Saturday Night Live had a really funny ha-ha joke the other night. Making fun of Trump’s whiny tweet asking “Are we living in Nazi Germany?” the funny ha-ha SNL news guy said brightly: “Of course not! At least Nazi Germany had the guts to take on Russia!”
You see how really ha-ha funny that is? Sure, more than 25 million people died as a result of this display of “guts,” and sure, the Holocaust was greatly accelerated by the invasion, which brought millions of more victims within its evil purview, and yeah, OK, it was an act of naked, insane aggression that had as its explicit aim the murder (directly and by starvation) of 40 to 50 million Jews and Slavs — but Hitler sure gave it to those Russkies, right? Trump could learn from that example, right? See how ha-ha funny that is?
Especially from the funny ha-ha folks at SNL — who paid Trump to be the host of their show while he was conducting the most racist, hateful political campaign in modern American history. They normalized his hatred, they gave him a national platform to show he was an all-right guy with a sense of humor, no big threat, no big deal. They normalized him, lionized him, helped him reach millions of people who pay little attention to the news. Now, of course, they’re “leading the resistance” with “cutting-edge comedy” — Alec Baldwin puckering his lips and fawning on a shirtless Putin — and with really funny ha-ha stuff like saying Trump should totally be more like that gutsy Hitler guy and "take on Russia."
Meanwhile, Trump and his minions and the Congressional extremists are already rolling back every law and regulation they can lay their hands on in a slavering frenzy to poison the earth, remove all restrictions on corporate rapine, strip millions of health care, roll back decades of hard-fought civil rights advances, double the military budget and build a Berlin Wall on the Mexican border. It’s a full-bore Barbarossa on the wellbeing and common good of the American people (and the world) — but who cares about that? According to the funny ha-ha guys at SNL — and practically the entire Democratic Party and the so-called liberal media — what Trump should really be doing is “taking on Russia.” And if he does that — what? Will none of the other things matter? Will that make him “legitimate” in John Lewis’ eyes?
Of course, Trump’s bashing of Lewis was ignorant and racist and sinister and wrong. But look at the reality. Trump won the presidency because of a years-long, systematic, all-out vote suppression crusade by Republicans, aimed directly at African-American voters. It is not even debatable that hundreds of thousands of African-Americans across the country were locked out of voting by the GOP-passed laws — including in the crucial swing states. But that didn’t make Trump illegitimate in Lewis’s eyes. Trump’s victory was also due to the convoluted, anti-democratic Electoral College system set up in the 18th century to mollify the demands of slave-owners. But that didn’t make Trump illegitimate in Lewis’s eyes. Trump’s sickening racist campaign didn’t make him illegitimate in Lewis’s eyes. Trump’s egregious corruption didn’t make him illegitimate in Lewis’s eyes.
No, the one thing that roused John Lewis to anger and caused him to declare that Trump is illegitimate is the fact that US intelligence services have released reports alleging that Russia may have been involved in hacking emails which, by revealing the truth about collusion and vote-rigging in the Democratic primary, made the Clinton campaign look bad. That’s the only thing that makes Trump illegitimate in Lewis’ eyes. These are, of course, the same intelligence services that hounded Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. for years; the same ones that supplied the lies for Bush to “take on Saddam” like Hitler did Russia with a war of aggression; the same agencies that were caught lying about hacking the United States Senate a couple of years ago trying to quash a report on CIA atrocities.
But now we must implicitly believe them. We must pick up the sword they have given us, and we must have the “guts” to “take on Russia” — just like Nazi Germany did. We are told this in serious tones by serious people like Obama’s CIA chief John Brennan — the same John Brennan who played a key role in cooking intelligence about Saddam’s non-existent WMD program. He was instrumental in a process that led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in a hellish spiral of death and chaos that is still going on today. But we must believe this man now — this proven liar, this dishonest dealer, this warmongering spy. We must believe when he tells us that we have to “take on Russia.”
But of course, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So in addition to the very serious words of very serious serial liars like John Brennan, we also get the same message — “Take on Russia! Take on Russia! Take on Russia!” — in more easy-peasy palatable forms, through venues like the funny ha-ha crew at Saturday Night Live. Take on Russia — just like the Nazis did! Ha ha! Hee hee! Sure, we helped normalize Trump by putting him our hip cool funny ha-ha TV show — but look at us now, sticking it to the Man, leading the Revolution and, yes, above all, “taking on Russia”!
I don’t like Putin. I didn’t like Putin when George Bush was looking into his soul and embracing him as a partner. I didn’t like Putin when a Kremlin-connected bank gave Bill Clinton $500,000 for a single speech after he helped Russia gain a huge share of the American uranium market. (This was direct payment of “Russian gold”, straight into the pockets of a man whose wife was the head of U.S. foreign policy at the time. Is this not at least as questionable as Trump’s unsuccessful feelers for Russian business deals? And does this direct Russian monetary influence make Clinton’s former presidency “illegitimate” in Lewis’s eyes? I’m guessing not.) I don’t like Putin today. But I don’t think I have ever seen such a full-scale, all-out demonization and “Othering” campaign like the one going on now, not just against Putin and his loathsome regime, but Russia and Russians in general. Not even the run-up to the Iraq War was so blatant and blunt and racist. At least in the public propaganda, the Iraqi people themselves weren’t demonized, but depicted as victims of a tyrant. (Of course, we know what the Dick Cheney-led oil-grabbers REALLY thought of the filthy Arabs sitting on oil that God meant for fat white guys from Wyoming.) But more and more we see the stance, the assumption, that the worthless Russian people deserve whatever’s coming to them for supporting Putin. (Oddly enough, one sees the same take in “liberal” circles about U.S. regions that voted for Trump: “those people” deserve whatever they get, they’re scum, they deserve to die.)
