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Policy, not paranoia, is the antidote to Trump



The Donald Trump era has proven important in two fundamental respects. Not only does it say much about the person elected to the White House; it says much about critics and proponents of alternative narratives who have mimicked his conspiratorial copy book. The Mueller investigation was meant to be the confirmation of every parochial instance of anti-Trumpism imaginable. Loathe the man, detest him and hope that some external force could be blamed for his coming to power.

Donald Trump at the White House in March 2019 (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)The mechanism for doing so was the Russian connection. Accusers have been plentiful and noisy. Russian bots, for instance, supposedly turned the 2016 presidential elections. Russian trolls turned the tide in favour of Trump. 'Our democracy is in serious danger,' shrieked Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.

But importantly, the issue of Russia got muddled over the issue of collusion. Not only was the president being accused of having been assisted by Russian agents, layered over by lashes of WikiLeaks; he had purportedly colluded with them. Taking this logic further, he was even accused, in a fanciful story by Jonathan Chait for New York Magazine, as a Russian asset.

Special counsel Robert Mueller was duly charged with the Trump-Russian investigation. Democrats and anti-Trump figures placed their eggs in the report's basket, hoping that collusion claims with Russia might out.

This provided a ghoulish yet perfect distraction on domestic politics. It took attention off debates on refugees and borders. It also sidestepped discussion on crippling poverty and social reform. A disheartened Senator Bernie Sanders, along with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, filmmaker Michael Moore and economist Darrick Hamilton, would note this phenomenon in March 2018.

'These are all shiny things to distract us,' claimed Moore. 'We should know about the West Virginia [teachers'] strike.' Warren insisted on revitalising the US union movement. Sanders warned about oligarchic corporatism. 'We need to have the kind of discussion that Congress has not had yet.'

Last Friday, Mueller's 'Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election' was submitted to the Justice Department. We were only treated to a summary in a letter to Congress from Attorney General William Barr. It noted expansive investigation of allegations that members of Trump's presidential campaign and those associated with it 'conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 US presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigations'. The report found no evidence that the Trump campaign and those associated with it had, in its words, 'conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.'


"The anti-Trumpists will have to find firmer ground on policy matters that count."


The Russia hook not only failed to catch the president; it seemed to be spectral. Trump critics looked not only crestfallen but traumatised, none better illustrating this than MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

Glenn Greenwald, ever sceptical of the Russiaphobic stream of Trump criticism, suggested that democracy had been laid waste by an unaccountable fourth estate. 'If there's no media reckoning for what they did, don't ever complain again when people attack the media as "Fake News" or identify them as one of the country's most toxic and destructive forces.' Ditto James Beale of The Federalist: no public mea culpa would issue from media or Democratic stalwarts who had feverishly peddled 'unfounded allegations that the president of the United States is engaged in treason and actively operating as an agent of the Russian Federation'.

Distilled down to its essence, the issue of obstructing justice remains, though speculation on its depth and substance is rife. Barr's letter suggests that no conclusions were drawn by Mueller on that score. Trump's rather broad reading, and understanding, of executive power does not do away with the foundation of possible impeachment proceedings, though they seem unlikely. President Bill Clinton's sordid perjury over the Monica Lewisky affair was deemed sufficient to warrant a commencement of proceedings in December 1998. He was subsequently acquitted by the Senate after five weeks on both articles of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The obsession with Russia, and its attendant insinuations, have ill served Trump critics. Some Democrats have even chosen to attack the attorney general, issuing a 2 April deadline for turning over a copy of the report. Some persist in seeing Russiagate as an alibi to avoid reform in their camps, not to mention the embrace of a unified domestic agenda. Blame Russia for the electoral loss, rather than the type of candidate and types of policies fielded in 2016.

To the credit of recently elected figures from the more progressive wing of the party — the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the idea of a 'Green New Deal' — change is happening in spite of the stodgy stalwarts. The recent slew of presidential candidates, many progressive, suggest a more constructive approach shorn of paranoia.

What matters now is the publishing of the whole report for Congress and the public to see. The entire process of the investigation, in its form, has been seen as unprecedented, but the anti-Trumpists will have to find firmer ground on policy matters that count. This will require a removal of a good number of eggs from the 'Russia did it' basket and focus on policies that prevail over the fanfares of conspiracy.



Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Main image: Donald Trump at the White House in March 2019 (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Donald Trump, Mueller report, Russia, Michael Moore, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren



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Existing comments

Glen Greenwald is an interesting one. He is a successful CSNBC commentator and anchor. He claims the network held the anti trump narrative because it was so profitable and would not allow any discussion or debate on its programs that might have debunked or discredited the theories. And because he had these arguments with the network he was fired. Fox News holds the entirety of the conservative right audience, therefore the other networks can only cram into the opposite corner in order to win eyeballs. This is the only economic model that would work. So they hold the left and propagate that view in a biased way. Sound like corruption ? Glen Greenwald, the chap making this claim against his old employer, is a liberal. It’s going to be a long road back for these networks and understandably, many viewers will say, huh, the government just spent $50m with the best forensic lawyers in the country and nothing stuck. Manafort and Cohen will go to prison and they should. Trump is and will continue to be highly unlikable to many but the media now needs to find a new narrative.

Patrick | 27 March 2019  

The Russia/Trump collusion story is the greatest media failure in US history. The New York Times can now boast two Pulitzer Prizes for fake Russian news: Its 2018 award for Russia/Trump reporting and its 1932 award for Walter Duranty’s reports on the glorious Soviet Union. CNN’s Rachel Maddow, like many others, had become players, not reporters. She was almost in tears after Muller’s findings. When details started to emerge that the phoney Russian dossier had been paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC, and was then used in a secret court to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on team Trump, alarm bells should have rung. Glenn Greenwald stood out as honourable. So too life-long Democrat, and former Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz. But because both refused to follow the scripted narrative, were banished. Only Fox News would give both a platform. Seek out the truth, “Find out what’s going on and print it” was once the gold standard of journalism. In those days, an arch-conservative like Auberon Waugh could praise his Marxist co-worker Paul Foot: “Sanctity attached to him…We all sought his approval…Obviously there is a screw loose somewhere but we all have our oddities.”

Ross Howard | 27 March 2019  

"Print the facts and raise hell". It seems that the American media excel in the second part, but the first is superfluous to their needs. Aren't we fortunate that things are so different here in Oz!

Joan Seymour | 28 March 2019  

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