A Plea to Progressives: Reject Russia Hysteria and Prioritize Social Justice

For well over a year-and-a-half now, prominent Democratic politicians and media figures have alleged that, in an unprecedented attack on democracy, “Russia hacked the election” in 2016 to install Vladimir Putin’spuppet,” Donald Trump, into office. Those pushing this narrative call Trump a “traitor” and accuse him of committingtreason” against the American people.

I have raised objections to the way many Democrats are talking about Russia for two main reasons:

1. Skepticism of our intelligence agencies’ claims is warranted, as history has shown. From overthrowing the democratically elected Allende government in Chile and lying about it to secretly selling weapons to Iran in the 1980s and lying about it to falsely declaring that Iraq had provided al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction, the CIA’s history doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their credibility. The FBI similarly helped to lead us into Iraq under false pretenses (see this video from 15 years ago of none other than lead Russia investigator Robert Mueller) and has a long history of targeting anti-war and civil rights activists with dishonest smears. And as exposed by Edward Snowden during the Obama Presidency, the NSA has lied repeatedly to Americans about their warrantless spying programs. In each of these and many other instances, our intelligence agencies’ falsehoods have served deeply illiberal goals. Nobody should take their word as gospel, and everyone should be skeptical of what our intelligence agencies’ public pronouncements might be designed to accomplish. Consider the following:

a. Hysteria about Russia could lead to war – or worse. As noted above, inaccurate fearmongering helped lead us into the Iraq War in the early 2000s. The more prominent media and political figures say that “we’re in a 9/11 national emergency” and declare Russia to have “launched a war” against us, the more at risk we are of becoming engaged in an actual war with Russia, a country with a serious stockpile of nuclear weapons. In fact, a former US general and a foreign policy consultant seemed to suggest that military action against Russia might be appropriate in a recent article in Politico, writing: “This is our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11. In the past, we have risen to the defense of our values, our ideologies and our institutions. It’s time for another fight.”

One wouldn’t know it from the media narrative about Trump and Russia, but Trump has already taken a harder line against Russia than Barack Obama did when in office – he has imposed harsh sanctions, bombed a Syrian airfield, pulled out of the Iran deal (which Putin supported), sent lethal weapons to Ukraine, and increased funding for anti-Russian efforts in Europe. Democrats pushing Trump to take more aggressive action would do well to consider why Obama didn’t (and to watch this video of Obama mocking Mitt Romney six years ago for making the same type of claims many Democrats are making today).

b. Unfounded accusations of treason are used to silence dissent. Less than fifteen years ago, the Center for American Progress documented the Bush Administration’s attacks on the patriotism of anyone who opposed their narrative about 9/11 and Iraq and, more broadly, their foreign policy. Beyond Iraq, “the tactic of undermining political opponents by making unsubstantiated attacks on their loyalty to the United States” has a name – McCarthyism – and has a long history of being used to persecute social justice advocates.

While it’s true that the allegations of treason today are centered heavily on staunch opponents of social justice – Trump and various Republicans – Establishment Democrats have unsurprisingly also targeted Jill Stein, Glenn Greenwald, and anyone else who has dared to criticize their behavior – we are at best “fucking clueless…idiot[s]” and at worst “agent[s] of Trump and Moscow” (that we are staunch critics of both Trump and Putin doesn’t seem to matter). It is not hard to imagine the current McCarthyite climate persisting after Trump is ousted from office and used primarily once more, as it has been throughout American history, to attack proponents of a more just society.

I’m not an expert on cybersecurity and do not know the entire basis for our intelligence agencies’ claims – nobody outside of those agencies does! What we do know, however, is that the first report they released that purported to show evidence of Russian interference in 2016 contained more anti-social-justice propaganda than evidence. We also know that many widespread claims related to alleged Russian interference over the last two years – Wikileaks doctored Clinton campaign emails, Russia hacked the Vermont power grid, certain American blogs are tools of Russian propaganda, Russia tried to break into and compromise voter systems in various states, Russia interfered in the French election – have turned out to be false.

