Incendiary political stuff

I posted something provocative on Facebook the other day, something meant to challenge the prevailing perspective that’s been building for a couple of years as the Mueller investigation looked into the question of Russian interference in our 2016 election. We know from detailed indictments that Mueller found conclusive evidence that Russian operatives hacked into the DNC servers and also obtained emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, and they disseminated this information strategically to assist the Trump campaign. So it’s proven: the Russians interfered in our election to the benefit of the Trump campaign. What wasn’t proven by Mueller and his staff was that the Trump campaign participated in that strategy. I see that as good news.

Why is it good? The answer should be obvious: It means our president did not illegally conspire with a foreign power to win the election. How can that be bad?

Again, the investigation also makes very clear that the Clinton campaign was hampered by Russian interference. Significantly hampered, since the steady drip of damaging emails resulted in negative coverage timed to offset Trump’s poor debate performances and the shocking revelations of the Access Hollywood tape. The release of this information was coordinated by parties that wanted to see Trump elected.

The media covered this damaging leaked information. That’s their job. It can be argued they gave it more attention than it deserved (as with coverage of Clinton’s emails) in a misguided effort to appear “balanced.” The result was to trivialize Trump’s innumerable flaws while making Clinton’s handful of flaws seem disqualifying.

So let’s talk about the media, not so much the individual reporters but the organizations they represent. Lofty Fourth Estate mission aside, most packaged news is a commercial product. Leslie Moonves (the disgraced head of CBS until he was fired recently as a serial sexual assaulter) famously said of Trump’s campaign: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Trump’s divisive campaign outraged one group and enlivened others, and they all turned to TV news to watch the incendiary coverage. It was wall to wall for Trump, because he was the one most likely to say something inflammatory and the cameras wanted to capture it. Anemic cable news ratings suddenly went through the roof. $$$$

Then came the election. Our candidate lost to a horrible person. We’re crushed, we’re appalled. We want to blame someone.

There’s been lots of blame tossed around, some of it supported by post-election research. Using aggregated results of dozens of polls conducted over the closing days of the campaign, FiveThirtyEight demonstrated the devastating impact of the FBI Director’s eleventh-hour resuscitation of the (manufactured) outrage over Clinton’s emails. Seriously, I will be forever convinced that James Fucking Comey is singularly responsible for tipping a close election to Trump.

But back to Mueller. Thanks to the infamous Steele dossier, the FBI was already investigating Russian interference when clues began popping like billboards at Times Square. There were Russians sitting in the VIP section at the inauguration; Mike Flynn was caught lying about his contacts with Kilimnik; Trump held secret meetings with Russians during which he bragged that he’d ended the Russia story by firing Comey; and he showed extreme deference to Putin over US intelligence agencies on the question of Russian interference. As a result, we got a special counsel appointed to investigate whether Americans were duped by a Manchurian candidate.

The news media — especially cable news — had found its new cash cow. Every new revelation was treated as a bombshell. A tipping point. A game changer. A smoking gun. The beginning of the end. We tuned in night after night to postulate over the latest anonymous source saying Mueller had all this evidence in his possession and indictments were being prepared. We were groomed to expect nothing less.

TV news (MSNBC in particular) made room on air for anyone willing to hype this case. It was rare to hear from skeptics of the Trump-Russia conspiracy, who were often branded on social media as Putin-loving Trump supporters. (Indeed, just for posting this on Facebook, I was instantly accused of “drinking the Kool-Aid.”)

The problem was that the collusion stories that were being hyped kept falling apart. Underlings working to set up meetings between Trump and Putin … but those meetings never took place. A “smoking gun” email from Wikileaks offering to share hacked information from the DNC … except the information they wanted to share was already posted publicly on the web. Manafort supposedly meeting Julian Assange three times at the Ecuadoran embassy … laughable. Inside investigators claiming there were documents proving that Trump told Cohen to lie to congress about his Russia business … Cohen described them as subtle “codes,” not documents. Even the most obvious, the Trump Tower meeting, produced none of the promised “dirt.” Perhaps if any of these stories had held up, we’d be looking at indictments.

And perhaps there are questions outstanding. Gates is still cooperating with the DC prosecutor, and that would seem to implicate Manafort in deeper shit than he’s already in. There are obvious offshoots to this investigation that could involve the Trump Organization, but apparently those don’t relate to collusion.

I’ve been admonished by several people that I haven’t seen the full report, that the attorney general is a partisan hack, etc., so how can I possibly be certain there’s no evidence of collusion. I’m not certain. But I have trouble believing Mueller and his staff would be silent if Barr was misleading congress and misrepresenting their report.

Just because Mueller and Barr aren’t recommending criminal charges, that doesn’t mean Trump is exonerated. There may well be information in the full report that would lead the House to start impeachment proceedings over what it deems “high crimes and misdemeanors.” I suspect the outcome would be a foregone conclusion, as the GOP-controlled Senate wouldn’t convict. I believe America could withstand a failure to impeach under those circumstances, but to absolve a president for a provable criminal conspiracy with a foreign government to win an election? That’s a constitutional crisis, and a forever stain on our republic.

So yes, I think it’s good news that Mueller isn’t recommending collusion charges.

**********

I’m sorry I haven’t blogged lately. I hope soon to return to writing, and then writing about writing. My summer release, The Lucky Ones, has been pushed back to fall. I’ll keep you posted.

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