Memes aren’t great ways to learn a lot about history or politics, though they’re used that way a lot. Still, some are funny and make a good point in a few lines in a way that might take paragraphs otherwise. Today I came across one that I put up on Facebook:
“People in my community who are nervous about Russia: 0
People in my community who are nervous about next month’s rent: most everyone”
For months now Americans, especially Democrats and Liberals but mostly everyone who hates Trump–and that includes much of the establishment media and economic and political elites–has been obsessed with the Russia story. I haven’t been.
So my comrade and colleague Clayton Lust, with whom I agree on almost every political issue, responded, “Are you suggesting Russia doesn’t matter? Are you?” Despite the vociferous nature of his question (he’s an honorary Italian so doesn’t have an inside voice, even when he’s writing), I knew where he was coming from and figured he deserved an honest answer. And since everyone has an opinion and a platform on Social Media to share it (and just how did Juan Cole and “The Mary Sue,” inter alia, become famous?) I might as well share my thoughts with the world, or at least the high two-digits of people who read this. Besides, I’m a professor so that means I’m an expert at pretty much everything.
So, am I suggesting Russia doesn’t matter? Well, that’s a broad question, so the answer is easy . . . “No.” Surely, if Trump and his cronies were cutting some kind of political deals with the Russian government to get “intelligence” on his opponent’s campaign (and here it strikes me that “stealing” the election in 2016 makes as much sense as Nixon breaking into the DNC headquarters to stave off the Democratic juggernaut that awaited him in the 1972 campaign . . . “Who’s Afraid of Edmund Muskie?”) then of course it matters. Indeed, there are rumors flying all over the place about arrests, indictments, subpoenas, Trumps getting shackled, and even a future Orrin Hatch presidency. Anything is possible and everything here could be irrelevant the minute I hit “Publish.”
But that’s obviously not a very gratifying response, nor a valuable one. And it’s not the real point of the issue. Trump’s relationship to the Russian Federation’s President Vladimir Putin is about economics (probably Trump’s personal finances) and politics and became the dominant issue in the United States even prior to January 20th, 2017.
There’s a lot going on right now: a cabinet of mega-millionaires creating a 21st-Century Gilded Age; an intensified assault on immigrants with ICE agents gone wild like college kids on spring break; GOP attempts to destroy “Obamacare” (a terribly inadequate health care program to begin with) and, more importantly, trash Medicare and Medicaid; efforts to get rid of the mostly-weak regulations that exist on Wall Street and other corporations; GOP hoping for an orgy of tax cuts for the top 1 Percent; a reinvigoration of the War on Drugs (the deescalation of which was one of Obama’s few graces) and pursuit of a Nixonian commitment to “Law and Order” which surely will mean more poor people, especially Black and Latino poor, will end up in jail or on the wrong side of a cop’s bullet; gutting environmental laws; and making it harder for most everyone to pay his or her rent . . .
So, back to Russia . . . (and even if Trump is forced out as president for this issue, much of the stuff below remains relevant and real . . . at least in my mind).
Did Trump and his people have deep cover contacts with Putin?
Sure, the Flynn case has already shown that. The real issue is whether these overtures were something really criminal or, as Texans say, “bidness.” Capitalists talk to other Capitalists and cut deals, and they distrust each other too. So there should be little surprise that Trump was trying to cash in on his campaign to get investments or loans or sweetheart deals from Putin . . . isn’t that what the Bushes and Carlyle Group did with the Saudis or, say, the Clinton Foundation donors getting arms deals from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or even cutting deals with, say, the Russians, on Uranium sales? Isn’t that . . . Capitalism?
Now, if going after Trump signals the first fusillade in a new global campaign against Capital itself, I’m all in. But we know that’s not going to happen and if you think it will, I’ll gladly book your wager on the Cleveland Browns winning the next Super Bowl. Trump pissed off other Capitalists–after all, Capitalism is based on the maximum exploitation not just of labor and resources but other Capitalists as well–and so the Goldman Sachs, Warren Buffett, Establishment GOP wing of Global Capitalism Inc.–not to mention financiers, sweatshop tycoons, commercial titans and other Vandals of wealth in other countries–may very well have it in for him.