Mueller’s July 13 indictment is detailed and he may present convincing proof that the Russian government hacked various Democrats’ email accounts (there are also reasonable people who seem to believe the evidence is already convincing on that point). But given our intelligence agencies’ sordid history, we should be careful not to place our trust in them.

2. We should be focusing our time and energy on effective responses to Trump, Republicans in Congress, and the homegrown problems of systemic classism, racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry that long predate 2016. The only standing concrete charges against the Russian government are that they hacked Democratic emails and poured a very small amount of money into an unsophisticated, inconsequential social media advertising campaign. These activities were neither the primary reason for Trump’s victory nor particularly surprising – the United States government “meddles” in many other foreign countries’ elections much more significantly than Russia is alleged to have done here – and, as polling shows, Americans rightfully care more about issues that will directly impact their lives than about the “situation with Russia.”

To be fair, Establishment Democrats who consider themselves part of the #Resistance have generally been highly critical of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut taxes, and enforce draconian immigration policy. But the amount of time spent on these issues – not to mention advancing a proactive agenda for single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage, a radical restructuring of our criminal justice system, and more – has paled in comparison to the amount of time spent on speculation about Trump and Russia. In one analysis of a six-week period in 2017, for example, popular MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was found to have spent more time talking about Russia than about every other issue combined. As another illustrative example, CNN Contributor Joan Walsh seemed unhappy with Bernie Sanders for tweeting about a long-scheduled “CEOs vs workers” town hall he was hosting on the day of the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki; in Walsh’s mind, presumably, Sanders should have ignored income inequality that day and been exclusively focused on questioning Trump’s patriotism. Every cover story hypothesizing that Trump has been a “Russian-intelligence asset” since 1987 draws attention away from important, reality-based domestic issues that could have had that cover space.

There’s a reason Establishment Democrats find the Russia-successfully-waged-an-unprecedented-attack-on-our-democracy-and-is-to-blame-for-all-our-problems narrative so appealing: it absolves them of responsibility both for losing the 2016 election and for failing to address the needs of millions of Americans who are suffering. They want the public to forget that they ran an undemocratic primary process in 2016 to select the less-electable, less-social-justice-oriented candidate as their nominee, that their model for Democratic politics has resulted in huge losses for the party throughout the entire country, and that Democrats have long condoned some of the policies they now profess to be outraged about. If Democratic elites can convince enough people that the current state of American politics is Putin’s fault rather than something their glaring failures have contributed to, they will have a much easier time staying in power.

None of that means that the Russian government wasn’t behind the phishing emails sent to John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee – they may well have been! It also remains true that Donald Trump lies all the time and has almost certainly done dozens of illegal things. Nobody should take statements from either him or Vladimir Putin at face value, and the Mueller investigation should absolutely proceed.

But Democrats also need to be more careful about how they approach the issue of Russia and the 2016 election. Failing to do so could have very serious consequences.

8 Comments

Filed under 2016 Presidential Election, Foreign Policy, US Political System

8 responses to “A Plea to Progressives: Reject Russia Hysteria and Prioritize Social Justice

  1. Tom Block

    GOOD TO SEE YOU BACK. AND YOU WON!!

  2. thausner

    see my comment on your facebook page

  3. FormelyFRED

    Piss off Beny. We black votes want the Russian investigation to continue while WE try saving this racist ingrate country, from you BernieOrBust type.YOU and Bernie gave us Trump. We black voters were smart enough from the start to smell bs when we heard Bernie talk and we were smart to not fall from Russian propaganda while you racist fools did. You FAKE ally can tell us what you want us to do (typical colonizer mentality) and we’ll continue to do what we want. We HATE Bernie even more. The sooner you learn how to speak to black voters and not talk at them the better. Do it fast. You Berniebros have not learned anything from 2016 but we have. We know how ya’ll operate now. WE will vet Bernie and it will be painful. There will be no Clinton to bash anymore so it is ON so you people will not whine the elections were “rigged” when we black voters crushed, thumped, destroyed Bernie and it will happen again in 2020 IF he has the audacity to run again and he better not. No to comrade Bernie

