk), but to put the Russian efforts into that category means that Lear has to do a “category reality-check” before he ventilates. Maybe he thinks that Lord Haw-Haw (or Ezra Pound) was stimulating vigorous political debate during WWII. Wake up, man – you probably have many well-supported and good reasons for challenging US policy (I do), but this particular piece is both tendentious and lacking in persuasive argument.

    • Timothy Rogers says:

      Some corrections and further thoughts here: First, the International Research Agency (IRA) is in St. Petersburg, not Moscow. As to further thoughts, the current resistance of Trump to the information about the Russian raid on the 2016 elections is illuminating in itself. Basically, he’s pretending indifference to the findings of the six major intelligence agencies that have been reporting to Congress (“no comment”). A gloss on this was given to Christiane Amanpour by Richard Clarke just last night.

      Clarke informed his host that Obama had made a ruling that such agencies could not take specific cyber-warfare actions against any other country (Russia, China, others) without Presidential approval. Clarke also pointed out that the normal response to reports such as those supplied by the intelligence agencies would be the formulation of a plan of counter-operations by White House security advisors. If the White House advisors have presented such a plan to Trump, he has not acknowledged it publicly or requested the agencies to retaliate following such a plan (this is clear from their testimony).

      What might they do? Clarke recommended that the first step should be an operation that shuts down the IRA completely: destroying both their software and “frying” their hardware through our own hacking programs. If the message is not received and the hacking into the upcoming election continues, Clarke recommended that every last enterprise run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s “chef” who is the “owner” of the IRA, be similarly brought down through hacking.

      Clarke knows this would open the situation to major Russian shut-down operations directed at various aspects of US infrastructure that depend on the internet, but believes this is a price that must be paid in order to deter Russia’s cyber-warfare as it unfolds. It seems unlikely that Trump would ever go this far – besides, he’s on record as stating that Putin told him he’s not doing it and that Trump believes it.

      None of this is actually “hysteria”, as Lears supposes. Trump’s silence on the matter is very strange, especially for a man who likes to shoot his mouth off and issue dire (or vague) threats.

    • Peterson_the man with no name says:

      The point isn’t so much that discord is a sign of a healthy democracy (it can be, but only if it is about something real rather than the competitive offence-taking that dominates US politics). It’s that, even if all the allegations are true, the efforts of Vlad’s minions represented only a few small and misshapen flakes amid the vast blizzard of hatred created by Americans for Americans. In other words, it may be in Putin’s interests to sow discord in America, but he hardly needs to when Americans are making such a fine job of it by themselves. Lear may go too far in dismissing the existence of Russian meddling, but his thoughts on the motives of those screaming their confected outrage about it seem perfectly credible to me.

      • Tim Maudlin says:

        “the efforts of Vlad’s minions represented only a few small and misshapen flakes amid the vast blizzard of hatred created by Americans for Americans.”

        I have direct proof that this is false. In fact, today well over 90% and up to 100% of the public comments made at the Fox web site are made by paid Russian trolls. And the chance of any clam or rational debate there is nil. On what evidence do you base your claim that the output from St. Petersburg was so trivial?

  5. Mona Williams says:

    I think I will accept the opinion of a real lawyer, white horse notwithstanding, on what a real indictment is. Strangely, this explanatory piece has left me no wiser regarding the possible weaknesses of Mueller’s indictments than have the leftist blogs I read. Everyone know that Russia isn’t going to send those 13 people over here to be tried.

    And ham (or peanut butter) sandwich notwithstanding, Mueller has gotten his share of guilty pleas so far. That means something to me. Also, the fact that there have no leaks from his investigation tells me that there is loyalty and purposefulness in his team, and that they respect their leader. Lears does not suggest a reason for Mueller’s lionization by the media (and by Americans in general). Let me submit that it is because he is a tower of integrity.

    Another thing I have learned from my blogs that this piece left unmentioned is the nature of the kind of legal case-building that Mueller is undertaking. It is slow and steady, with no artificial deadlines. It is built from the ground up, resting on a multitude of seemingly minor but irrefutable facts. And it does not show its hand before it’s time.

