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Russian Meddling Again

Photograph Source: thierry ehrmann – CC BY 2.0

Joe Biden is not the only bad idea, way past its “best if sold by” date, that the Clintonites who call the shots for the Democratic Party have resurrected; a Cold War with Russia and with China too, insofar as it can be done in a way that does not imperil the American economy, is another.

By “Clintonites,” I don’t just mean Bill and Hillary and their cohort, but all the Wall Street, military-industrial-national security state complex, corporate-friendly “liberals” who have made “Trumpism” inevitable.

By “Trumpism,” I mean Wall Street and corporate-friendly xenophobic, white supremacist, nationalism. The rapacious, self-aggrandizing ignoramus occupying the White House currently is a noxious promoter of this world-view. In light of his role in unleashing a particularly virulent strain of it, it is fair that it be named after him.

Alarmingly many people who ought to know better are looking to Clintonites – to Biden specifically — to defeat that miscreant in order to restore some semblance of the pre-Trump era status quo. To believe that the way to defeat Trump is by electing someone who personifies all that has made Trumpism possible is silliness on stilts.

Shame on them for being fooled into thinking that way; and shame on them too for believing that “moderates” are more suited for ridding the world of Trumpism than are those who would up-date and then continue the tradition of New Deal-Great Society liberalism or, insofar as there is a difference, construct a twenty-first century Americanized version of mid-century European social democracy.

Today’s Democratic Party moderates do want to send Trump and his minions packing; what minimally decent and sane person does not? But whether they know it or not, what they are actually doing is helping their party’s leaders and donors get what they want most of all. That would be to keep prevailing political and economic power relations as intact as possible in the face of the left-wing insurgency championed by Bernie Sanders and also, less conspicuously, by the two other, currently inactive progressive candidates, Elizabeth Warren and the good billionaire, Tom Steyer.

Shame therefore on all the moderates who threw in the towel so that Biden could lead the anti-progressive charge unimpeded — on Mayor Pete and Amy Klobuchar, on Beto O’Rourke and Harry Reid and all the other Democratic Party bigwigs who rushed to endorse Biden in the past week, and, above all, on Jim Clyburn and the other African American Clintonites who managed somehow to revive Biden’s moribund candidacy in the wink of an eye in that dreadful South Carolina primary.

Shame also on the comparatively thoughtful Clintonite whom Biden, feigning friendship and familiarity, and having once praised him for being an articulate and clean African American, has taken to calling “Barack.” Obama has yet to endorse his former Vice President officially, but, true to his nature, he was doubtless working hard behind the scenes to keep the Democratic Party on Wall Street’s side.

Better Sanders than Biden on any remotely relevant dimension, and better Bloomberg than Biden too — if only because, in a struggle against what Sanders calls “the billionaire class,” it would be cleaner, as it were, to smash the electoral prospects of a true billionaire rather than of some miserable billionaire flunky.

However, thanks to South Carolina, a more than typically retrograde Southern state whose electoral votes Democrats have no hope of winning in any case, this is not to be.

Indeed, as the dust from Super Tuesday was still settling, Bloomberg bowed out and, along with the others, endorsed Biden, pledging to do all he could to get the doofus elected. That would mean spending a lot of money on his behalf. Say what you will about Bloomberg, he puts the interest of his class first; unlike the Donald who puts his own interests first, last, and always.

That Biden and Democrats like him now seem capable of hanging onto power by the skins of their teeth – and with the help of servile corporate media and the financial aid of the very large anti-Trump fraction of the ruling class – is disappointing, to say the least.

Nevertheless, the Democratic Party’s Cold War revivalism is more worrisome by far. It could easily lead not only to lethal proxy wars or “minor” skirmishes between major nuclear powers, but also to a war that, unlike what proponents of America’s entry into World War I promised, really would end all wars – not by institutionalizing world peace, but by ending life on earth “as we know it.”

When thinking about Russian meddling in American elections, it is well to keep that thought in mind.

***

When persons speaking for the United States, the world’s foremost serial meddler in the affairs of other nations, complain that Russia is meddling in American elections, their hypocrisy, irony, and unmitigated gall is stupefying.

Along with the other former Soviet republics and the USSR’s former Eastern European “satellites,” Russia has been the prime target of American meddlers for more than the last hundred years.

One also has to wonder what all that Russian meddling has been about. Corporate media assure us that Vladimir Putin — by their lights, the twenty-first century’s foremost demon — interfered with the 2016 election, and that he and minions are hard at work meddling this election season too. No matter that precisely what they are supposed to have done or to be doing now is far from clear.

The most that the authorities tell us is that it has something to do with sowing seeds of discontent on social media. Perhaps someday, when they are able finally to concoct a plausible, evidence-based account, they will be more specific.

