Credit: CNN

Wait, what? Vladimir Putin wants Clinton, not Trump, to win

The non-stop media narrative throughout the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has been that Vladimir Putin wants Donald Trump to win. And it’s a narrative that the Clinton campaign has very deftly picked up, blaming Russia and Vladimir Putin for just about everything that has gone wrong over the past six months. It’s hard not to notice that, the more Trump picks up ground on Clinton, the more shrill and paranoid the calls have been that Putin is trying to get Trump elected.

If you listen to the Russophobia in the pro-Clinton Western media, in fact, a very sinister picture emerges. Consider all the Putin conspiracy theories we’ve heard during the election: Trump is Putin’s puppet. Russian hackers are working hand-in-glove with Wikileaks to tarnish the Clinton campaign. Russian secret agents are hard at work, trying to sabotage the election. Russian state propaganda TV is working tirelessly to promote Trump in the minds of everyday Russians. The Russians are secretly funding Trump’s campaign, and that’s why Trump won’t release his tax forms. There’s even been the completely paranoid suggestion that Hillary Clinton’s illness on the campaign trail was the result of a secret Russian plot to poison her. And the latest story is that Trump has a “secret server” for communicating with his KGB handlers in Russia:

But let’s back up for a second and take a deep breath. This is getting ridiculous, even by the standards of today’s conspiracy-obsessed Internet.

We already know that Vladimir Putin plays chess, while the rest of the world plays marbles. All of the steps outlined above are, well, just a tad obvious and hardly worthy of a master KGB spy, eh? If Putin really wanted Trump to win, would he be so obvious?

So here’s a counter-argument: Putin actually wants Clinton to win, not Trump. Letting all these conspiracy theories build up in the Russophobic media is just a clever move by the Kremlin to get an opponent to fall right into a trap.

Consider what John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, had to say about Putin on Oct. 20. Bolton is used to seeing Russian diplomacy up close and personal, and he subscribes to a completely different theory than the one that the mainstream Russophobic media has been promoting. He notes the long-time Russian military tactic of “maskirovka” (literally, “mask show”) in which the goal is to confuse and disorient the opponent by making it uncertain who or what is behind an event.

The most obvious example of “maskirovka” is Crimea, in which “little green men” in masks and unmarked uniforms started appearing without any official explanation. Another example: Russia’s humanitarian aid convoys to Ukraine, which some saw as a Trojan horse for bringing in new military equipment. That’s the Russian “maskirovka” approach, not an obvious, in-your-face approach of directly hacking an election and announcing who they want to win. That might work in some tiny banana republic, but not in America.

And the argument goes deeper than that. Putin knows Hillary Clinton personally, and knows exactly what to expect from her. He knows that he can push her around in Europe, in the Middle East and in Central Asia. With Trump, the picture is more uncertain. Believe the “bromance” story if you want, but at the end of the day, you’re going to have two alpha males going head-to-head in a room, and it’s lot easier to go head-to-head with Hillary. It can’t be any harder than going head-to-head with Angela. (Have you heard the story of how Putin took advantage of Angela Merkel’s fear of dogs to intimidate her? Just imagine how he’s going to go all alpha male with Hillary.)

And, if you believe all the Russian hacking reports, Putin is also going to be hacking the Clinton Administration’s emails from the very first days of Hillary’s presidency. That’s the equivalent to having a highly placed mole within the U.S. government, giving you advance notice of changes in policy or negotiating tactics. In other words, Vladimir would pwn Hillary. (Or at least Huma.)

America: Is It not Ukraine? Credit: CNN

And, according to this line of thought, the last argument for why Putin wants Clinton, not Trump, to win is because he wants to see a Color Revolution — the kind that took place all across the former Soviet Union in places like Georgia and Ukraine — to take place in America. In fact, Russian state TV has already suggested that a Maidan-style uprising might take place in the United States if enough Trump supporters feel that the election has been “rigged” by the establishment. These supporters will go to the streets and protest against an unfairly elected government. Maybe there will even be Occupy-style protests in major U.S. cities, which would be highly embarrassing for all of America’s “democracy promotion” efforts abroad.

If you believe the theory about a sinister Kremlin trying to destabilize the United States, then this scenario of a Clinton victory would be more effective than a Trump victory. A Clinton victory, no matter how resounding, would lead to attempts at a Color Revolution, immediate efforts to impeach her before she even gets to the White House, and a lot more dysfunction for the U.S. government. That would give Russia free rein to do whatever it wants in the world, since the U.S. would have an even harder time stopping it.

Vlad and Bill, in better days. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A better explanation, perhaps, is that the Kremlin really doesn’t care who wins. Trump or Clinton, it’s all the same. The Russians know that there isn’t going to be a major breakthrough with the Americans, no matter who’s in charge.

The really scary thing, though, is that all of these Russian conspiracy theories being given so much credence by CNN and other mainstream media outlets may be just that… a bunch of conspiracy theories. Psychologists have come up with many reasons why normal, rational people traffic in these theories, and perhaps the best one is that they provide an enormous amount of explanatory power when events around you appear inexplicable and unbelievable.

From this perspective, the Russian conspiracy theory of the U.S. elections is almost a combined mass psychosis, in which tens of millions of people around the country can’t explain how a bombastic, arrogant billionaire TV reality star who regularly insults people has a nearly 50 percent chance of becoming the next U.S. president. So they are reaching for some type of theory with explanatory power. If it weren’t “the Russians,” it would have been “the Chinese” or “the terrorists.” (And, in fact, the latest theory now has it that Al-Qaeda is planning to disrupt the elections).

Maybe a 400-pound hacker sitting in his mom’s basement started this all. Maybe the “hacker” behind the Wikileaks emails was actually a 27-year-old DNC staffer. Or… maybe Russia doesn’t care as much as we’d like to think they do. And, even if they did, could they really have engineered such a meticulous, ongoing operation with such a close knowledge of how the U.S. political system works?

As much as the Clinton campaign claims that the FBI has secret files on Trump and the Russians, or that there’s evidence of Russian tampering, where’s the actual proof? It’s been months now, and nothing credible seems to have emerged, just a lot of speculation. The Clinton campaign keeps rolling out story after story with just days to go before the election, hoping that something sticks.

Unfortunately, in today’s paranoid, Cold War-like setting, these stories have a way of taking on a life of their own, and that’s led to some McCarthy-like takedowns of just about anyone who believes that it’s possible to repair America’s relationship with Russia.

The saddest thing in all this is that, as much as she despises Putin, Hillary might actually need him to win.