Where is all this headed? Does it begin with funny ha-ha jokes about invading Russia like Hitler did — and end with actually invading Russia like Hitler did? What is it that our newly converted CIA liberals and New McCarthyite progressives really want? War with Russia? On what grounds? Do they really think Russia is going to invade Poland? (It was the other guy who did that, remember — the new hero of the funny ha-ha SNL guys.) Do they want nuclear war over Crimea — while they happily do business with Tibet-gobbling China (whose regime is actually more repressive than Putin’s)? Everything in this broad-ranging anti-Russian campaign sounds and feels like the run-up to the Iraq War (as Patrick Cockburn points out). So is that the ultimate aim — war? Is this what our good liberals and progressives are signing up for? Will they be laughing all the way to the fall-out shelter? “At least we took on Russia, ha ha ha ha!”
Yes, let’s have an investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the election. Let’s throw in the alleged meddling by Ukraine too. We might also look at alleged meddling by Israel, South Korea, Turkey (that perennial back-door meddler and buyer of congressfolk), by Taiwan, Saudi Arabia (which gave millions of dollars to the family foundation of one of the candidates who wasn’t named Trump) and any other nation whose covert operators might have been plying their trade to influence events in 2016 (as they do in every election). I would be very happy if nefarious Trump connections were found. I'd be happy to see him be the first president ousted for treasonous pre-election dealings — especially after presidents like Nixon and Reagan (the treacherous “October Surprise” that the CIA chief turned VP candidate G.H.W. Bush negotiated for him with the Iranians) got away with their treason.
But let’s also, for God’s sake, look at the real reasons why Trump’s presidency is illegitimate. Let’s focus on the real damage he is actually doing and will do. Let’s have genuinely open investigations of any foreign meddling — while we also have a full-blown Church Committee-like probe into America’s incessant and pervasive meddling and rigging of elections all over the world, year in, year out, decade after decade. (Including the mass-murdering “regime change” interventions which could be seen as somewhat worse than hacking the emails of political hacks.)
Of course, I’m falling into an old journalism trope here. I’m saying “Let’s do this, let’s do that” — offering some positive alternatives after a negative analysis — when I know that none of this will be done. The Democrats will continue to believe that they are as pure as the driven snow, and that their CIA-fed demonization campaign against Russia is nothing like Bush's bad old CIA-fed demonization campaign against Iraq. Their McCarthyism — which sees Kremlin agents behind everything, including anti-fracking campaigns and the Occupy movement and skeptical analyses of CIA reports — is nothing like the bad old McCarthyism that saw Kremlin agents behind everything. Like John Lewis, they will continue to be incensed by an alleged email hacking while sidelining actual, factual, real-life, in-your-face evils like voter suppression and the ravages awaiting from the Exxon-Goldman Sachs-Christian Nationalists Trump has loosed upon the nation.
They won’t look at the evils done in their progressive name by the progressive president they now mourn. They won’t look at Yemen, Libya, Honduras, or how their champion became the greatest arms dealer in the history of the world, or how he deported more than 2 million people (including thousands of children fleeing the coup regime he and Hillary Clinton backed in Honduras). They won’t look at how he saved the gilded wreckers of the economy and let millions of ordinary people lose their homes. They won’t remember the reports in the New York Times where Obama admitted that he allowed ISIS to grow in order to meddle in the electoral process in Iraq and get another government there more to his liking. They won’t remember the NYT story outlining — in hushed, reverent tones — the death squad that Obama personally ran in the White House, meeting weekly with security chiefs to finalize death lists of people to be assassinated that week — without trial, without defense, without warning. They won’t recall Obama’s approval of “signature strikes,” allowing numerous operators “in the field” to kill unknown people — not even named “terrorist suspects” — if they are spotted, by drones, carrying out “suspicious behavior” … like putting shovels in a truck. They won’t recall the brutal neoliberalism of his trade policies, his Stasi-like expansion of the surveillance system, his unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers, his cowardly protection of CIA torturers.
They won’t look at any of this, they won’t remember any of it, they won’t learn a damn thing from it. They will spend the next four years railing about Russia (and, ha ha, trying to get Trump to “take on Russia” like Hitler did, ha ha hee hee) while fighting like hell to get back to the system that gave us all the horrors named above.
Trump’s rise has proven once and for all that that that system is broken. Something different is going to take its place. It could be Trumpism — it could be something even worse. Or it could be something better. It would be nice to think that our Democrats and liberals and progressives and enlightened media types would leap wholeheartedly into an effort to build this better system on the blasted, rotten ruins of the old one, instead of trying frantically to resurrect it in its worst aspects. But, laying aside old tropes, I don’t think they will. There is much that could be done, but I don’t think they’ll do it.
I would be happy to be proved wrong, of course. I find few encouraging signs among the generations now in ascendance — but I do see a fire and an openness to genuine change in some of the younger generations, including my children. If we can hold on until it’s their time, if we can shore up enough fragments against the ruins until they can shape the world, there might be hope. We owe them that.