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The Russia House

The right, the left, and the thing about Russia

“Russians pretty bad people, Mr. Wessby,” Tiu agreed.
“They stink bad.”
— John Le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy

I, for one, do not look forward to the rule of our new Russophilic overlords. The Trump camp is lousy with Putin apologists, including Trump himself. Why is this bad? Do you really have to ask? Okay, here goes.

First and foremost, Russian influence is bad because it comes from forces that gave us . . . Trump. Russia didn’t elect Trump, but they gave him their best effort. This conclusion does not rely on evidence of hacking, which is intrinsically hard to prove. All you had to do was follow the Twitter feeds and content of the propaganda outlets Russia Today, Sputnik, and their crooked little cousin WikiLeaks. The tilt against Hillary Clinton and toward Trump was unmistakable. (Now that the election is over, they’re back to faux leftism.) The hacking evidence, whatever you make of it, is just icing on the cake. WikiLeaks, erstwhile anarchist foe of all centralized authority, does not seemed moved to utter a discouraging word about Trump. To genuine anarchists, this favoritism is anathema. Here’s one of their recent retweets:

Second, if you’re anywhere left of center, Russian influence is bad because Russia is ruled by a rightist and allied with rightist movements throughout Europe and Asia. These movements foment virulent hatred of gays, Muslims, and immigrants in general from Africa or Asia. They are a huge threat to the European social-democratic systems that provide models for the more socially benighted nations of the world, such as the U.S.A.

Third, Russian influence is bad because we don’t need Russia to propel U.S. foreign policy in ruinous directions. We can do that all by ourselves.

The hacking evidence, whatever you make of it, is just icing on the cake.

As we speak, Putin buddy and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson is in line to be Trump’s Secretary of State. (Exxon has interests in Russia.)

Fourth, Russian influence could provoke a volatile backlash from within the U.S. national security state. A logical vehicle for such a reaction might reside right inside the State Department. If the reports are accurate, the highly unstable John Bolton, a neocon’s neocon, is in line to be number two at State, from which vantage point he could foment all sorts of aggressive U.S. actions, including against Russia. (WikiLeaks has now started in on Bolton. Funny, that.)

This schizophrenia would seem to contradict suspicions of highly crafty Russian machinations. But we do not claim their meddling is brilliant, only that it is obnoxious and contrary to progressive interests.

In the face of all this, some leftists have provided no small amount of Russian-themed entertainment. The medley of canards includes:

The United States interferes in other countries’ elections, what’s so bad about Russia interfering in ours? We don’t have to like either type of interference, especially when one of those types directly affects us in a highly adverse way. Why is this complicated?

Hillary didn’t lose because of Russia or WikiLeaks, she lost because of (fill in the blank). Any number of unfortunate events could have singly made the difference. This is why we say the result was “overdetermined.”

Democrats blaming their loss on Russia are just covering up their own shortcomings. No shit. That doesn’t mean the Russians weren’t involved. And that Russia was involved does not mean Hillary didn’t screw the pooch.

Anti-Russian rhetoric threatens a new Cold War. The Cold War was a contest of different ideologies and economic systems, one in which the putative enemy’s system compared favorably to ours along some dimensions, at least in theory. Today the contrasting virtues have flipped. The Russian system has little pretense of democracy or civil liberties and no offsetting virtues, even theoretical ones, as an economy. The United States, for all its faults, now compares favorably to Russia along almost all dimensions. (It’s a low bar.)

The big exception is in foreign policy, where America is arguably wreaking more lethal havoc than Russia. The old lefty terminology for this state of affairs was “inter-imperialist rivalry.” In this context, which includes lots of shooting and bombing in multiple locations along Russia’s periphery, anti-Russian rhetoric can certainly be concerning. The counter-argument is that putting a person like Trump in the White House (especially with the likes of Bolton and the conspiracy-peddling General Flynn at his side) is more problematic. These people will have the power to commit mass killing and they’re fucking nuts, okay?

The bottom line is that Russian meddling in what we are pleased to flatter as our democratic institutions is a thing, less than momentous but more than trivial.

The anti-Russian campaign is taking on a McCarthyite tone. It is true that assorted Clinton hacks are accusing some, or many on the left of being agents of a foreign power. The Washington Post intervention, as the great Greenwald points out, is a scandalous case in point.

Here, again, there is a choice of evils. The greater evil is the impending installation of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as U.S. attorney general, with assorted Trump supporters calling for outright repression of Black Lives Matter, anti-Trump demonstrations, and further abrogation of voting rights. In true conservative fashion, the private sector is getting involved too, with an upsurge in hate crimes. This is the principal danger to our freedom right now, not easily debunked accusations from Clinton bitter-enders.

The bottom line is that Russian meddling in what we are pleased to flatter as our democratic institutions is a thing, less than momentous but more than trivial. It will continue to be so in the future. Russia is a right-wing force with more weapons, more capacity to do mischief to you and me, than any U.S. domestic, non-state entity.

Russian influence also puts a black mark on the president-elect and stands to become a political liability for him in the harrowing months to come. This political opportunity can be exploited without escalating any threats of conflict with Russia. So why not release the flying monkeys?