The Collusion Delusion


I’ve always remained sceptical of the claims of conspiracies between Trump and Putin. It’s not because I’m a fan of Trump’s (and definitely not Putin’s). And it’s certainly not because I thought such scenarios were necessarily far-fetched in our recent political history, where fact is not only often stranger than fiction but also much more ridiculous; if anything, one could almost imagine a cartoon character like Trump being involved in a cartoon affair like this. No, it was mostly the fact that for the past three years, and despite the best effort of the almost entire political class, the security apparatus and the media, the claims, each more outlandish than the previous, stubbornly remained just that – claims. Perhaps if no one was able to produce any smoking guns, there were no smoking guns – or any guns at all.

The Mueller Report should be the death knell of the #Russiagate. But it won’t be, because far too many people have invested too much in the narrative to now admit that maybe, just maybe, they have let their hatred for Trump and the desire to “get him” get way ahead of the facts.

As, Glenn Greenwald, one of the notably few left-wing commentators to have remained untouched by the hysteria and conspiracy-mongering of the past three years (the other being Matt Taibbi) summed it up:

Certain facts will never go away no matter how much denial they embrace. The sweeping Mueller investigation ended with zero indictments of zero Americans for conspiring with Russia over the 2016 election. Both Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner – the key participants in the Trump Tower meeting – testified for hours and hours yet were never charged for perjury, lying or obstruction, even though Mueller proved how easily he would indict anyone who lied as part of the investigation. And this massive investigation simply did not establish any of the conspiracy theories that huge parts of the Democratic Party, the intelligence community and the U.S. media spent years encouraging the public to believe.

Those responsible for this can refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing. They can even claim vindication if they want and will likely be cheered for doing so.

But the contempt in which the media and political class is held by so much of the U.S. population – undoubtedly a leading factor that led to Trump’s election in the first place – will only continue to grow as a result, and deservedly so. People know they were scammed, that their politics was drowned for years by a hoax. And none of that will go away no matter how insulated media and political elites in Washington, northern Virginia, Brooklyn, and large West Coast cities keep themselves, and thus hear only in-group affirmation while blocking out all of that well-earned scorn. [Emphasis in the original]

So where do we stand and what do we really know now?

Were there foreign attempts to interfere with the 2016 Presidential election? Yes, by Russia and probably by other state and non-state actors, whose interests lied in stirring the pot and creating general political conflict and dissension in the United States. This interference consisted of anything from social media campaigns to attempt to hack the electronic voting infrastructure (which is another argument to ditch the computers and return to paper ballots, as I have argued before).

Was the election “hacked” as Trump’s enemies originally claimed? There is no evidence that any cyber attacks were successful in falsifying the voting tallies and there is also preciously little evidence that online trolling by the now proverbial “Russian bots” really swayed the stupid and impressionable public to vote for Trump. But the interference certainly has been successful beyond Putin’s or anyone else’s wildest dreams in that it has created a political climate of hysteria and deep polarisation, where half of the country ended up believing that their President is at best a traitor and at worst a foreign agent, leading to a near complete delegitimisation of the electoral and political system as well as the previously trusted public institutions and somewhat less trusted mainstream media. So, (little) money well spent, comrades.

Was there a collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians to sway the election Don’s way. Nope.

Was Trump happy to see Hillary suffer as a possible result of Russia’s interference? Yes. But as Greenwald reminds us, the Democrats were actually employing people to work with Ukraine and Russia to dig for dirt on Trump.

Was Trump ever in Putin’s pocket? Nope. Some of Trump’s actions over the years might be seen as favourable to Russia’s interests, most aren’t (from arming Ukraine and Eastern European NATO members, through working towards Europe’s energy independence from Russia, to clashing with Putin in a number of areas like Syria, Iran and Venezuela). Trump might have some unsavoury political instincts (including the seeming soft spot for overseas strongmen) but there is no evidence they have been influenced by the Kremlin.

Did Trump try to obstruct the Mueller investigation? He almost certainly wanted to but never did in the end. This not an indication of guilt on the collusion charges but the evidence of a not unreasonable belief on the part of Trump that the Democrats would do anything and use every mean at their disposal to get him one way or another. A better man would perhaps remain more stoic in the face of what Trump has always described as a witch hunt, but Trump is Trump.

Was Trump exonerated? Not in all regards, but do bear in mind the effective reversal of the onus of proof here and the technical and logical impossibility of proving the negative. “Insufficient evidence” is something that public prosecutors have to deal with regularly and it obviously determines their decision not to initiate court proceedings. There is nothing stopping you, the outside observer, from believing that the prosecutors got it wrong or the suspect got lucky, but unless you can do one better and actually point to some new evidence, your persistence and the unshakeability of your own convictions does nothing to advance the matter any further. Believing might be seeing but it’s not a substitute for proof.

Who are the losers out of the whole saga? Everyone. None of Trump’s opponents think any better of him and none of Trump’s supporters think any differently about his opponents. The right is probably justified in thinking that a lot of people in high positions abused their powers in order to derail Trump’s candidacy and then his presidency and is certainly justified in thinking that a lot of people in positions of influence, including politicians and the media, have behaved with extreme bias and prejudice.

Has anyone learned anything? The left, like the proverbial French Bourbons, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. The right has had its instincts and suspicions confirmed. The public has learned that pretty much nothing they have been told the past few years was true. Only America’s enemies have by now surely realised just how easy it is to paralyse the superpower and make it tear itself apart. The Russiagate debacle does not have any spies but it has plenty of useful idiots.