    People are suffering from this administration, and the Mueller investigation is one of our best hopes. I for one am willing to respect this process and patiently await its final result.

  6. Tim Maudlin says:

    A friend of mine linked to this post as an expression of what he accepts about the Mueller investigation and Russian interference in general. Here is my detailed response:

    So what you “completely agree with” is demonstrably false. Let’s stick with the facts that are beyond any dispute.

    Jackson Lears writes:
    “Mueller’s assignment was to investigate whether the Russian government colluded with the Trump campaign to promote his victory over Hillary Clinton. None of the current charges has anything to do with this.”

    The act appointing Mueller reads:
    “a) Robert S. Mueller III is appointed to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice.

    (b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James 8. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:

    (i) any links and or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
    (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
    (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

    On March 20, 2017, Comey testified:
    “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

    So the first lie is that Mueller was appointed to investigate only collusion, and hence these indictments are outside the scope of the inquiry. Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian interference into the election *including*, but not limited to, collusion. As I said, collusion is a red herring here. It is the same red herring that Trump and Fox and the GOP repeat over and over, as do the sources you cite. Mueller was appointed to investigate Russian interference, and these efforts fall square within his mandate. I would prefer that you not even bring up the issue of collusion since I explicitly said I don’t think there was any. That is point 1.

    Jackson Leads writes:
    “Mueller’s actions deserve the scare quotes because they are not really indictments at all.”

    That is just a lie. Indictments are indictments. They were returned by a Grand Jury on presentation of evidence that convinced them of a prima facie case that a specific US law had been violated. These laws had to do with identity theft. I agree that that crime per se is tangential to the real story here, and that Mueller is probably using these indictments to keep attention focussed on the real story: Russian interference. Even if that interference had been completely legal (which it wasn’t), that is the story. This part is Leads’s equivalent of calling Watergate a “third-rate burglary”. That rather misses the real story of Watergate. That is point 2.

    Jackson Leads writes:
    “And what was the nature of that alleged meddling? The pseudo-indictments are clear: the meddlers had nothing to do with the Russian government and nothing to do with the Trump campaign – except that they sometimes ‘communicated with unwitting individuals’ associated with it. And the Russians’ activities had no impact on the outcome of the election.”

    I leave it to you to find the place in the indictments that states that the people indicted and the large-scale operation they work for had nothing to do with the Russian government (who exactly is paying for this activity and why?) or where it states that these activities had no impact on the outcome of the election. This last statement, made as if Mueller himself asserted it, is word-for-word the sort of thing that comes from Sean Hannity. If all of this activity can be shown to have had no impact, then show it, or make a plausible case. The very existence of the operation shows that someone—I say the Russian government, please say who you think it is—takes these activities to be effective. And to not only have an impact but to have a decisive impact, only 80,000 votes in the right places have to be affected. That is why I am entirely confident that the Russian campaign as a whole was decisive. That is point 3.

    Jackson Leads writes:
    “Early on in the 37-page document that was released to such fanfare, the FBI makes a revealing assertion, claiming that the Russians aimed ‘to sow discord in the US political system’ – as if vigorous debate were not an appropriate state of affairs for a democratic polity; as if the normal expression of democracy is bland conformity to policies fashioned by elites. By explicitly linking the Russians with support for the Sanders and Trump campaigns, Mueller’s pseudo-indictments identify dissent from the Washington consensus with foreign subversion. They reinforce the reigning orthodoxy and tighten the boundaries of permissible public discourse.”

    It is hard to even decipher what this is supposed to state. That it is impossible to have as a goal to sow discord? That any attempt to sow discord is automatically also “vigorous debate”? Here is an empirical test you can do right now. Go to Fox News. Find any article that allows for public comments. Look at the comment thread. Now look particularly for screen names that contain what appear to be random digits, like “Rickh485” or “Kamano55” or “Original_Vee_Kay974”. Those are all Russian trolls, working out of St. Petersburg. Now evaluate whether their job—for which they get 40,000 rubles a month, or probably more—is to “promote vigorous debate” or to “sow discord”. That is point 4.

