It Wasn't A Hoax. It Was Media Overkill.
Parsing the truths in the "collusion" narrative
I’ll try not to take David Frum’s new piece on the Russia-Trump connection too personally, especially now that I’ve spent the week off-Twitter, chilling in the English countryside where I grew up, and generally unwinding with my family. And this isn’t a full-on Weekly Dish, because of Thanksgiving.
But a few thoughts. I agree with almost everything David writes — which he does with his usual concision and pellucidity. There is no question that Trump had countless conflicts of interest in Russia, with his Moscow hotel plans high among them, and had been money laundering for Russian oligarchs for years. No question that he was absolutely willing to accept Russia’s — or any country’s — illicit support, and no doubt he actually asked for it. I saw him do it, on national television, in the campaign. We all did.
The Russians also tried to corrupt the election through online shenanigans; and Manafort’s delivery of polling data to Moscow was deeply shifty. And everyone lied about almost everything. There’s equally no doubt that Trump obstructed justice in trying to stymie the Russia investigation. Again, he told us so on television. More pertinently, people have been prosecuted and gone to jail for their misdeeds in this whole miasma of near-treasonous sleaze.
But this was not what the MSM tried to sell us from the get-go. What they and the Democrats argued — with endless, breathless, high-drama reporting — was that there was some kind of plot between Trump and Russia to rig the election and it had succeeded. Investigating this was hugely important because it could expose near-treason and instantly remove Trump from power via impeachment. This was the dream to cope with the nightmare.
So we were always on the brink of discovering some document, or phone call, or testimony that would represent the equivalent of the Nixon tapes, and prove that Clinton was cheated of her rightful destiny, and erase 2016 in a flash. Night after night after night, cable news was obsessed with what they hoped would be their Watergate moment. Some cable stars — Rachel Maddow prime among them — pushed this high drama, with ever more thunderous melodrama and ever more pathetic evidence, speculating and assuming that the president of the United States was secretly controlled by the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.
This. Was. Bullshit. And countless hacks pushed it and pushed it — especially the Steele Dossier, which was published by Ben Smith, and pee-lieved by Jon Chait, neither of whom will cop to any misjudgments, let alone apologize. The US Congress authorized an all-star prosecution team, with near-limitless subpoena power, to get to the bottom of it, and it turned out, after two years of exhaustive investigation, there wasn’t that much of a bottom, at least with respect to a “conspiracy” or “collusion.”
So David now moves the goalposts to “cooperation.” What’s with all these progressively less culpable c-words? But who wouldn’t have Trump “cooperated” with to get elected? He was an all-round huckster, with no ethics, no sense of propriety, and essentially a thug, who got a boner watching human beings being crushed by tanks in Tiananmen Square. And do we have any evidence ever of Trump having the brains, the discretion, the attention to minute detail, or the competent staffing that would have been needed to pull off such a scheme? Please.
Then there is the question: what did Putin get in return? Here’s Frum’s summary:
scoffing at NATO support for Estonia, denigrating allies such as Germany, and endorsing Britain’s exit from the European Union.
That’s it? Frum is asking us to believe that Trump would have been an enthusiast for Article 5 for Estonia, embraced Angela Merkel, and repeated Obama’s support for UK EU membership — except for Putin’s control of him. But every single one of those policies was completely consonant with Trump’s own views and campaign, regardless of any alleged leverage from Putin: NATO as a mooch, and the EU as anti-American.
And Trump loved Putin. Of course he did. Putin is Trump’s idea of a real leader: a mob boss, made powerful by oil and gas, swaggering around in a personality cult, killing foes, taking names. The idea that Trump had to be blackmailed into supporting him is quite simply unhinged.
And Trump’s actual policies with respect to Russia? Despite his crush on Vlad, Trump signed new sanctions against Russia into law in August 2017; he withdrew from the INF Treaty, citing Russian violations; he launched a cyber counter-attack against Russia; and warned Germany that the Nordstrom pipeline would make them vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Yet the ex-neocons and Clinton-cronies who became deranged on this question still think Putin somehow shadily controlled Trump by some yet-to-be discovered scheme. Do they think Putin is a fool?
