It's Not About Russia

There are plenty of reasons for Electors to reject Donald Trump for the presidency. He is characterologically unfit and professionally unqualified; he dangerously scapegoats what Michael Lerner and others refer to as “the demeaned other”; he came in second in the popular vote; he cannot truthfully take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution; and his proposed appointments replace Herbert Hoover’s promise of “a chicken in every pot” with the principle of “a fox in every henhouse.”

The added claim of Russian interference in the election is a lightning rod for those of us terrified of or angry about the prospect of a Trump presidency. But it is a distraction, one with a likely weak foundation, and it is not a reason to take the dangerous step of confronting the man’s base with a change in the rules after the game is over.

The Weakness of the Claim

Both The Intercept (co-founded by Glenn Greenwald, who helped bring Edward Snowden’s revelations to light) and Counterpunch have published powerful critiques of the published evidence for the alleged Russian origin of the hacking. Much of it came from the security firm Crowdstrike, which began blaming Russia after the DNC hired it in June. The analysis consists in part of claims that the professional quality of the work points circumstantially to a powerful government’s involvement, in part of assertions that contradict that supposed professionalism, i.e., that the hackers left behind several clues that amount to clear Russian fingerprints. It is unsurprising that the FBI, accustomed to making cases that can stand up in court, was far more equivocal than the CIA and Democrat leadership have been in assessing the evidence.

Hacks Didn’t Change the Outcome

The news storm about the hacking story needs to be put in context if we are to know if the leaked material could have contributed to the electoral vote. Trump’s likely win came because of many factors:
  • His tapping into fear and frustration caused by the economic insecurity of tens of millions under the status quo
  • His playing to longstanding undercurrents of ethnic and religious prejudice
  • The quantity and nature of the media attention given to him
  • Misogyny, including hatred of Clinton for her aggressiveness
  • Continuation of a history of smears against the Clintons
  • HRC’s own character weaknesses, including opportunism in shifting some of her policy stances, which tended to validate the smears
  • The FBI’s late-October revelation that more of Clinton’s private-server emails had been found and were therefore being examined
  • Social-media-promoted “fake news”
  • The Clinton/Obama ties to Wall Street
  • Disenchantment with Clinton/Obama policies of war in seven countries; unending and massive drone war crimes; unprecedented numbers of deportations and attacks on whistleblowers, heavy domestic spying, militarization of police forces, and authorization for military roundups of civilians; and words instead of action in opposition to income inequality, mass incarceration, the scandal of campaign finance, and even climate change.
  • Polling that convinced reluctant potential Clinton voters that they could stay home and lukewarm Trump supporters who had misgivings about his character (there were some) that they could safely cast a protest vote
  • Republican voter suppression and Democratic failures to challenge it (per Greg Palast on an episode of Pacific Radio’s Flashpoints: Southern Democrats won’t defend black voting rights even if the suppression hurts them)
  • A state-by-state, winner-take-all use of the Electoral College, long supported by both parties because they can focus their efforts on 10 or 12 states and, I submit, because it weakens the power of urban voters who could support a more radical politics.
So let’s say that one more factor was the revelations of the DNC’s tilt towards Clinton over Sanders, of the Clinton Foundation’s large gift from the King of Morocco in exchange for access, of the campaign’s concerns that Foundation activities were a vulnerable area, and of other embarrassing details about inner workings of the campaign. Given all the other factors and an already highly-polarized electorate, I have trouble imagining the voter for whom the hacked DNC and Podesta emails tipped the scales. If there was one, certainly there was another who rejected Trump because of Clinton’s contemporaneous claims that voters should be more concerned about alleged Russian interference in our election than about the material itself.

What’s Going On?

I’ve signed appeals to the Electors to ratify the popular vote, but I am having second thoughts. What is happening now around the Russia thing is at best a highly partisan Democratic-Party attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of a largely self-inflicted defeat. At worst, it is, as some have argued, also a CIA attempt to install a president who will continue confronting Russia over Syria — where the real issue, as in Afghanistan,1 is said to be an oil pipeline — and provoking Russia in Europe by conducting maneuvers on its borders in countries that the U.S. falsely promised it would never seek to bring into NATO. (I have not researched the Syria issue, and even the part about a pipeline being at issue there, though put forward by Robert Kennedy, Jr., among others, is controversial.)

