(Originally published in Counter Punch March 24, 2017)
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
The Russian “hack” is sexy. It’s the kind of cabal that can surely draw left and right into a marriage of temporary convenience… perhaps even political warfare, albeit, for different petty reasons. Ultimately, it’s just so much fluff. If you think the so-called Russian hack will in itself drive Donald Trump from power, don’t hold your breath. It just isn’t going to happen.
That’s not to say that Trump’s days are not numbered, but simply to suggest that the pathway to the exit door of this administration is constructed not of digital chips, but rather old school overt acts such as perjury, obstruction of justice and, ultimately, conspiracy. Indeed, how often have you heard it said that the cover-ups are always far worse than the substantive offenses they seek to hide? Just ask Nixon.
For some on the right, the specter of their hero being dragged off simply because it appears he’s been caught stuffing his 401k with rubles… even before he had a chance to remortgage the White House… it’s a painful betrayal. No, not because of what he did, but because he was amateurish enough to get caught. After all, Trump, the seasoned six- time bankrupt… a proven player at the game… was not just the one who was finally going to make America great again but the consummate hustler who would take us all along with him for the grand gilded ride. How he did it mattered not.
In Trump, the Elmer Gantry of our day, working and rural white poor, in particular, found a crafted populist savior… one who would rid us of all the brown folks and foreigners… the frail and unwell… the non-believers that have occupied so much of our collective space and economy for far too long… all the while, keeping the rest of us from enjoying penthouse views overlooking the river. Amen.
And what of Ya’ll Qaeda… you know our brave, stoic home-grown weapon toting militias? How heartbroken they must be after all these years of playing paintball in the woods while awaiting patiently the arrival of a real American man to take charge.
If there’s one thing Ya’ll Qaeda hates more than blacks, Jews, Muslims and Indians its “them dang commies”. In Trump, they thought at last they had found a secure red white and blue from which to wave their childish patriotism only now to learn that in his world of transcendent greed, flags are for the silly, anthems for the broke… multi-nationals are where it’s at. For loopy true believers, it just can’t get any worse. Can it be that nationalism is just another word for nothing left to lose?
Not to fear, in rides the secular left to save the day. To some degree confused, if not lost, over Syria and Assad and what’s going on there and why… many among it see Putin coming to the rescue as so much a grand unselfish gesture to help rid us of the dread Islamists while, at the same time, punishing their “Deep State”sponsors at the CIA. You know… two for the price of one… Satan and his creation.
To some, a political or ethical challenge to Putin is the ultimate breach of faith, a dark sacrilege… an unforgivable ideological slap at the timeless purity of the Internationale reborn in the selfless shape of Vladimir Putin. Breaking news: Today, “Ten Days that Shook the World” is known not as a primer of revolution but rather an eco- chronology of recent earth quakes.
Some things just don’t change. Sadly, identity politics are one.
Not a day goes by without hearing activists and journalists trivialize legitimate concern about whether, or to what extent, entanglements between some Russian leaders or oligarchs and their US counterparts have crossed the line into, perhaps, serious breaches of American domestic law… the kind of criminal violations that send thousands of working women and men to US federal prisons every year.
Often reduced to mere “anti-Russian hysteria” or “political theater” the apologia appears to suggest that investigation of any Russian “criminal” misstep becomes a “dangerous distraction from wars and budget cuts.” In its best light, this argument is not only illogical in its reach, but openly welcomes, indeed, endorses a double standard of domestic criminal law… one for the powerful and another for the rest.
Campaign rhetoric aside, by now it should be painfully clear that this is an administration that finds it every bit as profitable to wage war abroad with guns as it does to attack butter at home. Given its unmistakable commitment to military aggression and domestic oppression, it beggars the imagination that efforts to hold it accountable to law or show it the door, somehow empowers, rather than slows, its destructive march.
Indeed, the notion that an investigation into, possibly, the penultimate marriage of white collar crime and political corruption will somehow “distract” Congress from pursuing its other responsibilities is not just plain silly but credits both sides of the aisle with meaningful interests in the “people” that have long since lain dormant throughout its marble halls.
On the other hand, I guess the Department of Justice, FBI, and a half dozen other federal agencies involved in this investigation are just too busy chasing Russians to permit their prosecutors and investigators to join in demonstrations and raucous town hall meetings that are growing daily throughout this country. Talk about a conspiracy to maintain the deep state.
Indeed, elsewhere the double standard embraced on core domestic and international issues concerning civil liberties and human rights is, of late, often dramatic in its hypocrisy.
These days, it’s obvious many in the Russian camp are pleased with its defense of the Assad regime. Putting aside the long debated issue of whether his aim is gallant and selfless or invasive and colonial, Putin’s fans seem so enrapt with his role, as to give him a free pass wherever the Russian tri-color can be seen to fly. Of course his temporary and, for now, politically convenient asylum for Edward Snowden surely adds to his growing mystique.
Yet, there is very much a dark side to Vladimir Putin, the former KGB commander turned billionaire oligarch and, apparently, President for life that not only rejects the disguise of the shadows but seemingly exalts in the sunlight clear for us all to see.