There are those who sometimes say, not too facetiously, that foreigners ought to meddle in American elections — maybe even have a vote — because what American presidents do directly affects them, along with nearly everybody else on the planet.

Nobody takes this suggestion seriously, but the thinking behind it is not entirely disregarded. It figures, for example, in the fact that the American political class has seldom had a problem with Israeli meddling, even when Israel’s aim is to cause the United States to go to war. That the Israelis would nowadays like to stir up animosities between the United State and Iran is not exactly a state secret.

Indeed, from time to time, Congress has actively encouraged Israeli meddling. To be sure, much of it is carried out under the pretense that nothing more nefarious is going on than garden variety interest-group domestic politics. But the reasons why, for example, AIPAC and other fixtures of the Israel lobby are not forced to register as agents of a foreign government are almost entirely political, no matter what legalistic technicalities are invoked, when necessary, to keep that from happening.

The meddling that Democrats and others are currently so worked up over, even if it is actually going on, would likely seem trivial, but for the current spate of efforts to revive the Cold War – in other words, but for the unholy alliance between the Democratic Party and its media flacks, on the one hand, and the CIA and other pillars of “the intelligence community” on the other.

The original Cold War era began at the end of World War II and continued until 1989, with the demise of Communism in the Soviet Union and throughout its sphere of influence, and in 1991 with the implosion of the Soviet Union itself.

By then, Biden – known at the time as “Plagiarism Joe,” for having stolen a few lines from a speech given by the British Labor Party’s leader, Neil Kinnock – had already tried and failed to get the Democratic Party nomination for president once. That role fell instead to the similarly hapless Michael Dukakis.

In those saner times, assurances from the CIA would be more likely to be greeted with well-justified skepticism than accepted as gospel truth. In liberal circles especially, a CIA connection of any sort was about as welcome as leprosy in Biblical times.

Back then too, it was hardly expected that members of the military would be routinely thanked for “their service.” Evidently, the advances in public consciousness that emerged in the sixties and seventies and that lingered on for another decade or so have largely disappeared without a trace.

From the very first days of Donald Trump’s run for the White House four years ago, it was well understood by everyone paying attention that his election would pose a clear and present danger to the body politic and indeed the entire world. However, the extent to which he would become the worst American president ever was not yet entirely clear.

Nevertheless, Trump’s barely literate and often incoherent tweets and his rants at shamelessly fascistic campaign rallies suggested that his heart was not exactly into Cold War revivalism. In this one respect, it was arguably almost reasonable to regard him, not Hillary Clinton and the Clintonite Democrats behind her, as the lesser evil.

Perhaps it was because he saw some percentage in it for himself. Perhaps, as many informed observers have suggested, his expressed fondness for Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian leaders was of more clinical than pecuniary interest.

Whatever the reasons, for those who tried hard enough or who were capable of deceiving themselves extensively enough, a Trump presidency could actually seem less likely to take a disastrously, perhaps even catastrophically, lethal turn than a Clinton presidency would.

The idea that Trump might actually have been less bellicose than Clinton is harder to sustain now than it was four years ago. This is not because the mainstream Democratic Party has gotten better; it is still as much a part of the problem, and as far from being part of the solution, as it ever was. It is because Trump’s limitations are nowadays more widely acknowledged than they used to be, and because, as the Donald ages gracelessly, he has been mentally decomposing in plain view and for all to see.

Contrary to the notion that corporate media have worked so hard to turn into “common sense,” Sanders, were he to become the Democrats’ nominee, would go on to defeat Trump more easily than Biden has any chance of doing, and the struggle against Trumpism could then proceed under conditions more favorable than those that would otherwise obtain.

But the results from Super Tuesday have made this prospect less likely than it seemed to be only minutes before the results began to come in. In any case, even if the tide turns again and all goes exceptionally well after that, it would still be a long way from here to there.

It is possible, though, that as a Democratic Left at last takes shape, at least some of today’s “moderates” will morph into genuine “centrists.” Centrists occupy middle positions on actually existing political spectra in times of political stability or quiescence. In times of comparative instability, they gravitate towards the poles, more or less in proportion to how the winds are blowing at the time.

***

Before the First World War, public opinion in the United States was not particularly anti-Russian; the general view, in enlightened circles, was that Russia was an economically backward, priest-ridden country, and that it lagged behind most of Europe in many, though hardly all, important respects. There was no particular animosity, however.

This changed radically after the Bolshevik Revolution. Then the idea, driven home relentlessly by the media of the day, was that the West and the Soviet Union had incompatible political-economic systems and that the world was not big enough, as it were, for the two of them to coexist.

