A Year in Trump-Russia Hysteria
What the country can learn from ‘Z’ and ‘Seven Days in May.’
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr
Wall Street Journal Dec. 29, 2017
Not all writers on the left succumbed to Trump-Russia panic in 2017. January saw Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books dissecting the “muddled thinking” behind the U.S. intelligence community’s published analysis of Russia’s role in the election.
Glenn Greenwald, hand-holder of Edward Snowden, has spent the year cataloging at TheIntercept.com the “extraordinarily numerous, consequential, and reckless stories that have been published—and then corrected, rescinded, and retracted” by the mainstream media.
Distinguished Rutgers historian Jackson Lears, in a year-end essay in the London Review of Books, laments his Democratic Party’s intoxication with Trump-Russia conspiracies. The episode, he writes, is “like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anticommunist hysteria during the early 1950s.”
Few and far between are lapses into sanity by sources Americans actually read. Ms. Gessen herself points to a rare example in the New York Times last March, on the subject of Trump-Russia contacts:
“There have been courtesy calls, policy discussions and business contacts, though nothing has emerged publicly indicating anything more sinister. . . . Former diplomats and Russia specialists say it would have been absurd and contrary to American interests for the Trump team to avoid meetings with Russians, either during or since the campaign.”
In contrast, the Washington Post spent 6,700 words last week puzzling over President Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge Russia’s meddling without ever noticing that a calculated, orchestrated (and documented) Democratic strategy to paint him as a Russian mole might play a role.
In another revealing misjudgment the Post, by way of examining the Kremlin’s propaganda machinations in the U.S., this week accused the Obama administration of a “misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.”
It takes 0.03 seconds of reflection to recognize that Moscow’s troll postings, email hacks and Facebook ads amounted to nothing. Only the gleeful willingness of U.S. elites to use Russia as a club on each other has had any real impact, which even the Obama administration showed some reticence to invite.
Our system can survive Russian trolls. It’s the sliminess of our contestants for power that is always and ever the threat, as the framers of the Constitution understood. The danger to study is not what comes out of Russia, but what goes on inside of Russia—the takeover of its domestic politics by security officials, the siloviki. The totality of Russian meddling in U.S. politics did not have one-millionth the impact of the Steele dossier, via the Democratic Party and FBI’s attempt to secrete its Russian-spawned innuendo into the nation’s bloodstream, or the FBI’s intrusion into the Hillary Clinton email matter, using secret Russian “intelligence” (according to the Washington Post, no less) as a pretext.
Yes, one could wish President Trump would stay as far away as possible from these matters, trusting others to investigate and clean up.
A useful reference is the 1962 novel “Seven Days in May,” written in the backwash of Richard Neustadt’s theory of a presidential power limited to persuasion. In the book (though not the movie) a fictional president wrestles with how his vast unpopularity with the American people not only invites the securocrat conspiracies that beset his administration. It limits, as his closest advisers fail to grasp, his ability to fight back openly, by firing those whom he suspects.
If you don’t see the same lesson seeping through the Trump administration, you aren’t paying attention.
What will 2018 bring? Though the media resist the knowledge, it becomes clearer than ever that there is a direct connection between the FBI’s Clinton email investigation and its Trump-Russia investigation. The same personnel were involved. You don’t have to believe in a conspiracy exactly, or overinterpret the anti-Trump text messages of the FBI’s Peter Strzok, to understand that the same spirit also animated both: It was necessary and inevitable that Hillary should win, and necessary and inevitable that Trump should lose.
Then came Mr. Trump’s improbable victory. Suddenly their pre-election activities would be subjected to a scrutiny they didn’t anticipate. That’s when Obama intelligence officials began sprinkling deniable innuendo about the Trump campaign in the media. And before you decide this is OK as long as it happens to a president you dislike, think how you’ll feel when the same tactics are used against a president you like.
Which brings us to a final fictional citation. The 1969 movie “Z,” about a failed Greek military plot, ends memorably with a sequence of beribboned officials called before a Mueller-like prosecutor to hear their indictments. With just the right absurdist note, the prosecutor directs them to a back door to the street so they can avoid the waiting photographers, but the door is locked.
That scene probably won’t be replayed in 2018 for the benefit of America’s meddling securocrats, but perhaps it should.
Appeared in the December 30, 2017, print edition.