    AnyoneButBernie2020

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bernie-sanders-fake-news-russia_us_58c34d97e4b0ed71826cdb36

    https://www.rawstory.com/2018/07/bernie-sanders-campaign-strategist-tad-devine-turns-16-times-evidence-paul-manafort/

    https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/rubycramer/top-bernie-sanders-adviser-named-in-the-evidence-list-for

    https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/07/bernie-sanders-strategist-tad-devine-paul-manafort-files-mueller

  4. becca1190

    These are such great points! I agree, and also feel that most of the hysteria around some of the more vacuous news dominating the media (e.g., Stormy Daniels) also detracts from real concerns (e.g., how many judges this administration has appointed lately).

  5. jamesbradfordpate

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  6. carlbradleyherman

    Thanks, Ben; you hit many strong points! Keep looking, documenting, and sharing; all together we might be enough of a power for justice. Game on 🙂

    My contributions:
    1. Princeton, Stanford, and other leading voices factually assert the US does not have elections to the degree literally unaccountable voting machines are used. This is obvious that if there’s nothing to count, that does not meet the definition of an “election,” with exit polling data verifying Bernie won the primary (link below).

    2. The US history shows it became an illegal rogue state empire rather than “limited government” under the Constitution. The wars are not close to legal. The “reasons” we receive are known lies. The Claremont Colleges published my paper on this topic after professional peer review (link below).

    3. Until .01% arrests for OBVIOUS crimes centered in constant lying, looting by the trillions, and war and poverty murders in the millions, the US will have a puppet show alternating from the Right and Left arms of hidden .01% wanna-be masters. OBVIOUSLY a basic and primary response is call for arrests for objective facts we activists find zero, zip, nada for attempts to refute our data.

    Claremont published paper: http://washingtonsblog.com/2015/05/seizing-an-alternative-recognizing-the-emperors-new-clothes-as-the-story-of-today-1-of-7.html

    History of US rogue state empire: http://washingtonsblog.com/2016/04/us-illegal-history-rogue-empire-requiring-arrests-present-introduction-define-rogue-state-perfect-match-us-illegal-wars-aggression-crimes-humanity.html

    Election fraud by .01%: https://carlbherman.blogspot.com/2018/05/2nd-american-revolution-essential.html (go to the following for abundant links):

    “When Americans are told an election is defined by touching a computer screen without a countable receipt that can be verified, they are being told a criminal lie to allow election fraud. This is self-evident, but Princeton, Stanford, and the President of the American Statistical Association are among the leaders pointing to the obvious (and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Again, no professional would/can argue an election is legitimate when there is nothing for anyone to count. The facts show Bernie Sanders won the Democratic Primary election, and claims by Democratic “leadership” of Russian election “meddling” are without factual documentation.”

  7. Robert Ferraro

    Really good analysis of the problems of the Russia hysteria. What constantly amazes me is how every claim of Russian “interference” is talked about with no context considered. The historical context of how the US has always interfered in Russian elections and so many other countries’ elections is almost never mentioned. Probing of election system computers is always referred to as an attack on our democracy or elections, when it is well known that cyber-criminals often target such databases because they are a treasure trove of valuable personal information that enables financial cyber crimes. Any link to Russian servers is presented as evidence of Russian government involvement, although it is well known that it is very easy to spoof the source of cyber-attacks. Ulterior motives for the US intelligence agencies’ claims are never considered.

    As you say, it would not be surprising and it may be true that Russia hacked into computers in the US and tried to interfere, but we all should be very skeptical until proof is brought forward. I became very skeptical after reading the January 6th “Intelligence Assessment” and saw that most of it was devoted to claiming that RT news shows on anti-fracking & other protests in the US, and RT hosting of a debate for 3rd party presidential candidates was a form of “interference” in our election. Also curious that the Russia division of the CIA and the cyber division of the CIA were not part of the hand-picked analysts who came up with this ridiculous “assessment”. The CIA & FBI had “high confidence”, but the NSA only claimed “moderate confidence”, when the NSA would be the only ones who could possibly have evidence of hacking, because they capture all traffic into and out of the US.

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