That sense of things never entirely disappeared, though, before long, the focus drifted away from the view that Communist Russia posed a geopolitical threat to the United States, and towards the rather different notion that the Communist regime in place there aggravated class struggles in the capitalist West – through the force of example and, more importantly, thanks to its meddling.

However, with the rise of Nazi Germany and the emergence of other fascist movements around the world, geopolitical concerns soon took center stage again. Thus, during World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies.

Then, with the onset of the Cold War, the idea that “godless atheistic Communism” was the mortal enemy of “truth, justice, and the American way,” reemerged with a vengeance, supplemented by the slightly preposterous notion that Communist Russia, barely able to defend itself, was hellbent on world domination.

No doubt, many of the people promoting that contention believed their own propaganda to some extent. But even the most deluded must have realized at some level that what was really going on had mainly to do with domestic politics; specifically, with maintaining or at least not seriously challenging or in any significant way diminishing the economic and political power of the economically and politically powerful.

There were, to be sure, geopolitical considerations in play as well. The United States was intent, as it always is, on extending its sphere of influence, the better to serve the interests of American capitalism; the Soviet Union was intent on dominating countries around its borders so as better to protect itself from Western aggression.

On the Soviet side, the Cold War was also good for maintaining and expanding Stalin’s and then his successors’ control over state and party institutions, and over what there was of a civil society.

On the American side, the main thing was to make the world safe for the emerging military-industrial complex; it already having become a settled opinion in ruling circles, as the war wound down, that when peace finally came, the economic outlook would be at least as gloomy as it had been during the Depression years — unless military spending could somehow be maintained at a level sufficient for continuing to spur the economy on to wartime levels.

How impertinent, therefore, of those pesky Russians; threatening, by self-immolation, to deprive the American economy of an enemy to die for! And how foolish of anyone to think that would actually happen.

When it comes to feathering their own nests, American capitalists and the politicians that serve them are ingenious and determined. They saw to it that the goose laying the golden eggs keeping them afloat hardly even needed to slacken her pace. “Peace dividends” be damned; military spending was back up and running at respectable levels in hardly any time at all.

Religious fanatics in the Muslim world, conjured into being in part by the machinations of the Brzezinski State Department in the waning days of the Carter administration and by the CIA was good for that, for a while; it still is, but not good enough.

For a truly serviceable Cold War, a worthy adversary is indispensable. Thus, it eventually became clear that, after milking “the clash of civilizations” for all that it is worth and finding it not nearly up to the task, the time had come, for want of a better alternative, to revive the clash of nuclear superpowers that had been presumed dead for almost three decades.

The problem with that, though, is that it was no longer possible to talk of a clash of political-economic systems. The Soviets of yesteryear are capitalists now. So, alas, is everyone else.

Some capitalisms are sleazier than others; the Russian variety scores high on that metric. Some, like the Chinese variety, involve the state more directly than American capitalism does; others, elsewhere in east Asia, do much the same thing though in different ways. These are only details, however. It is no longer possible to concoct Cold Wars out of clashes of political-economic systems.

The sad fact is, though, that this hardly matters.

If Clintonites and the media that serve them can make a comeback kid out of a doddering doofus who is even more feckless than Hillary Clinton, they can certainly conjure up enough anti-Communist nostalgia to get a serviceable Cold War going again.

Desperate to find excuses for losing to the likes of a Donald Trump, they had ample motive, and with their CIA friends and the “quality press” and “liberal” cable channels behind them, they had the means and the opportunities.

And so, Clintonites “don’t need no stinkin’ Communists” to revive a Cold War that was originally fought ostensibly to battle Communism any more than in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” the bandits needed “stinkin’ badges” to get what they wanted.

The Sanders movement is the only thing that can stop the Clintonites now; and, thanks to the speed and efficiency with which Democratic Party honchos moved to crush the Sanders insurgency, the perfidy of Clintonite African American politicians, and the failure of so many younger voters to bother to vote, the Sanders campaign is now on the ropes.

One can only wonder what harm those Russian meddlers could hope to do that we Americans have not done many times more effectively to ourselves.

Think of it. In the last presidential election, voters had to choose between two god-awful candidates, one clearly less odious than the other, but both more than odious enough to cause a thinking person to despair.

Four years later, after so much time, effort and treasure have been expended to make it better this time around, the likelihood is that it will be even worse: because Trump is a far worse choice now than he was four years ago and because, awful as Clinton was and is, Biden is, by any plausible measure, more awful still.

Therefore, even if there really is something that the Russian government would actually hope to gain from meddling in the election next November, they would be better off just lying back and letting homegrown Clintonites and Trumpians do the heavy lifting. Nobody does it better.

More articles by:

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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