While the political detention of Pussy Riot seemed, to some, to be but an aberrant moment where orthodoxy overcame common sense and free speech, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Today there are dozens of political prisoners, young and old, in Russia. They include journalists, opposition leaders, anarchists, professors, librarians, students, artists, businessmen and women and retired military pensioners. Their charges run the gamut frompublic speech to organize a referendum for a “responsible government” to use of mass or electronic communication or social media to violations for holding rallies demonstrations and picketsto dissemination of politically offensive publications to acts of non-violent assembly to organizing protest marches to showing a “propaganda” film to “insulting” publicly a representative of the “authorities” to stocking “extremist” publications in a library toactions aimed at inciting “hatred or enmity” to membership in a banned organization.
How easy it seems for some to challenge US and Israeli war crimes at home and abroad yet conveniently overlook those, every bit as odious, that lay directly at the feet of Putin.
Can it be that headstones of Palestinians, Iraqis, Blacks, Latinos and North American Indians are carved with the hardened steel chisels of imperialism but those of Russian dissidents, or the political opposition in Chechnya and Ukraine, shaped with mere misfortune?
Are freedom of speech, assembly, and press essential cornerstones of liberty where suppressed only by those we abhor, while identical restrictions are a necessary prophylactic to ensure that those who speak words we like to hear live to talk another day?
Are the oligarchs of Russia to be respected as egalitarians with a wide healthy world view while those of Wall Street are to be dragged through the avenues of lower Manhattan as predators who have at last achieved their well deserved fate?
How many dissidents must die, disappear, or lose their balance and fall mysteriously from window sills in Moscow or “overdose” from rare poisons in foreign venues, before we brand the Russian Deep State every bit as pernicious and lawless as those we properly condemn?
Right about now, I can sense the discomfort of some as they read these words. Indeed, I can hear the rumblings of “Russia-phobia” or the whispers that these are the brand of words that will somehow invite war. Ultimately it’s so much denial and sheer diversion and not much more.
Principled resistance is just that. It demands of us that we apply consistent opposition to oppression and international lawlessness whether carried out by autocrats named Netanyahu, Trump, Putin or el-Sisi.
Ultimately, this time it really doesn’t matter. At day’s end, while Russia appears very much to be the 800 pound gorilla in our domestic china shop, the arrogance and greed of Trump’s administration, alone, is such that more than a few domestic politicians will likely be carted off to prison… or impeachment… while Putin and company remain largely untouched.
Should we expect the grand jury reach in this particular affair to extend as far as Russian, or other Far East oligarchs or politicians? Of course! Ultimately, when it comes to such investigations, from a practical standpoint, it matters little whether indictments translate into arrest or extradition when there are billions for the taking at stake.
Legend is the cases where charged defendants live out their days in obese comfort abroad while their property and bank accounts here and elsewhere are seized pursuant to civil forfeiture laws. If nothing else, white collar prosecutions often provide a sound economic basis by which to underwrite broad international investigations… whether charges ensue or arrests result.
Indeed, at literally the very moment the Obama Administration was moving towards a successful détente with Iran, his Justice Department was closing in on the civil forfeiture of billions of dollars worth of its property in New York City and elsewhere as so much an added bonus for the price of peace.
At day’s end, there is little doubt that we will see a recast of Clinton II. To be sure, expect FBI Director Comey to take to his favored press pedestal to chastise the Russian government for impermissible encroachment into the US electoral process… while announcing an insufficient basis to formally charge and seek Russian actors, political or otherwise.
Nevertheless, overt acts attributed to foreign players will, in this posture, not only serve as a latch to seize foreign fortunes within our reach but provide the requisite nexus between conduct with roots abroad and crimes committed at home in furtherance of an obvious and frantic cover-up.
Years ago, what began as an amateur burglary to ensure the election of a different kind of demagogue ended with the collapse of an entire administration. To expect the same today is not simply an exercise built of wild hope or exaggerated hyperbole. Indeed, with each passing day it appears the same result awaits us, albeit through a very different kind of 21st century break-in.
Watergate began with the trial and conviction of its five perpetrators and, eventually, their two handlers who were aides to the Nixon campaign. With the help of largely media driven investigations and the cooperation of participants who cut deals to save themselves, ultimately, it ended with the resignation of a US president as the first unindicted co-conspirator to ever occupy the oval office.
Not long thereafter some of his closest aides and advisors, including his former Campaign Manager turned Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, top domestic advisor, two White House Counsels and an Assistant Attorney General, went to prison for charges ranging from perjury to obstruction of justice to conspiracy; all related not to the underlying break in itself, but the desperate cover-up that ensued.
Decades later, the names and means may have changed but the pursuit of political power and personal profit remain every bit as enticing to politicians and profiteers worldwide. For some, history books are rich predictors of what may yet come based upon paths that have long since been traveled. To others, they are better used as paper weights than repositories of knowledge. Donald Trump is one such advocate.