One other thing. The minute Trump was elected president in a stunning upset, he was accused of rigging the election in league with a foreign power. How else could he have won?, wondered the entire press corps who had assumed Clinton was a shoo-in. And so they basically accused a new president of treason and illegitimacy — and kept that narrative going for years. For good measure, they printed an entirely unverified dossier, originating with Democrats, just because it was full of juicy anecdotes, and people were talking about it. They talked endlessly of the president being peed on by prostitutes to compromise him — when they had zero evidence to back it up.
And you wonder why Trump’s supporters dug in? If your candidate came from behind in one of the most riveting campaigns in modern history — and then was instantly greeted by media accusations that it was all due to his treasonous conspiracy with Putin — wouldn’t you feel ticked off? Wouldn’t you even feel that the media was the enemy and would never give Trump any benefit of any doubt? Polarization goes both ways.
As for Trump? The man is a deranged crank incapable of admitting any mistake or flaw, an instinctual paranoid liar and dangerous bully ... and the press began his term accusing him essentially of treason. Well, that was going to go down swimmingly, wasn’t it? Of course he was going to deny everything, obstruct everything, and dig in — even when he didn’t have to. Of course he was going to lie about everything. In what field of endeavor does Trump not lie about everything? And many of us took this pathological narcissism as an admission of guilt.
Again, this doesn’t mean Trump isn’t capable of inviting foreign support (proven), delighting in it (proven), entertaining it (proven), and hoping his friends would get it done. All of this was true and worth reporting and investigating very thoroughly, as we did. And, yes, January 6 revealed beyond any doubt that Trump was exactly the tyrant many of us feared.
But the Russia hype was media over-reach of massive proportions, over-hyping and always under-whelming, fueled by tribal passion, fed by the media’s embarrassment for its 2016 coverage, and an understandable panic that led to a total loss of perspective. The whale was pursued most intensely by Never Trumpers swiftly merging with the liberal establishment and Clintonites who couldn’t absorb that their candidate was one of the worst in modern history.
I’ve said this before and I will say this again, although so many of you still refuse to accept it. The reason Trump became president was due to many, many factors. But if you had to single out one person responsible for it, it was not Vladimir Putin. It was Hillary Clinton. And a lot of the Russia overkill was a way of avoiding that central, uncomfortable truth.
Buy “Out "On A Limb” As A Gift!
It’s Black Friday — why not give a friend, or family member, or fellow Dishhead my collection of essays, “Out On A Limb”? It’s a kind of history of the last 32 years through the eyes of one writer. And it’s dedicated to you, the Dish reader:
From the reviews:
“[These] essays don’t just communicate his thoughts, they communicate his heart. . . . Even his most passionate arguments are thoughtfully delivered, deeply rooted in his philosophy and faith. . . . When I reached the end of his book, I felt a sense of gratitude. . . . For 32 years a thoughtful man has demonstrated the courage of his convictions and challenged his readers time and again. . . . Read Out on a Limb for the snapshots of recent history. Read it to better understand the many journeys of one of America’s most important public intellectuals. But most of all read this book to see what it looks like when a thoughtful man tries his best to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.” —David French, New York Times
“A thrilling intellectual romp through the last 30 years of political and cultural debate . . . [Sullivan] is a writer in the tradition of Samuel Johnson, bringing all available faculties—intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual—to bear in his work.” —American Conservative
“The most important writer during the Trump era.” —Joe Scarborough
“I hear echoes of arguments that Andrew Sullivan, and often Andrew Sullivan alone, was making thirty years ago in almost every conversation and argument I’ve had about gay marriage in the last ten years. There’s no other issue and no other writer where the connection between things I read as a teenager and lines I hear today is as clear and direct and obvious. And if that isn’t evidence of distinctive, far-reaching influence then I don’t know what is.” —Ross Douthat, The New York Times
Buy it here.
New On The Dishcast: Michael O’Loughlin
Many of you will recall the horrendous way in which the Catholic Church hierarchy responded to the AIDS crisis. Many blamed homosexual sex and refused to endorse condoms for heterosexuals. It was extremely hard for me to hang in there in this period, and I had to take months away from Mass after various appalling statements. It was a time when I first experienced the love of God and the intimacy of Jesus in contrast to the church that claimed to represent Him on earth.