It may or may not be a coincidence that the secret CIA analysis was leaked via The Washington Post, now owned by Jeff Bezos. He also owns Amazon, which has a $600 million CIA contract. (Do you get the irony, by the way? No one is calling the leaking of this secret material an attempt to interfere with the election!) The FBI’s failure to sign on to the CIA’s conclusions may be because of integrity, not bias. Recent Administration claims that the FBI has actually always agreed do not, strangely, come from the FBI. (Some see the FBI as biased because Director Comey released the information about the reopened private-server investigation just before the election. When he did, however, radio host Dennis Bernstein, who is left leaning and a careful journalist, interviewed a veteran FBI-watcher who stated that Comey did so because his hand was forced by a right-wing FBI clique in New York City. They would have leaked the news and thus made it look like the Administration was trying to protect Clinton by hiding it.)

We live in a country that for years has interfered in other countries’ electoral and non-electoral political processes. The U.S., and Russia when it does it, use more dastardly means than revealing true facts, which is all Russia is being accused of doing. And the techniques tend to be far more powerful than what the information released this time could have accomplished.

At a time when progressives need to reach out to the Trump base and show a goodly portion of them where their true interests lie, do we really want to join the Democratic establishment in enraging that base by a sudden change in Electoral College practice? They will, quite reasonably, see the Russian angle as a pretext. I am unconvinced that it is worth that price, to install a president who is not a loose cannon like Trump. She is, after all, a well-aimed one. In many ways she is better able to serve the corporate interests she represents than Trump. She is the one who can follow Obama — and Bill Clinton — in doing so more cunningly and subtly, and without stirring up mass mobilization (beyond riling Trump’s supporters). Like them, and unlike Trump, she would get a free pass from most mainstream media, the federal bureaucracy, and way too many of the liberal advocacy groups.

We would have more space to mobilize against her administration but a harder time explaining why we need to, while the Trumpist constituency would grow stronger. It is hard even for me to accept emotionally the argument I made months ago for being unable to know under which presidency the 99% would have a harder time, because Trump’s gross unfitness for the office is horrifying, while Clinton is totally fit, by the planet- and humanity-destroying standards to which we have become accustomed. But it is clear that any long-term hope depends on unifying a significant sector of the 99%.

Signing on to the Democrats’ opportunistic Russia-baiting for immediate relief from a Trump presidency is more likely to hinder that project than help it.

1U.S. attempts to take down the Taliban government in Afghanistan were begun to permit construction of a pipeline to take Central Asian oil to a Pakistani port. See Kolhatkar, Sonali and James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006); Rashid Ahmed, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000); John Pilger, “Hidden Agenda Behind War on Terror,” The Mirror (UK), 10/29/01, originally reprinted in and now archived here.
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6 thoughts on “It's Not About Russia

  1. Informative article. You used all the lying corporate press’s arguments, but if you hadn’t, many brainwashed folks wouldn’t have read on, and learned something, so bully for you.

  2. Hi Mickey!

    Everything you have stated about Hilary, the DNC, the Clintons and Obama, and their corporate ties, about the need for progressives to reach out to the Trump base and show them where their true interests lie – is reason enough to NEVER support ANY effort to have the Electoral College reject Trump, Russia issue or no Russia issue. Because what would the result be? (Besides, as you accurately state – enraging a huge portion of the population that is already extremely frustrated?) We end up with Hillary!!! And then What?!?

    There is a reason that for the first time in over 40 years of being eligible to vote, I sat this election out. Yes, Trump is horrendous. But sometimes one has to pay a big price to get something truly valuable. And the Neo-Liberal Democratic establishment’s stranglehold on the Democratic Party for the past 30+ years is what’s truly ruining this country. We may be able to survive a few years of a Trump freak show. But I am not sure America can survive any more Neo-Liberalism. Pretending to care about the average working American while selling them down the river and trashing the planet at the same time, is not helpful. If this 2016 election and Trump’s presidency actually ends up helping to get rid of the Neo-Liberal Democratic Establishment’s control of the Democratic party, it may not be such a big price to pay after all. In fact, it might turn out to be a bargain.


  3. Excellent column, MIchael… one of your best. I concur with every point you make, except one. While it may be appealing to advocate for the popular vote determining the outcome of presidential elections, the electoral college was implemented for the very reason that you argue against. The electoral college forces candidates to campaign in the “fly-over states,” rather than focus primarily on the more urban-populated states, like CA and NY. Rural voters have the right to have a voice in government, too, and the electoral college reinforces that to a certain extent. I believe a better strategy would be to focus on passing ranked-choice voting in as many states as possible to give third parties a seat at the table.

  4. Well-reasoned and thoughtfully written written article. Clinton likely lost the Electoral College for a multitude of reasons as you state. The Russian hack/leak does seem to be a distraction.

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