Echoes Past and Future: Helsinki Goon Show Masks the Real Rot That Bedevils Us

“There’s the cue: an echo from the future…”
Boris Pasternak, “Hamlet,” from Doctor Zhivago

I.
It’s true Trump behaved like a chump and a lackey with Putin during their press conference on Monday. But if Don really has done a deal with Vlad — as opposed to, say, simply acting out his deeply disturbed need to be stroked by tough-guy daddy figures who have killed people — then Trump has also treated the Russian leader the same way he’s treated everyone he’s ever made a deal with: he’s cheated him. Putin has gotten very little of real substance from Trump’s presidency so far, and as Jeffrey St. Clair has pointed out, the political fallout from the bizarro goon show in Helsinki will probably make it even less likely that Moscow will wring any concessions out of Washington in the near future.

For even after the fawning cringefest today, this is still the situation: No sanctions against Russia have been lifted. Trump is forcefully insisting that NATO spend even more money on troops, weapons and vast war games along the Russian border. The annexation of Crimea has not been recognized. Ukraine is now receiving deadly weaponry from the United States — a move Obama had blocked — and this strengthens Ukraine’s hand and gives it hope of militarily defeating the Russian-backed forces in the breakaway regions, which would be a major humiliation for Putin. It certainly makes any negotiated settlement in which Putin’s favorites might wring a partial victory more unlikely.

So despite the swagger of the little face-lifted man as he deftly held court with the lumbering, spray-tanned goober at his side, Putin still faces more heat on his western border, more heat on his southern border, continuing sanctions hobbling his economy and no approval of his Crimea annexation. 

II.
That’s not to say that Putin has got nothing at all from Trump’s presidency. It’s just that most of the benefits have not come from Trump, but from his opponents. The obsessive focus on Russian meddling in the 2016 election has led the “Resistance” to paint Putin as an all-powerful, superhuman force, able to control world events with a crook of his finger and the tweak of a tweet: an image that does wonders for his domestic political standing. 

Not only is Vlad able to control the minds of 63 million American voters, he has also been able to transform lifelong liberal stalwarts into full-blown reactionaries. Instead of focusing on, say, the relentless, murderous brutality being dealt out to the African-American community by America’s hyper-militarized police forces, the "Resistance" launches scarifying screeds about evil Russkies “seeking to divide us” by running reports about Black Lives Matter on RT or Twitter. They send reporters to the parents of murdered children and demand they be scandalized because some putatively Russian-connected account has retweeted stories about their horrific loss. The actual police murders are marginalized — if not obliterated — by the heinous fact that the “wrong” people are talking about them.

We see this process also in the truly astonishing embrace of America’s “security apparat” by liberals and progressives. Institutions like the FBI and CIA  — which have engaged in demonstrably criminal, deliberately deceptive and deeply immoral activities for decades on end — are praised to the skies and defended as noble truth-tellers and defenders of democracy. Despite the fact that our apparatchiks have played key roles in launching unjust wars of aggression, in stoking fear with self-created “terrorist” plots, in torturing and caging innocent people, in destroying wedding parties and family gatherings with drones, in operating death squads around the world, in infiltrating peaceful groups in order to subvert and control American political life, in imposing surveillance regimes on the population that outstrip the dreams of the Stasi and the KGB in their reach and depth over almost every aspect of our lives … despite the fact that our liberals and progressives have seen all these things happen — just within this century alone — they now give instant, unquestioning credibility to whatever assertion these deeply stained agencies make. 

What’s more, they condemn anyone who expresses even a scintilla of reluctance to treat the security apparatchiks as dispensers of Holy Writ. Someone who says, “Wow, I hope all these charges against Trump and his gang are true — I’d love to see them all go down in flames — but I think it’s always prudent to be somewhat cautious about simply taking the (usually anonymous) word of these agencies, who have lied to us so brazenly so many times, at face value” will be immediately attacked as a Trump-loving, Putin-loving neofascist in the pay of the Kremlin. This accusation is also beginning to be applied to almost anyone who criticizes any disturbing feature of American life or foreign policy. “Why are you helping the Russians spread discontent and dissension among our people by talking about police murders and pipeline protests or FBI entrapment, or dissing our now-sacred CIA for its own incessant meddling in the sovereignty and political processes of countries all over the world?”