If that takes him down, so be it. He’s a dangerous and loathsome man, so there’s no particular reason to keep him around. But even if Trump and his cronies take the fall, don’t expect an era of wealth redistribution, Socialist or Progressive economic programs, or even “capitalism with a conscience” to emerge. The Neo-Liberal regime isn’t going to allow that to happen. Trump happens to be one of them, but is disturbing their larger goals of stability and equilibrium. Late-stage Capitalism has its share of crises already and its ruling class doesn’t need Trump’s frat boy antics making things worse by calling attention to the way they conduct their businesses.
Did the Russians rig the election for Trump and against Clinton?
Well, first, there’s no, what do you call that? . . . oh yeah, evidence, that it happened. And beyond that, the mechanics of this charge don’t really add up to much. So the story goes that the Russians and Julian Assange hacked the DNC’s servers and released a big cache of emails that made Clinton look bad, thereby costing her the election. But that email dump was notable because it showed the lengths to which Clinton and her myrmidon Deborah Wasserman Schultz went to screw up the Bernie Sanders campaign and secure Clinton’s nomination–it was “her turn” after all. And yet Sanders campaigned vigorously for Clinton (probably to better effect than she did herself) and most of his voters cast ballots for the Dems in November, albeit with great reluctance for many.
And then, taking it further, to believe the Russians rigged the election, one would have to believe that significant numbers of voters in key states were aware of and read Tony Podesta’s emails and used that at their rationale to vote for Trump? So Tony Podesta’s emails were the decisive factor in the 2016 election? Sit on that one for a minute . . . Given the plethora of reasons for Clinton’s dismal loss (See my “Memo to Jill Stein . . .” for a litany of Clinton campaign disasters) it’s hard to blame the Russians, or the Greens, or the Berniebros, or Comey (who surely didn’t help her cause) ,or racist white voters in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, or anybody else BUT the Clinton campaign for the unprecedented flameout. Occam’s Razor here: the most obvious explanation–the Clinton campaign was a monumental trainwreck–is the most likely.
Will Trump be impeached?
Possibly, if the GOP decides he’s too much of an albatross around his neck. Your typical Republican (not the 30 percent or so of Trump Maximalists) would be much more comfortable with a Pence presidency and the “adult” GOP back in charge, you know, the ones who would do everything Trump wants to do but would do so in a far more subtle, covert, and cagey way–a “kinder, gentler machine gun hand.” But impeachment? About as likely as mild day in Texas in August. And what would that get you? President Pence? President Ryan? Every moment spent speculating on Trump’s impeachment is time that could use on something better, like watching Caddyshack on the Golf Channel for the 58th time.
Is this a “constitutional crisis?”
If you believe that America is a democracy and that we have a system of checks-and-balances, and rule of law, and that everyone is equal, and that the ruling class is accountable for its crimes, and . . . .well, then sure, it’s a crisis. If you believe that the Constitution was a ruling-class document intended to be a blueprint for an eventually-Capitalist global empire with contempt for popular participation in politics (i.e. “Democracy”) then it’s business as usual. Again, if you believe the former . . . that Cleveland Browns wager?
Is this just like Nixon and Watergate? I mean, Comey . . . and the Saturday Night Massacre?
Nixon was personally reviled and paranoid and narcissistic and that ended up his undoing. Trump is personally reviled and paranoid and narcissistic and his ending is To Be Decided. But Trump so far has fired an FBI Director and send off some menacing tweets. By the way, the Prez is allowed to shitcan the FBI Director and send off menacing tweets, no matter how embarrassing and juvenile they may be. And had Trump’s predecessor had, maybe, a spine? he’d have canned the odious Comey sooner. Nixon used the CIA and FBI to conduct a major cover-up of what was, I reluctantly came to agree, really a “Third Rate Burglary.” He invoked executive privilege to refuse to surrender tapes and documents to a special prosecutor. He issued orders to break into the offices of his opponent. Like Trump, personal loathing played a large part in the opposition to him, but Nixon was a smart guy, a really smart guy. Trump is minor league by comparison.