    In short, what you say you “completely agree with” is a demonstrably false pack of lies, and a hyperventilating screed to boot. Do you wish that I really take it to be representative of your beliefs?

  7. cwritesstuff says:

    There is probably a good left wing case against Mueller’s investigation and Russian involvement in the election. I haven’t read it yet, however, and this is not it.

    It’s a bizarre screed that makes little sense.

    – there are a number of claims that the indictments are not indictments because (a) indictments are easy to get and (b) the indicted are unlikely to face extradition. Neither (a) nor (b) stop the indictments from being valid or important.

    – others have pointed out that the author selectively quotes the instrument authorising Mueller’s investigation. This could be carelessness or a knowing omission. Neither reflects well on the author.

    – the author suggests that because the actions did not change the election, that this means they are not worthy of censure. Why not? Attempted crimes are still crimes.

    I have no idea why the LRB saw fit to publish this. It’s really rather idiotic.

  8. eeffock says:

    Just as with ‘terrorist’ plots that never materialize (and so never existed), the current laundering of the intelligence apparatus furthers the militaristic culture that now defines ‘civil discourse’ in the USA. In that condition, the USA resembles every pre-war imperial culture of the last century. Substitute ‘Russian’ for ‘Hun’ and the parallels are quite clear.

    War is coming, and it matters very little which imperial US party declares for it.

  9. valyubarsky39@gmail.com says:

    Having started reading Jackson Leads’ post, I soon stopped wondering am I reading LRB or the Fox’s material? The oversimplifications, the overconfidence, the obvious omissions, etc., etc. – I’ve never read anything of this kind at LRB and always have whenever a perverse curiosity would lead me to check how this or that subject be distorted today on Fox.

    • Paul Surovell says:

      Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I suspect the basis of your reaction to the Jackson Lears post is a reliance on reporting in the mainstream media, that censors dissenting voices on Russiagate like Aaron Mate, Glenn Greenwald, Stephen Cohen, Max Blumenthal and the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), who express views similar to Jackson Lears’.

      If you seek out all sides and probe beneath the endlessly repeated headlines of Russiagate you’ll find an absence of evidence for the foundational claims that the Russian government (a) hacked the DNC (b) colluded with the Trump campaign or (c) meddled in social media.

      If you want to test what I’ve said, the best way to start, in my opinion, is with the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) who began challenging narratives of the intelligence community in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Here is their first memo to President Obama on the allegations of Russian hacking of the DNC:

      https://consortiumnews.com/2016/12/12/us-intel-vets-dispute-russia-hacking-claims/

  10. monboddo says:

    Lears’ piece on “Russiagate” suffers from the ideological hangover that the left is suffering in the collapse of the East Bloc-West Bloc divide. The author examines Russia’s authoritarian politics and its interference in other nation’s affairs as if the West can do no right and Russia can do no wrong.

    That was the old trope that leftists swore by when Communism was ruled by the Politburo and the USSR had to be the examplar of all things Utopian. But we know better now. The global left needs to shake off its kneejerk adoration of non-capitalist icons and stand for real democracy and real socialist ideals, and the USSR was never about that (nor is Russia now).

    If we shake off the blinders of ideology, Russia’s authoritarian tendencies come to light and Lears’ article becomes a propaganda piece for Putin.

  11. valyubarsky39@gmail.com says:

    Sorry I misspelled the author’s name: it is Jackson Lears, not Leads

  12. apologues says:

    Nothing so tiresome as the liberal who calls out other liberals. I’m glad Lears, offering no probative evidence for his point of view, is convinced that everything the Russians and the Trumpeters did was a big nothing-burger and that Mueller, a Republican with a long record of distinguished public service, is a corrupt lackey of the Democratic Party, which hardly even exists any more as a political force. It’s more of a cocktail party. And that he can write a non-sequitur like this: “By focusing on the manufactured menace of Russiagate, the Democratic Party leadership can continue to ignore its own failures as well as the actual menace posed by Trump.” As if I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time — see the Democratic Party as having failed to the last possible degree of failure while also wanting to get to the bottom of the crowd of utterly despicable pond scum who make up Trump’s trusted inner circle of “advisors.” But of course, only Jackson Lears understands the “actual” menace posed by Trump. The rest of us have to wait on his follow-up article in the LRB.

