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Red Herring?

Red herring.jpg
By misocrazy from New York, NY – Cropped from Kipper, CC BY 2.0

Jeet Heer flags a pair of articles raising concerns about the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign:

“Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban,” Masha Gessen argued last week in the New York Review of Books. “Russiagate is helping [Trump]—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.”

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi fears that the final scandal will amount to a relatively minor matter, thus discrediting the press and Trump critics.

Dan responded to a similar piece last week, but I think it is well beyond time to cease treating Greenwald as an honest interlocutor on these issues.  And I believe Heer’s analysis of the motivation behind these kids of pieces is spot on:

There are other reasons to sideline the Russia narrative. For a Democratic Party adrift after last year’s electoral wipeout, focusing on the Russia story risks ignoring hard questions about the need for internal reform. After all, if the election loss can be blamed on Russian interference, the party doesn’t need to change. For some on the anti-war left, there is also the fear that the Russia story will ignite a new Cold War. And pushing unfounded claims about the Trump administration’s Russian connections only contributes to the destructive culture of conspiracy created by the president.

Granting that it is possible (even probable) that the Russia connections will not amount to anything much more significant that what we’ve already seen,  I think it’s worth working through some of the complaints.

  1. Strictly in terms of doing damage to the Trump administration, the investigation has already been worthwhile; Flynn is gone, and Trump has been far more distracted by the task of fighting the investigation than the Democrats have been by pushing it.
  2. If there is anything more to Trump-Russia collusion than is already in the open, we certainly won’t find anything about it UNLESS the Dems push hard. Some Republicans are at least somewhat sensitive to these questions, but can’t be expected to drive the investigation on their own.
  3. Taibbi’s warning about a failed investigation discrediting the media is really quite strange; it seems to suggest that journalists should avoid serious investigations when they’re not sure what precisely they might turn up.
  4. There is zero evidence that “failed” investigations are politically damaging to those who drive them.  The Russia investigation has already turned up more than Benghazi ever did, and the political penalty that the GOP paid for pushing Benghazi appears to be nil.
  5. There is zero evidence for Gessen’s assertion that calling for investigations of Russia will “crowd out” other complaints, and help Trump; the Democrats (and other groups opposed to Trump) haven’t had any trouble generating opposition to Trump’s travel ban, Ryancare, etc.  The various failed investigations of Clinton and Obama did not prevent the GOP from also pursuing policy-oriented opposition (such that it was).
  6. Concern about the efforts of a right-wing semi-authoritarian country to influence a US election is not “xenophobia,” whether the country in question is Russia, China, or Saudi Arabia.  More later on the “new Cold War” nonsense.

As Heer suggests, the main driver of concern over the Russia investigation seems to be the role that it will play in internal reform of the Democratic Party. I can fully appreciate the reluctance of would-be reformers to place Russia (or Comey) front and center in an analysis of the 2016 election, evidence of their importance notwithstanding.  Narratives of reform always borrow facts selectively, and it’s not obvious that the Russia investigations will be useful for progressives in internal battles.  But this is only part of the project, and there is no reason to discard what may well be an exceedingly useful weapon against the Trump administration.


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