TO THE FINLAND STATION II

A quick follow up on my post about the Helsinki summit from the other day.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a fusillade of fulminations from the media, pundits across the political spectrum, and members of Congress forced Trump to walk back some of his statements from the press conference with Putin. The most laughable was his claim that when he said he didn’t see why Russia “would” interfere in the 2016 election, he meant he didn’t see why they “wouldn’t.” Oh, word?

Either way, in the same breath he then walked-back the walk-back, saying, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. It could be other people, also. There are a lot of people out there.” The guy is nothing if not consistent.

As other people have pointed out, it’s likely that Trump simply cannot understand the difference between accusations that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and accusations that the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia.

Regardless, the disconnect between his cozy relations with Putin and his administration’s policies toward Russia is clear. Seth Ackerman, who has been doing some great writing on this issue, quoted from a Bloomberg op-ed that made the same case.

The author of the Bloomberg article, Leonid Bershidsky, noted:

Trump didn’t recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea, announce a troop pullout from Syria, promise to disband NATO, withdraw U.S. troops from Germany or stop the deployment of U.S. anti-missile defenses in Eastern Europe. He didn’t give up his opposition to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Germany or express regret about his decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine. In fact, he did nothing that could be construed as undermining U.S. interests as traditionally understood. His comments revealed no freebies to Putin or even any sign that the two leaders had attempted to negotiate compromises on the many substantive issues that divide their two countries.

As I pointed out last time, the gap between the media’s response to the Helsinki summit and the actual foreign policy of the Trump administration couldn’t be wider. And this is from Bloomberg, not some lefty rag, like, well Jacobin. Maybe Putin has something on Trump, but their relationship probably tells us more about the president’s own depravity than U.S. policy as a whole.

Despite all the huffing and puffing, Ackerman rightly asks what should be done about the election interference? Well, apparently Trump has already signed a federal law to help state and local governments combat cybercrime. Of course, many municipalities haven’t done much with the funding provided by the law (Denise Merrill here in Connecticut seems to be working on it). Nevertheless, steps have been taken. The media just don’t seem very interested. Ackerman calls the phenomenon, “the expressive function of the Russia freakout.” I just call it a lot of hot air.

Michael Kazin, writing for Dissent, offered some suggestions as to why those on the left should care about this issue. Several of the suggestions—election interference is bad regardless of who does it, Putin is the presumptive figurehead of rising reactionary forces, the Republicans in Congress are abetting Trump because they need him to secure their redistributive agenda—seem reasonable to me and even overlap in some places with my thoughts from the other day.

But a few paragraphs in, and you run across a line that is the literary equivalent of the skipping needle/record scratch/freeze frame moment in a classic TV sitcom.

Kazin writes:

Those past transgressions should make us all the more determined to find out how the Russians sought to sabotage our election—and support and publicize the work of Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors. Immoral equivalence demands a moral response, not a cynical shrug.

Yeah, no. Surely, it would be good to learn about all of Trump’s illegal dealings at home and abroad, both as president and before. And if the Mueller investigation is the best way to get that information, so be it. But I don’t think that line of reasoning should lead us to carry the flag of the FBI (If you need a quick reminder that the FBI is not good, here’s a piece by the historian Beverly Gage on the time your friendly neighborhood FBI agents tried to blackmail Martin Luther King, Jr. into killing himself.

Organizing against the plutocratic insurgency: A strong moral response. Touting the work of the FBI: A cynical shrug? I’m not so sure.

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