That Putin is again intervening in the 2020 election campaign, as they did in 2016, was recently revealed by American intelligence in closed hearings before the House Intelligence Committee. The news became public by leak (everything leaks in Washington) yesterday. The reactions tell us much about the parlous state of our democracy.
Why would Vladimir Putin want to mess with our elections? That’s easy. He’s the leader (effectively the Tsar) of a state that used to be a superpower and he will do whatever he can to rebuild Russia’s international position. This has as much to do with undermining the US and our allies as it has to do with building up Russia. Hence his covert support for right-wing populism in Europe and the United States, to disrupt and destabilize democracies, the European Union and NATO. All this gives him more scope for action in places like Ukraine and Syria.
Putin’s covert effort to subvert Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help that of Donald Trump fits this framework. As Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton was a strong adversary to Putin’s grand strategy, while Trump had a peculiarly positive orientation towards Putin and the Kremlin.
Why support Bernie? The right wing will say, of course, he’s a socialist which is the same as a communist. That’s complete nonsense.
Now, intelligence agencies find that Russia is again supporting Trump and, surprisingly, Bernie Sanders. It’s not surprising that they would be supporting Trump again, even though his administration has maintained or imposed sanctions on Russia. Trump’s broader foreign policy (e.g., disrupting NATO, pulling out of Syria) has smoothed the path for Putin to play a larger role.
But why support Bernie? The right wing will say, of course, he’s a socialist which is the same as a communist. That’s complete nonsense. Today’s Russia is authoritarian, but not socialist or communist. What they have is crony capitalism with Putin at the apex of a fake democracy. The last thing Putin would want is a serious socialist in charge in the United States.
Why, then? I think the Russians buy the conventional wisdom that Sanders is too far to the left to defeat Trump, that Trump would be able to red-bait him as Nixon did to McGovern. Hence, helping Sanders get the nomination would effectively help Trump win the election. That analysis might or might not be correct, but that’s the thinking behind supporting Sanders.
How has Trump reacted to this latest news? By firing his Director of National Intelligence for passing the information to the House Intelligence Committee, even though that committee has a right to such briefings. This fits into his post-impeachment campaign to oust any political appointees deemed insufficiently loyal to his person. The fired DNI is being replaced by a person with no intelligence experience but with unimpeachable loyalty to Trump. He’s acting like a Mafia Don.
This consistent with his response all the way back to the campaign in 2016: flat denial that there was such intervention, and accusations against Democrats and intelligence professionals of conspiring to undermine the legitimacy of his election.
There is the master narrative: anyone, anywhere who opposes Trump or accuses him of misdeeds is part of a massive conspiracy against him. For his core supporters, there is no way to break through that narrative. Whatever happens confirms it.
And how did Bernie Sanders (the preacher) react?
“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.
“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”
The Pew Research Center finds over 80 percent off Americans think they will be exposed to made-up news. Republicans are convinced it will come from Democrats; Democrats are sure it will come from Republicans. There is no undisputed truth.
Nice work, Vladimir!