“Those who complain murderously about the New York Times ought to be shot.” I’m stuck on that old line of George Trow’s, which amps up my fear of undercutting real news organizations in the Age of Trump. Yet I’m going take a risk by criticizing one of those institutions, The New Yorker, even though, just this week, it sponsored good work on the Trump beat by reporter Adam Davidson (Here’s a link to his account of Trump family dealings in Azerbaijan with gangster financiers tied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.) The week before that, though, The New Yorker published a 13,000 word cover story on Russia and Trump (bylined by three writers, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick) that had a hole near the heart of it. What’s missing matters, I believe, because the piece is likely to serve as something close to a definitive historical record for many citizens trying to keep up with the story of Trump’s Russia connections.
The second section of the piece provides a timeline of the Obama’s administration’s cautious response to the Russian hacks, which the authors claim “embittered Clinton’s inner circle.” But this account leaves out a moment that may turn out to be a key one for Clintonistas and all Americans trying think through the new meaning of treason. Last September Obama sent the heads of his intelligence agencies to a down low meeting with a bipartisan group of 12 legislators. He hoped his pros would be able to convince those pols to go public with the truth about Russia’s effort to trash Hillary’s campaign. But Mitch McConnell not only refused to let Americans know a foreign power was attempting to subvert our election before the vote, he insisted that if the Obama administration did so, “he would tell the American people this was just partisan politics.” Per Michael Tomasky: “McConnell was interested only in party, not at all in country. That’s not treason, but it sure isn’t patriotism.” The MAGA era is a target-rich time for journalists investigating bad actors, but the media of record shouldn’t let Mitch skip.
There’s another important lacunae in The New Yorker piece. The authors note Putin is now regarded by his Russian minions as “the leader…of the conservative part of both European and American society.” What’s missing from the article is clarity about how Putin came to be seen as a “lion of Christianity” by family values voters over here. That story is told in an important Politico piece,“How Russia Became a Leader of the Worldwide Christian Right, by Casey Michel, which was published early last month.
I invoked Michel’s piece in this First post on Russia and Trump since it helped explain how so many American evangelicals came to ride the Trump train. My post was based chiefly on Malcolm Nance’s quickie book (published before the election), The Plot to Hack America. It’s possible The New Yorker’s summative account now beats Nance’s first take on the hacks. Nothing in The New Yorker piece about Putin’s political and personal animus toward Hillary, though, is more revelatory than The Plot‘s explication of this exchange between the mysognyist and the former Madam Secretary:
In March 2014, former Secretary of State Clinton gave a speech at the Boys and Girls Club annual fundraiser where she compared Putin’s actions seizing Crimea to the actions of Hitler and the Nazi Party:
“Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did in the ‘30s…All the Germans that were…the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places. Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”
Putin responded to these comments on French TV on March 4th, 2014:
“It’s better not to argue with women…But Ms. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements. Still, we always met afterward and had cordial conversations at various international events. I think even in this case we could reach an agreement. When people push boundaries too far, it’s not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman.”
Clinton was having none of it…:
“He is very difficult to read personally…He is always looking for advantage. So he will try to put you ill at ease. He will even throw an insult your way. He will look bored and dismissive. He’ll do all of that.
I have a lot of experience with people acting like that…Go back to elementary school. I’ve seen all of that, so I’m not impressed by it.”
Putin’s contempt for Clinton wasn’t far gone from his disdain for Obama (who has been derided as a “eunuch” by Putin’s propagandists). But those who lick up after Wikileaks often exaggerate differences between Clinton and Obama on this score. Glenn Greenwald, for example, has claimed Clinton and Obama were at odds over America’s strategic response to Putin’s provocations until they agreed to agree in order to defame Wikileaks and blame Russia for the Democrats’ defeat. He goes there again in his take on The New Yorker’s account of the Russian hacks, insisting it confirms the “leading accommodationist of Putin was named Barack Obama, and in that, he had a radically different approach than Clinton advocated.” Don’t be bamboozled. The New Yorker quotes echt Obamaites, Benjamin Rhodes and Samantha Power, whose comments confirm the Obama Administration recognized Putin crossed a…red line when he chose to invade Crimea. Cold War 2.0 began when America, the E.U., Canada (and eventually, other democracies like Japan, Norway, Iceland and Australia) responded to that breach of the liberal world order by putting in place a range of economic sanctions on Russia’s kleptocracy. If that sounds like nothing more than biz as usual, consider Wikipedia’s estimate that standing up to Russia cost E.U. countries €100 billion. As a complement to Hillary’s call and response with Putin—and one final forget you to Greenwald—let me end with Joe Biden’s 2014 nod to his boss’s Russia policy in the wake of the annexation of Crimea (per Wikipedia):
US Vice President Joe Biden said that “It was America’s leadership and the president of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs” and added that “And the results have been massive capital flight from Russia, a virtual freeze on foreign direct investment, a ruble at an all-time low against the dollar, and the Russian economy teetering on the brink of recession. We don’t want Russia to collapse. We want Russia to succeed. But Putin has to make a choice. These asymmetrical advances on another country cannot be tolerated. The international system will collapse if they are.”
Only a liar would claim Obama had proved to be the “leading accommodationist to Putin.” (FWIW, America’s new Secretary of Sate seems likely to compete with Trump as accommodator-in-chief—sanctions cost Rex Tillerson’s old firm one billion dollars.)