But it was not the only story. On the ground, many lay Catholics, priests and nuns defied the hierarchy and came to the aid of the young and sick and dying. Michael O’Loughlin, another gay Catholic, has written a history book, “Hidden Mercy,” about this other story. We talked faith, sex, disease, and redemption.
For two clips of our conversation — on the nuns and priests who fought AIDS in spite of the Catholic leadership, and on how gay Catholics have wrestled with their faith — head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here. That link also takes you to several dissents and assents over my conversation with Dominic Cummings.
Boris Is Bombing
It’s been a pretty terrible week for Boris Johnson here in Blighty. He gave a complete mess of a speech to the Confederation of British Industry, where he lost his way in the pile of papers he had in front of him, and tried to rescue himself with a riff on Peppa The Pig, a British cartoon character, and the theme parks in her honor. In Prime Minister’s Questions Time in the Commons, he got a big roar of support from his side, and rallied them with his usual bluster, but the fact that he obviously couldn’t answer opposition leader Keir Starmer’s somewhat damning questions was glaringly obvious.
This follows some huge cock-ups, as the Brits would say. He tried to defend a sleazy conservative MP, for no apparent reason. Two major initiatives, designed to win over Northern and former Labour voters, also hit the skids. He decided to trim back the major new fast-train service to connect Northern cities to the South; and he also adjusted a scheme to help the elderly pay for homecare visits without having to sell their homes. The way he amended it ended up helping the very rich; and punished those whose houses were worth less. Both policies cost money, and are net-pluses politically. But the sudden cutbacks only further the impression that Boris’s promises are worth almost nothing, as anyone who has ever personally dealt with him knows only too well. When he isn’t lying, he’s bullshitting.
The newspapers were full of obvious off-the-record dissent not only from Conservative MPs, but from his own cabinet, frustrated by Boris’ chaotic governing style. His current 77 seat majority was cut to 26 in the vote earlier this week on elderly homecare. And the general sense, among Tory friends, is that he is adrift, without a clear strategy, and without anyone in Number 10 with the authority to direct and guide him, apart from his wife, Carrie Symonds, who was responsible for kicking out Dominic Cummings.
Unguided Boris is a constant improvisation; and I have to say I found both his CBI and recent Tory Party Conference speeches shambolic. Is he really still scrambling at the last minute to do what any serious pol would meticulously prepare for? Is his laziness beginning to show itself outside the crisis atmosphere of Brexit and Covid?
Starmer still has a personality problem, in as much as he doesn’t seem to have one. But he’s competent, decent, and a skillful forensic debater. And Boris’ skills could turn into huge liabilities, just as they have given him massive boosts. When a prime minister charting a whole new post-Brexit future for Britain seems unserious, lazy, or resorts to jokes when he needs arguments, the public could quickly turn on him, with his own party among the first to take him on. It’s nowhere near that now. But you can glimpse how this could unravel if he doesn’t shape up.
In the Spectator, the former editor Charles Moore, a pillar of Establishment conservative opinion, wrote today about the Peppa the Pig anecdote:
In a little-noticed aside in his speech, [Johnson] did complain that Daddy Pig is “a bit stereotypical”. This is true. Daddy Pig is a friendly fellow, but slightly fat and slovenly, considered ‘silly’ by his children. His besetting vice (e.g. saying he will hang a picture on the wall or rescue a kite from a tree) is that he over-promises but under-delivers.
This week is a shortened Thanksgiving Dish. I needed to spend some downtime time with my family, whom I haven’t seen since Covid and my dad’s death. Bodenner is also with his family, after an intense year of getting The Weekly Dish up to cruising altitude. I want to thank him for being completely indispensable and also a wonderful human being; and I want to thank you for your continued support.
We now send the Dish to over 105,000 readers every Friday and to almost 19,000 paying subscribers. Gratitude doesn’t fully express how I feel. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do! The full Dish is much, much richer than the truncated free version.
We’ll see you, as usual, next Friday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.