Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Unwelcome Return of Cold War Liberalism

The title of this post might be a misnomer. I don't know that Cold War Liberalism ever really went away. After the end of the Cold War, maybe it only mutated into the pro-Big Business, war-friendly centrism of the Clintons and of Obama's presidency. Just how much of a line can be drawn from the Hubert Humphreys and Scoop Jacksons to Bill Clinton's bombing of Kosovo and Barack Obama's embrace of the War on Terror is a question worth asking, but not one I feel equipped to answer, or inclined to examine right now.

Regardless of the answer, though, it's clear we're seeing a rebirth of old-fashioned Cold War Liberalism in the wake of the allegations of Russian meddling in the last election and the ongoing investigation thereof. The wild claims being hurled out are straight from the Joe McCarthy playbook: "Russians may be controlling our government"! "The Communists are now dictating the terms of the debate"! And, one of the best of the gibberings, from MSNBC's inimitable Joy Reid: "Donald Trump married one American (his second wife) and two women from what used to be Soviet Yugoslavia: Ivana-Slovakia, Melania-Slovenia." (Yugoslavia was never part of the Soviet Bloc, Slovakia was never part of Yugoslavia, and Ivana is from what is today the Czech Republic. Reid corrected one of these errors (the last one), but if she's corrected the other two or apologized for the xenophobia, I am unaware of it.)
Screenshot of a tweet by Keith Olbermann, taken from a tweet
by Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC), showing an image
from The Closer with Keith Olbermann

We shouldn't pretend that it's without its precedent. McCarthy may have been a Republican, but that does nothing to erase Harry Truman's loyalty oaths, Humphrey's proposal to hurl subversives into detention camps, the Kennedy Administration's spying on suspected Communist sympathizer Martin Luther King, and the bipartisan legacy of COINTELPRO. Feigning piety and acting surprised that Democrats would turn to red-baiting is pointless, given their history. To engage it long after the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and against the most right-wing president we've seen in at least decades, though, is especially stupid and outlandish.

We now know that Donald Trump, Jr. was ready to accept dirt from the Russian government (even if there was none to be had), and Trump may have some sort of financial connection that he doesn't want unearthed. God only knows what the connections may be, and what collusion, if any, may have happened. But we know that Trump hasn't governed as Putin's puppet. He bombed an airbase in Syria--a Russian ally--and now signed a bill with new sanctions targeting Russia. Whatever Russian meddling happened, and whatever misconduct Trump engaged in, conspiracy theories about Putin being the puppet-master pulling the strings in the Trump administration seem to be flatly contradicted by the reality in front of our faces.

Putin, though, in the neo-Cold War Liberal mind, is the Big Villain--instead of a second-rate Russian strongman, he's a Bond villain with a master plan to conquer the world. Of course, Putin himself would surely be flattered that anyone thinks he could be that cunning and ingenious. Even Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the infamous Pussy Riot, who Putin locked up for "hooliganism," has come out and stated that she thinks that Putin is being used as a scapegoat and that the focus on him goes beyond all reason. (Of course, she was probably subjected to merciless, ultra-effective brainwashing during her time in prison, turning her into nothing but a sock-puppet for the Putin regime. Or, perhaps they killed her and replaced her with a double. The possibilities are endless.)

Nonetheless, the hysteria continues. When Trump ended a program to arm the Syrian rebels (one of his only good acts so far), that was inevitably spun as a gift to Russia. In reality, the program has poured money into a hole and has little to show for its efforts--and, of course, was a violation of international law to begin with--but those facts are too mundane for our darty-eyed tinfoil hat brigade. When Trumped bombed an airbase in Syria, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell even concocted an absurd theory that Putin had approved the gas attack that precipitated it to give Trump a pretense for the strike. Some "mastermind" Putin would be to betray an ally to a president who's done nothing for him.

What really bring the neo-Cold War element to the front is the bizarre conviction on the part of these prattlers that Russia is still Communist. Ex-DNC chair Donna Brazile recently called Russia "The Communists" in a tweet, Joy Reid has likewise tweeted about "communist Russia," and on the show The Closer with Keith Olbermann (now titled The Resistance with Keith Olbermann), as a preface to a rant by the truly unhinged Keith Olbermann, a picture of Trump superimposed over a large hammer-and-sickle was brazenly displayed. Putin, for anyone curious enough to do a minute's worth of research, has aligned himself with a number of right-wing and conservative political parties since the fall of the USSR, has collaborated closely with the Russian Orthodox Church, and enacted a flat tax. The attempts to link to Communism seem to rely on him having once been in the KGB, despite the fact that there were many Russians in the KGB and since the end of the USSR they've gone onto various different walks of life. The other, more subconscious justification, seems to be that anything expansionist, Russian, and authoritarian must be Communist, a notion no doubt birthed by Cold War propaganda and its lasting effects. Perhaps trying to link Trump to Communism is an attempt by liberals to be cute and turn around all the far-right accusations that Obama was a Communist. For those who appreciate the evils of the Cold War--coups, blacklists, surveillance--it's less than charming.

Worse than all of this, though, is that the Russia Connection goes beyond Trump and the Republicans--far beyond, naturally, into the depths of the evil Far Left, naturally enough. So we have Howard Dean wondering openly if The Intercept is funded by Russia, Reid calling followers of Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald (or maybe WL and Greenwald themselves--unclear from the context) "Putinites," and the leet-speaking Twitter lunatic Eric Garland going on a typically unhinged rant denouncing Bernie Sanders as a traitor for voting against the recent Russia sanctions bill (Sanders voted against it because of the sanctions on Iran--he actually voted to support sanctions on Russia). Some neo-Cold War Liberals have also promoted Louise Mensch, a warmonger who has accused Sanders of being "in league" with Putin and whose Russophobia penetrates so deep that she refers to The Intercept as "The Ivancept."

Mensch is a former Tory MP, and hardly the only person on the right that the new Cold Warriors have embraced. No surprise: neoconservatism can trace its intellectual roots to the anti-communist wing of the Democratic Party, so the alliance is natural. It's unsurprising to see the new Cold War Liberals embracing the likes of David Frum, who helped write Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and blames the Iraqis for the failure of the Iraq War. Glenn Greenwald has written in detail about how the "Alliance for Securing Democracy," a new policy group populated by both Cold War Democrats and neocon Republicans, is only one of the latest efforts by the former to rehabilitate the latter.

It's pretty clear at this point that the Russia investigation has done not-insignificant damage to Trump, and most Americans seem to be suspicious of Trump's conduct with regards to Russia. So be it. I'm not about to complain about anything that damages the Hatemonger-In-Chief's standing or makes us even marginally likelier to be rid of him soon. But only six percent percent of the respondents in a recent poll ranked relations with Russia as the top issue the country faces, and even after the Don Jr. revelation, doubts about any serious collusion still remain. The people are not ready to believe just any crackpot theory spat out by Democratic Party hacks and their MSNBC-spawned mouthpieces, and despite harping on Russia plenty, Hillary Clinton still lost in 2016. The Democrats need a real message and an actual platform, not some garbage left on the cutting-room floor by Reagan's "Evil Empire" speechwriter. Chuck Schumer, as much of a party insider as anyone, seems to have picked up on that. Anyone who fails to do so at this point has already sacrificed their relevance to the gods of Good American Patriotism and Commie-Bashing.