And, by the way, speaking of canoodling with foreign governments, he had his main henchman, Henry Kissinger, tell the southern Vietnamese leadership to scuttle an LBJ peace plan to help their elections chances (just as I am persuaded of the “October Surprise” of 1980 in which the Reagan team reached out to Khomenei to delay any release of the American hostages in Iran). Trump is probably much more vile than Nixon. His politics are surely more retrograde–Nixon, as Joan Hoff’s book showed, was “the last liberal.” Hell, do Liberals forget that candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Germany during the 2008 campaign? Going back much further, the founders built the country on secret deals with Britain and/or France . . . ever hear of the XYZ Affair or Quasi-War? Thomas Jefferson, surely in the Liberal Trinity, was a big supporter of the French Revolution and events in Paris became a huge issue in domestic politics . . . ever hear of the Alien and Sedition Acts?
Iran-Contra and possibly Whitewater were more consequential than Watergate and yet didn’t lead to the removal of the president. No reason to think this will, Though it’s always possible Trump will walk away for “his health” or some such thing. I genuinely believe he didn’t want to be elected and hates being president. He used the campaign and now the presidency to pimp the Trump brand and that’s been a yuugggeee success.
Why are you so nonchalant about Trump’s Russian connections?
Not nonchalant–I hope they mess him up badly and I’d pour myself a nice snort of Laphroaig if he resigned/was impeached/got hit by a golf ball and developed amnesia, etc. Already, he’s show an utter incapacity to work with others and get anything of substance done, which is honestly the best thing about him–utter gridlock even with the GOP running everything. He spends more time in pissing matches with celebrities on Twitter than on his evil plans to become a dictator and take over the world and institute the New Trump Reich. He’s malevolent, to be sure, but it’s tempered, thankfully, by real incompetence and a raging personality that is pure id and, ironically, devoid of superego.
Couldn’t Russia use its info on Trump to blackmail him and endanger U.S. security?
Sure, something like that is always possible. But what does Russia have on him? He made deals with Russian bankers or had his bagmen visit Putin to set up some shell companies or that he got Russian loans or that’s invested heavily in Russia or that he wants to build a Trump Hotel on top of Lenin’s Tomb? Again . . . see “bidness.” He’s a vicious and ignorant and fetid man but he’s also . . . an American Capitalist. Besides, so far the main argument for the “blackmail thesis” is that the Russians have a dossier on Trump outlining his “unorthodox behaviour” and “embarrassing material” over the years, in particular that he paid Russian hookers to urinate on each other while he watched. Crisis? Blackmail? Golden Showers? . . . Really?
As a perceptive, perhaps ingenious and compelling, on the verge of being preternaturally incisive, observer wrote, “Given what Trump’s done and gotten away with, prostitutes and golden showers are going to be his undoing? The man has disproved all the accepted truths about American politics already–insulting minorities, the disabled, gays, women, you name it. And this is going to be his Waterloo? LBJ famously said that you could do anything but be ‘caught in bed with a dead woman or live boy.’ Trump could do both while getting his own golden shower from a transgendered Muslim Communist and there would be no fallout.” So far he has violated every rule of politics all the way to the White House and the main lesson from this is that “People Do Not Care.”
So, if Russia isn’t that most important thing going on, what is and what should we do?
Well, that kinda gets back to the Meme that started this piece. Time to move beyond the hysteria and do some work. In a recent pitch for MoveOn.org, whose idea of direct action is create a petition a minute and send out at least a dozen emails daily pitching for a $5 contribution to the struggle, Liberal icon Robert Reich wrote: “We need to know if Donald Trump or his aides have sold out American democracy. He fired FBI Director Comey, who was investigating Trump’s Russia ties. For the sake of our democracy, we need to stop this cover-up. Will you become a monthly donor to support MoveOn’s powerful campaign to get the truth out?”
