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“The evidence against Trump and Russia is huge and mounting every day,” declared liberal celebrity activist Rosie O’Donnell at a protest in front of the White House last week. “We see it, he can’t lie about it,” she added. “He is going down and so will all of his administration.”
“The charge is treason,” O’Donnell declared. Protesters held held large letters that spelled it out: “T-R-E-A-S-O-N.”
O’Donnell is by no means alone in her sentiments. Trump’s guilt in “Russiagate” is now assumed by much of the American left, and reaches greater levels of fervor with every passing day.
This kind of partisan religiosity is not new.
Coulter was confident and she wasn’t alone. Virtually the entire mainstream American right—from pundits like Coulter and Sean Hannity to President George W. Bush and the Republican Congress—was deeply invested in the notion that Hussein possessed WMDs and that the Iraq war was justified based on that unshakeable premise. This belief was so ingrained for so long that many excitedly rushed to pretend that chemical weapons discovered in Iraq as reported by the New York Times in 2014 were somehow the same thing as the “mushroom cloud” the Bush administration said Saddam was capable of.
Unfortunately for the right (and America, and the world), that premise turned out to be false. There were no WMDs. Today, only a minority of delusional, face-saving hawks and unreconstructed neoconservatives still parrot that lie.
And far from being “traitors,” Iraq war opponents today are considered to have been on the right side of history.
Now, “Russian collusion” could be becoming the new WMDs.
The post-2016 left’s most dominant narrative is arguably their deeply held belief—with all the ferocity and piety of yesterday’s pro-war conservatives—that Russia colluded with Trump’s campaign to undermine the presidential election. Many believe that the president and anyone who supports his diplomatic efforts like Senator Rand Paul are in the pocket of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But Trump-Russia relations have been spun into far-fetched conspiracy theories on the left. New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait recently went so far as to speculate that Trump has been a Russian agent since 1987, a cockamamie idea on par with the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes’ discredited conspiracy theory that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were in cahoots.
It really was plausible that Iraq had WMDs in 2003 based on what our intelligence agencies knew, or purported to know. Today, it is feasible that American democracy really has Putin’s fingerprints on it based on things revealed by U.S. intelligence.
But isn’t it also possible that the left is reading far too much into Russiagate?
The Nation’s Aaron Maté believes liberals are overreaching, and that’s putting it mildly:
From the outset, Russiagate proponents have exhibited a blind faith in the unverified claims of US government officials and other sources, most of them unnamed. The reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 12 Russian military-intelligence officers for hacking of Democratic party servers and voter databases is no exception. Mueller’s indictment is certainly detailed. Most significantly, it marks the first time anyone has been charged for offenses related to Russiagate’s underlying crime.
But while it is a major step forward in the investigation, we have yet to see the basis for the allegations that Mueller has lodged. As with any criminal case, from a petty offense to a cybercrime charge against a foreign government, a verdict cannot be formed in the absence of this evidence.
Then the irony kicks in. Maté continues, “The record of US intelligence, replete with lies and errors, underscores the need for caution. Mueller was a player in one of this century’s most disastrous follies when, in congressional testimony, he endorsed claims about Iraqi WMDs and warned that Saddam Hussein ‘may supply’ chemical and biological material to ‘terrorists.’”
Noting Mueller’s 2003 WMD testimony is not an attempt to undermine him or his investigation, something Maté also makes clear. But it does serve as an important reminder that “intelligence” can be flat-out wrong. It reminds us how these scenarios, which so much of Washington and the elite class fully endorse, can be looked back on as lapses of reason years later.
Mass psychology is real. Political classes and parties are not immune.
“Suppose, however, that all of the claims about Russian meddling turn out to be true,” Maté asks. “Hacking e-mails and voter databases is certainly a crime, and seeking to influence another country’s election can never be justified.”
He continues, “But the procession of elite voices falling over themselves to declare that stealing e-mails and running juvenile social-media ads amount to an ‘attack,’ even an ‘act of war,’ are escalating a panic when a sober assessment is what is most needed.”
The U.S. could have certainly used less hyperbole and more sobriety in 2002 and 2003.
With Russia, as with WMDs, left and right have elevated slivers of legitimate security concerns to the level of existential threat based mostly on their own partisanship. That kind of thinking has already proven to be dangerous.
We don’t know what evidence of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia might yet come forth, but it’s easy to see how, even if this narrative eventually falls flat, 15 years from now some liberals will still be clinging to Russiagate not as a matter of fact, but political identity. Russia-obsessed liberals, too, could end up on the wrong side of history.
No one can know the future. Republicans would be wise to prepare for new, potentially damaging information about Trump and Russia that may yet emerge.
Democrats should consider that Russiagate may be just as imaginary as Republicans’ Iraq fantasy.