A Disaster In The Making: The Long-Term Consequences Of Russia Hysteria

I constantly receive complaints from readers and viewers that I’m inordinately fixated on Democrats’ Russia mania; that I should focus on other issues, and that I’m blowing the perverse impact of all this out of proportion. Let’s just recap some events of the past week:

  • At a town-hall meeting in Northern California where the organized “Resistance” movement had a visible, raucous presence, the Number 1 issue being discussed was Russia. It was the issue that attendees were clearly most exercised about, it was the issue that they were most often waving placards related to, and it was the issue that they most stridently demanded accountability from their elected representative on. It fell to Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), whom I subsequently interviewed, to decry what he termed the “hysteria” gripping his liberal-leaning constituents.
  • During a Senate hearing on a wholly unrelated topic, the confirmation of the next Deputy Attorney General, Democrats on the committee spent the majority of their time ranting about Russia rather than questioning the prospective Deputy AG (a very powerful position) as to his views on policy which may shape how the Justice Department is run. It fell to the committee’s conservatives, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), to ask substantively about policy issues (Lee extracted a commitment from the nominee, Rod Rosenstein, that he would seek to defer to localities on civil forfeiture law — on the other hand, Democrats mostly repeated themselves, raving over and over again about Russian “interference” and adding nothing remotely new.) It is not an exaggeration to say that every single Democrat on the committee (plus Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), naturally) spent an overwhelming portion of their limited time on Russia. Some members, such as Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), spent virtually all their time on Russia.
  • The moment WikiLeaks released a huge trove of CIA documents— reputed to be the most significant leak in the agency’s history, and perhaps surpassing the Snowden revelations in ultimate import — the most prominent liberal pundits and politicians leaped to defend the CIA and attack WikiLeaks rather than call attention to what had actually been unveiled: massive privacy breaches of the kind that would’ve been the stuff of fever dreams in years past.

The reason for these attacks is that they’re thought to inflict short-term political damage on Trump, which is the monomaniacal focus of much of the media and political class — whatever other damage their conspiracy theorizing might wreak is immaterial, per this line of thinking. (By the way, although it pains me to write this, David Frum really could now be categorized as a preeminent member of the liberal punditocracy: he’s one of the leading personalities at The Atlantic, and was even quoted aloud by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) at a recent town hall meeting, to raucous applause.)

With no evidence at all, it was speculated that the leaks were “timed” with the specific intention of helping Trump, because now suddenly the paradigm has become Trump = Russia = WikiLeaks. Untold millions of people (mostly Democrats) won’t believe in the veracity of these CIA revelations because they were furnished by WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks brought Trump to power with help from Russia. Or something.

  • MSNBC hosts continue to lead their TV shows with overwrought, BREAKING NEWS about Russia, instilling in their viewership the notion that this is the most acutely important issue facing the country. MSNBC viewers and Democratic stalwarts have repeated to me over and over again that so long as the “Trump/Russia connection” matter remains unresolved, no real legislative or policy work can be done.
  • A poll was released by CNN which shows that more Americans view Russia as a “very serious threat” than at any time since 1983, and the surge is fueled by liberals and Democrats.
  • Democrats of some renown continue to demonstrate that they’re completely uninterested in adhering to even the most basic evidentiary standards when rattling off claims involving Trump/Russia. Then of course, the very same Democrats turn around and condemn Trump for making wild, unsubstantiated claims, forfeiting all credibility in the process.
  • At a House hearing devoted to — wait for it — Russia, it fell to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to chastise his colleagues for engaging in alarmism and conspiracy-tinged hyperventilating.

That’s all in just the past week. Who, exactly, is “fixated” here?

A recurring trope in Democratic circles is that the furor being stoked around Russia need not have any repercussions beyond the short-term aim of weakening Trump. Put another way, according to these brilliant tacticians, it’s possible to foment a Russia frenzy and successfully undermine Trump without doing any kind of long-term damage to the polity. Fueling conspiratorial anti-Russia sentiment is simply a convenient means of attaining leverage; it won’t have any lasting consequences beyond the narrow goal of hamstringing Trump.

This is incredibly naive for a variety of reasons.

The proliferation of headlines like this have sown a climate of paranoia in which it is increasingly difficult to conduct actual politics:

And even if encouraging paranoid lunacy really did confer some short-term political utility: how incredibly cynical a strategy is that? Do Democrats really have such little confidence in the intelligence and rationality of their base that they’re content to just keep shoveling them the most fact-free, debased red meat? Is there no other way to impel average voters into taking political action? This eerily resembles a bizarro-world version of the strategy undertaken by Republicans in 2009: conservative elites for the most part didn’t buy into the most outlandish characterizations of Obama — that he was a stealth Islamist and such — but they were happy to foster that instinct among their voters because it seemed to have a propitious energizing effect. The Russia stuff is far more ubiquitous now because it’s not contained to the fringes of one hysterical party: it’s embraced wholly by huge segments of the political media, the entertainment industry, the Democratic Party, and some portions of the Republican Party.

Recent polling shows that the media is extraordinarily unpopular — about as unpopular as the Democrats. Can you really blame average folks for expressing such a sentiment? Constantly they are being inundated with blaring RUSSIA!!! stories that reliably end up falling apart after even the most cursory inspection. What liberal scolds fail to realize is that the never-ending chorus of lazy Trump/Russia mania doesn’t actually undermine Trump: it’s just preaching to the already-incensed choir. It fortifies Trump’s critique of the media as incorrigibly and hysterically antagonistic toward him, and it funnels legitimate energy into a rabbit hole of stupidity. The only person who profits from this is Trump. Matt Taibbi has noted that popular culture is becoming suffuse with easy, knee-jerk references to the supposed “bromance” enjoyed by Trump and Putin, even though there has never been anything remotely approaching convincing evidence for the validity of the charge. The mania is entrenched, and ever rooting it out now seems impossible.

Then there’s another, more dire practical consequence of this frenzy. At some point Trump may feel compelled to placate critics and demonstrate his anti-Russia bonafides by taking some kind of rash military action in Syria, Ukraine, or someplace else, which could easily precipitate a cataclysmic conflict. That conflict will have arisen in part because of the climate that Democrats and liberal pundits have sought to foster, where the pressure is on Trump to demonstrate additional belligerence, rather than less. Is belligerence really the instinct that you’d most want to encourage in Trump, who already possesses it in bountiful quantities? That’s how hopelessly inverted things have gotten.

What Doug Henwood has said is completely right: “Dems are using the Russia obsession as a substitute for a political critique.” The elite strata of the party is totally obsessed with Russia, and increasingly that’s trickling down into the grassroots. If all your eggs are in the “Russia” basket, then there’s no need to develop a comprehensive program to effectively counteract Trump. If the Democratic party is truly reliant on this as their anti-Trump salve — what does it say about the party that it cannot come up with a rational, truth-based critique, and instead has to mirror Trump’s own worst characteristics: wild conspiracy-mongering, aimless belligerence, and petty obsession?

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