What is to be Done?
So do you get hysterical often, Dr. Reich? Liberals are now defending FBI chiefs–the ideological successors to Jedgar Hoover (see “Ernestine”). The idea that Trump has “sold out American democracy” is a particular, and particularly risible, Liberal shibboleth used against every GOP politician in my memory. Now that goes back to the question of what “Democracy” really “is” and here the definitions of both are crucial. Does America have a “democracy” and what “is” it? And is Trump destroying it? Cleveland Browns–Super Bowl?
Well, I’ve written too much already on the romantic lefty notion that the U.S. had a golden age of democracy and popular government and accountability and great public servants and reform “from the bottom up” and a watchdog media and a system of checks-and-balances and all that other stuff you learned in school, which, is the best form of social control the American ruling class has going for it (and unwittingly reinforced by a lot of lefty work too, like A People’s History of the United States).
Trump isn’t Hitler, he isn’t an American Nazi, he isn’t uniquely evil, nothing we’ve ever seen before. Once you get past his obnoxious and irredeemable personality he’s pretty much a typical Republican. The refusal to “normalize” him is a huge error–if you want to effectively challenge what he’s doing, then show people how he fits into the larger patterns of ruling-class behavior–he hates the environment, immigrants, working people, and wants to redistribute wealth even more from the bottom up. The Trump is “uniquely evil” idea surely will lead to the idea that all we have to do is get rid of Trump to “make America great again.” In that sense, Russia obscures an immense and complex task–giving birth to a new world–with an easy fix–get rid of the president and his family and cronies.
While they’ve been willing to send out the army, militias, cops, private thugs, etc. to crush resistance, the oligarchs have done it far more effectively by getting people who don’t benefit from society to buy into the mythology of Democracy. Getting rid of Trump would be an event worth celebrating with good champagne, but it’s not going to change anything important about American political society. Despite the alarmism that he’s a “Nazi” or a “fascist” or a “dictator,” he’s actually been contained in most everything he’s done. Dictators don’t get mocked, shut down in courtrooms (and accept the decisions), have their people subpoenaed, get ridiculed daily, and get the legislative agenda beaten down, even with majorities in every legislative body in America.
So . . . what’s your point then?
When Dogberry gets wind of Borachio’s and Conrade’s scheme against Hero and Claudio, hilarity ensues as he brings his charges to Don Pedro, and he excitedly explains the plot he has uncovered:
“Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.”
Yeah, of course I know Dogberry was vindicated, but the oafish nature of the allegations is still funny and apt in light of the way Trump’s enemies froth over him. The charges against Trump fly with a frequency and fury that I don’t know that I’ve seen before (and I remember Watergate and lived in the D.C. area during the Iran-Contra years). Liberals are in a constant state of apoplexy about this Russia stuff. Why not talk about, and do something about, maybe stuff like Social Security, Medicare, Immigration, Wall Street, trade pacts, jobs, etc.? Oh, that’s right, because the Democratic Party isn’t really very different from the GOP on that stuff.
So we’re left with the Big Bear in the corner, a politically retrograde country headed by a bloody strongman who has become a convenient political tool for liberals to use to condemn Trump. But Putin, who is pretty much everything his critics say he is (and for those U.S. lefties who’ve praised him as a bulwark against U.S. imperialism in the Middle East–please quit talking because every defense of Putin digs you into a deeper hole), isn’t the problem and Cold War rhetoric about evil Russia doesn’t really add much to political dialogue.
If Trump goes down because of Russia it’s more likely a case of Trump “going rogue” and the ruling class needing him silenced, not because we’re a “country of laws” and “the constitution” and other such nonsense taught in civics class. Trump really is despised by the Establishment and under siege . . . and it couldn’t happen to a more fetid guy.
Capitalism and the way it’s owned and dominated and run by the American Oligarchy is the problem, and getting rid of Trump for whatever reason won’t alter that a bit and it’s not going to help your friends make their monthly rent payments either.