  13. JAK5412 says:

    Just another dreary attempt to deflect, distract, and deny. The author’s claim, in effect, that “vigorous” political debate should willingly encompass malign propaganda from hostile foreign sources, his mis-characterization of the Mueller indictments, his logically empty assertion that “the Russians’ activities had no impact on the outcome of the election”, and his distorted description of the intended scope of the Mueller investigation all point to the same agenda. The faux even-handedness of the closing comments (“By focusing on the manufactured menace of Russiagate, the Democratic Party leadership can continue to ignore its own failures as well as the actual menace posed by Trump.”) is entirely unconvincing.

  14. Littlejohn45 says:

    One wonder if Lears himself is under the influence of the Trump/Putin conspiracy. Of COURSE they are real indictments. They will not lead to anything because Putin will not allow the indicted persons to be extradited to the United States, for obvious reasons.
    Mueller understood this perfectly well; he is nobody’s fool. Mueller is building his case meticulously, fully aware that a less than perfect case against Trump and his cronies will be rejected as, well, a political stunt, despite the fact that Mueller is a lifelong Republican.
    It hardly matters that Putin probably didn’t expect to succeed in actually getting Trump elected. At worst he would have sown doubts about a President Hillary Clinton, who likely would have faced the same obstructionism as her predecessor.
    But he in fact DID get Trump, the equivalent of an orangutan, elected president of the world’s most powerful country equipped, frighteningly, with the world’s most powerful military.
    Trump, who is a simple-minded New York landlord, assumed everyone in the American government could be bullied about or dismissed with a minor bribe, like a crooked New York building inspector. He demands cringe-inducing praise from his circle of Cabinet secretaries in the manner of the leaders of North Korea and assorted banana republics. He does not read, and may not know how to. He seeks retribution against comedians who joke about him.
    It is beyond me how all this could be dismissed as trivial. Trump, whose election was almost certainly made possible by Putin, could literally start a nuclear war, trigger a worldwide depression, or damage the environment in ways that can simply not ever be repaired. “Pseudo-indictments” my foot.

  15. J. says:

    Since no one pretends that the indictees will be brought to trial, the word “sham” is not appropriate. So what is the point of the indictments? Nowhere do I see the obvious point that they are a move by grandmaster Mueller to protect the investigation itself: if the president fired the special prosecutor now, he’d let himself in for even more and worse “obstruction of justice” charges.

    And why does the president want to fire the special prosecutor, anyway? This is completely mysterious under the “manufactured menace” theory.

    • Paul Surovell says:

      If the intent is to prosecute, the procedure is to seal the indictment and arrest indictees as they cross the border

      If the intent is public relations to justify your existence, you announce the indictment with fanfare.

      Either way, there’s actually nothing in the indictment that suggests the Russian government conducted a serious effort to sway the election.

      Here’s a good take on this from Thomas Frank, author of “What Happened to Kansas”

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/23/russian-bots-us-election-coup-d-etat

  16. J P Roos says:

    I am starting to think that Jackson Lears is a Putin provocateur planted in my dear old LRB. First the discreet psychoanalysts and now this! But I don’t give up yet.

    • Littlejohn45 says:

      It’s nice to see someone share my (almost serious) suspicion. The election of Trump is a world danger not to be taken lightly. It is also worth bearing in mind that Trump, if removed from office, would be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, former governor of the state of Indiana. I’m a resident of Indiana, and I assure you that Mr. Pence is a sex-obsessed (he’s against it, and we all know what that means) theocrat.

  17. J P Roos says:

    I have been reading the news about Italian elections. The same pattern: Russian bots have been active on both extremes. Jackson Lears calls this vigorous debate necessary in a democracy. This is clearly a misunderstanding of what constitutes debate.

  18. Gordon Brodfuehrer says:

    With Mr. Lears degree of naivete I fear for his well being. Please, do not let him sit on a public bench, even on the banks of the Avon.


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