A year ago today, the US eagle flew beak-first into a pile of lurid muck. Happy Birthday, Mr President, and may I be among the very first to bemoan your improbable landing, one made possible in no small part by the campaign of your nominated rival. Certainly, there is hard evidence that the Clinton campaign actively sought to elevate Trump. Still, there’s really not much evidence about the Kremlin.
The Clinton campaign’s so-called pied-piper strategy, detailed here in a leaked document sent to the Democratic National Committee in 2015, urged that the press be instructed to take Trump, and two other Republican candidates with bigoted views, seriously. The reasoning went: if “communities of color, millennials, women” heard from a sexist, racist, ageist candidate often, they would be more likely to vote for Clinton.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC amplified hateful messages. Still, little harm was done by these to the GOP, or to the improbable Trump. “Communities of color”, on the other hand, did suffer.
More than a year later, liberals remain convinced that a shadowy mob helped Trump make it to the top. After all, Clinton was “the most qualified”. What is missing in this common analysis is reflection of the sort provided in portable paperback form by lifelong Democrat Thomas Frank. Frank points out that the US middle class has disappeared under conspicuously qualified administrations. For as long as the Democratic Party fails to genuinely address soaring wealth inequality of a type not seen since 1929, and its advocates refuse to admit that qualified technocrats, like Clinton, have earned a very bad name, the search for that shadowy mob continues.
But look. We found it: in Moscow.
I understand the basis for yesterday’s claims in Crikey that “The Russians” took part “in a dedicated campaign to get Trump elected”. It’s tricky for any Western individual, including reporters, to resist making such confident statements. It has become accepted alternative fact that “Russia” interfered in the US election. It is now even possible to say that “Russia loves election interference”, and that this historic passion outlasted even the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
To counter the Russia Dunnit story is to be seen as an opponent of what we now call “The Resistance” — that’s how centrist supporters of a war hawk who accepts six-figure sums to say relatable things to the richest people on Wall Street describe themselves.
To sustain the story, however, is to counter the truth.
The latest kerfuffle about Russia’s use of social media just doesn’t add up. To say that it’s a miscalculation to believe in the power of $100,000 worth of shoddy ads on Facebook — and this one featuring Clinton in devil horns fighting Jesus looks more like a gag than an effort at persuasion — is not to endorse the practices of either Silicon Valley or the Kremlin. It’s no surprise that a global business would accept money from any fatherland. It would be no surprise if we learned that Putin, a leader who once employed a post-modern theatre director to create a maze of propaganda, liked to stuff about with foreign media. But one hundred grand? Against Clinton’s US$200 million TV spend, and US$30 million on digital in just the last weeks of her campaign?
And this, of course, supposes that the ads were actually Russian and not, as was disclosed in the congressional hearing, “Russian-linked”; which apparently can mean a Russian IP address, such as I sometimes select on my VPN, a Russian name or any evidence that the buyer has used Cyrillic characters.
There is no evidence of orchestrated “misinformation”. Which is not to say this didn’t happen. Propaganda, and actual election interference — and the hacking story has been falling apart for some time — happens all the time. Such as in 1996, when Bill Clinton teamed up with the IMF to fund Yeltsin’s campaign.
This Facebook story will soon fade. When outlets so determined to find the “indisputable” cause for the Clinton loss find that the things they rushed to say are disputable, they will print small retractions. Such as The Washington Post did when their story on Russian “fake news” was itself found to be a fake. Such as The New York Times did when it incorrectly stated that 17 intelligence agencies agreed that Russia had orchestrated a hacking attack.
What will not fade is the widespread conviction that Russia, a nation that currently has US troops at its border areas, loves Trump. Fiction is, after all, less painful than the political truth: America has done a wonderful job of hacking itself to pieces.