III.
This is a very old strain in American political life: the Russkies are always undermining us from within. Russia can’t even pave all of its own roads, but it has somehow always possessed the magical power to control the minds and behaviour of countless Americans, through various forms of mass deception: The loose morals of Hollywood movies and the degenerate jungle sounds of jazz. (Henry Ford spent a fortune pushing square dancing as a wholesome, white alternative to the demonic temptations of Negro jazz.) The primitive rhythms and rebellious attitudes of rock and roll music, destroying the moral fiber of our youth. The Civil Rights movement stirring up our good, obedient colored folk and causing race riots. Feminazis and queers attacking the very foundation of civilization: the heterosexual patriarchal family. The draft-dodgers and hippies protesting our crusade to bring democracy to Southeast Asia. The anti-nuke protestors trying to disarm us in the face of first-strike Commie aggression.

In all of this — and much more besides — we have seen the Russians blamed for either directly creating or constantly stoking “disunity and dissension” among what would otherwise be a happy, satisfied, unified American populace. Of course, down through the decades our liberals and progressives have rightly denounced and ridiculed such notions. Whatever “special measures” the Kremlin did or didn’t take in any reform movement or societal change (and or course, it had nothing to do with most of them in any way), this did not vitiate the native authenticity and legitimacy of the cause itself. (Just as the CIA’s extensive involvement in disseminating Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago did not strip that novel of its inherent moral and literary integrity.)

But now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we have seen a vast sea change. The very people who had long rejected such a primitive idea of social and political upheaval (“Yeah, right, Goldwater, the universal human yearning for civil rights comes straight from the Kremlin basement!”) have now embraced it with a vengeance. Trump — and Trumpism — and the hardcore 30-40% of Americans who support the brutal, thieving, racist bastard — have been brought to power solely by the machinations of a handful of Russians under the direction of Vladimir Putin, the evil master-fixer of the age. 

This is what liberals and progressives now tell us. It’s not because of deep, foundational flaws in the American system. (Such as, for example, the Electoral College, devised by 18th century slaveowners to keep ordinary Americans from electing their leader; or the overwhelming, corrosive power of Big Money over both main parties; or the insanely immoral war-profiteering machine that has utterly devoured the American state and its foreign policy, etc.) No; it’s just the Russians. If we can just magically undo what they did in 2016 with their tweets and YouTube videos, everything will be back to “normal.” And anyone who questions, in any way, the actions of the security apparat in protecting us from these Russian machinations is either a dupe or a traitor. I’ve been following American politics since Goldwater’s run in 1964, and I’ve never seen such a huge, disheartening reversal in all those years as what we’re witnessing now among so many liberals and progressives.

IV.
I’ve said from day one of Trump’s vile presidency that there are dozens (if not more) straightforward criminal actions and connections that could and should lead to his impeachment and removal. Whole books have been written about his mob ties and extensive corruption in his business deals. However, I’ve also said, and still say, that if even the most tenuous collusion with Putin can be found (much less a substantial one), I’ll be overjoyed to see him go down. (Just as people were happy to see Al Capone finally locked up on tax evasion charges, instead the manifold murders and crimes he was guilty of.) 

So if what it takes to get rid of him (and his whole crime family) is a dubious “pee tape” or an email saying, “Thanks, Vlad, I owe ya one, buddy” — instead of one of the many ways Trump embodies the deep rot at the core of our system — well, that’s fine with me. But when he’s gone, the rot will remain. The same rot that led Barack Obama to partner with Saudi Arabia in one of the most ghastly atrocities of this ghastly century — the murderous slaughter in Yemen. (Still ongoing under Trump today.) The same rot that saw Obama signing off on death lists in his office every Tuesday of “suspects” (including American citizens) to be murdered without charges, trial or warning. The same rot that saw Hillary Clinton exulting with laughter at the rape and murder of a foreign leader after his country had fallen to radical extremists and slave-dealers. The same rot that led Obama to go to the CIA (yes, the now-holy agency) in the first days of his presidency and tell them that none of them would ever be prosecuted for brutally torturing people under Bush. The same rot that saw our progressive politicians bail out the frauds who had destroyed the global economy while letting millions of people go under. The same rot that saw the progressive president wildly accelerate the militarization of city police forces begun under his war criminal predecessor, George Bush. The same rot that has seen our bipartisan neoliberal elite working hand in hand to destroy the middle class, the working class and the poor in favor of the super-rich. The same rot that sees the US spending ever-increasing amounts of public money on out-of-control, world-spanning military adventurism while the lives, opportunities and the infrastructure of ordinary American citizens literally fall to pieces. 

Get rid of Trump — hell, get rid of the loathsome Putin — and all of that rot will still be here. And if we don’t deal with that — as well as dealing with Trump — then nothing will really change. And something even worse than the spray-tanned abomination will almost certainly be coming down the line.