Hardly a day goes by without much of the mainstream media concentrating on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. This includes any news about the various investigations into the question, much blowhard opinionating by talking heads, charges that Russia sought to collude with Donald Trump’s campaign, and more.
It is probably true that Russia would seek to influence US politics to the extent it thought it could. But to keep a sense of proportion, we should recall that the world’s foremost “meddler” in other people’s politics and elections is Washington itself.
Since World War II, the CIA and other agencies have played all kinds of dirty tricks to undermine left parties throughout the world, especially in places where Communist parties were large, as in France and Italy. Revolutionary socialist groups, even if small, were victims.
Social democratic parties were targets, too, if they took left-wing positions — as the British Labour Party did post-war, and is again under its socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn. Trade unions around the world were also undermined or subverted by the CIA, often with the support of the anti-communist bureaucrats at the top of the main US federation, the AFL-CIO.
If elections in another country went the “wrong” way, the US organised military coups. A classic case is Chile in the early 1970s, where Washington did everything it could to prevent the election of the socialist candidate Salvador Allende in 1970.
When that failed, the US State Department immediately began to organise for a military takeover, which was carried out in 1973. This is documented by US government files that have since been released.
The US helped organise or supported military dictatorships in many countries over the past decades, including Greece, Iran and even against its own ally in the case of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
We can take for granted that some nations seek to influence politics in others. Israel, for example, promotes US politicians who it views as favouring its interests most strongly, as against other pro-Israel politicians who would like to see a less bellicose Israeli government, to make Washington’s support seem more reasonable.
Trump publicly meddled in the British Brexit vote (he was in favour), while Obama even traveled to Britain to campaign for a “remain” vote. When the US meddles, that’s normal and accepted, but when other countries meddle in US elections, then it is viewed as almost an act of war.
The present campaign in the US against Russian “meddling” has become a grotesque caricature.
It began as the charge that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) during the election campaign, and funneled DNC documents to WikiLeaks to publish. The charge is that the exposure of these DNC documents helped defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Trump.
What did these documents reveal? That the Clinton campaign and the DNC conspired to use dirty tricks to defeat Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. The DNC admitted the documents were real. They actually were damning to Clinton, especially among Sanders’ supporters.
The fact that Clinton’s and the DNC’s own actions were to blame for the negative publicity gets twisted around to “the Russians helped Trump get elected”. No proof has even been forthcoming that the Russians were in fact WikiLeak’s source, but the point stands regardless. By this narrative, Clinton didn’t lose the election, Russia won it.
Was the Trump campaign contacting Russian officials to see if business deals could be made for a quid-pro-quo of relaxing some US sanctions? Probably. But US sanctions on other countries are not made for “humanitarian” reasons, whatever the official stance, but to advance the economic and political interests of US corporate power.
The charge gets even more specific, with the substitution of “Putin” for “Russia”. That is, Russian President Vladimir Putin tipped the election in Trump’s favor. He is not alleged to do this by CIA-type dirty tricks or assassinations, but by extremely clever propaganda.
Then the charges got even more unreal than just the DNC documents. Now much of the media regularly asserts that Putin’s formidable propaganda machine used social media to inflame passions in the US populace, polarising the country.
This is taken one step further, with the charge that social conflicts in the US aren’t actually real, but are constructs created by Putin. In this vision, the Black Lives Matter movement was not the result of cops killing Black people and getting away with it, but of Putin’s propaganda on Facebook.
I have seen articles claiming that Putin not only stole the US election, he was also responsible for Britain’s Brexit vote and that the upcoming elections in Italy are likely to be another Putin victim.
One aim of this campaign is to channel mass opposition to Trump’s racist, misogynist and anti-worker policies into focusing on the alleged Russian meddling. It is also to create the hope that the legal system will remove him.
If that does not work, then the answer pushed will to be to vote for the right-wing Democratic establishment candidates in 2018 and 2020. Out of the streets, in other words, and into faith in the courts or Democrats.
Playing into Putin’s hands
Putin is portrayed as a powerful evil genius who can use Facebook to sway great masses, which is quite nutty. But it is having an effect in Russia.
A New York Times article written from Moscow notes: “Some of Mr. Putin’s biggest foes in Russia … are now joining a chorus of protest over America’s fixation with Moscow’s meddling in its political affairs.
“‘Enough already!’ Leonid M. Volkov, chief of staff for the anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Aleksei A. Navainy, wrote in a recent anguished post on Facebook. ‘What is happening with the investigation into Russian interference, is not just a disgrace but a collective eclipse of the [U.S.] mind.’
“What most disturbs Mr. Putin’s critics about what they see as America’s Russia fever is that it reinforces a narrative put forth tirelessly by the state-controlled Russian news media. On television, in newspapers and on web-sites, Mr. Putin is portrayed as an ever-victorious master strategist who has led Russia … from triumph to triumph on the world stage.”
Volkov added: “The Kremlin is of course very proud of this whole Russian interference story. It shows they are not just a group of old KGB guys with no understanding of digital but an almighty force from a James Bond saga.
“This image is very bad for us. Putin is not a master political genius.”
A professor of history and US specialist at the European University at St Petersburg was quoted saying: “American liberals are so upset about Trump that they cannot believe he is a real product of American life. They try to portray him as something created by Russia.
“This whole thing is about America, not Russia.”
The system that created a Trump presidency cannot get us out of it — or the far broader array of injustices and oppressions that mark the US, no matter what Democratic politicians or mainstream media pundits imply.