Disinformation, DeFunding Of Public Education, The Conservative Movement... And War
Earlier we saw how Pennsylvania Republicans are accusing each other of disloyalty to America Mehmet Oz whining about David McCormick doing business in China and David McCormick about Dr. Oz's dual citizenship (and Muslim faith). But no one has brought up a much more sensitive subject of Republican disloyalty as far as I know: the GOP's reality to Vladimir Putin. The rot, of course starts with the head.
This morning, David Corn, writing for his newsletter, Our Land, looked at how Trump and his allies boost Putin's disinformation campaign. "As the Kremlin attempted to legitimize Vladimir Putin’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine," he wrote, "it generated the unsubstantiated allegation that the United States was involved with biolabs in Ukraine that were producing weapons that could threaten Russia. Fox host Tucker Carlson eagerly amplified the accusation, as did such conservative luminaries as Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. This was more than just own-the-libs trolling, for this propaganda boosts the Russian justification for its war on Ukraine and could even become a rationale for strikes on US targets. Remember when the US government argued that WMDs justified preemptive military action? It didn’t matter whether those WMDs actually existed." I first wrote about this a week ago when a brainwashed friend in Florida was running around like chicken without a head screaming about it-- and pointing to Comrade Tucker as the proof!
"What is with the right," asked Corn, "when it comes to promoting Russian talking points? Former Trump campaign mouthpiece A.J. Delgado inexplicably claimed that reports of Russian bombs hitting maternity wards and other civilian targets were 'probably bullshit.' That was what Moscow propagandists said. Another Trump fangirl, Candace Owens, declared that Ukraine wasn’t a real country and called President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a 'very bad character' who was involved in some plot with 'globalists' against 'the interests of his own people.'... This, too, echoed the Kremlin line. Rep. Madison Cawthorn called Zelenskyy a 'thug,' and his remarks were all over Russian state television. This noise from the right makes it tougher for the United States to have an honest debate about the vexing issue of the war in Ukraine. Which is what Putin wants. It also provides free content for Putin’s Big Lie machine in Russia."
Russian disinformation has dramatically affected US politics in the Trump and post-Trump eras. The most serious instance was Moscow’s attack on the 2016 campaign, which was mounted to help Trump win the White House. Though cyber experts and the US government fingered Moscow as responsible for the hack-and-leak operation that hampered Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, Putin and the Kremlin said Nyet, it wasn’t us. This fake news was embraced by Donald Trump and his minions who asserted there was no Russian intervention. As president, Trump even said he accepted Putin’s denial. Score that as a big win for Putin.
The Russia-Trump disinformation connection runs deeper. As my occasional co-author Michael Isikoff revealed in 2019, Russian intelligence cooked up a phony conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee employee who was murdered on a Washington, DC, street corner in July 2016. The SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, planted with a conspiracy website the false story that Rich had been gunned down by assassins working for Hillary Clinton. Subsequently, this untrue allegation morphed—with the help of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and American conspiracy-mongers-- into the more extensive conspiracy theory that Rich had been killed because he (not the Russians) had stolen the hacked emails from the Democrats. As Isikoff reported, “the Russian government-owned media organizations RT and Sputnik repeatedly played up stories that baselessly alleged that Rich, a relatively junior-level staffer, was the source of Democratic Party emails that had been leaked to WikiLeaks.”
Moscow’s goal was to purportedly show that Putin had not subverted the 2016 American election. And Trump allies in and outside the White House-- including Bannon, longtime Trump adviser and dirty trickster Roger Stone, and Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Trump-- pushed versions of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory. Let’s pause for a moment so that can sink in: Trump aides were peddling a loony conspiracy theory originated by Russian intelligence.
... During the congressional hearings in the fall of 2019 for Trump’s first impeachment-- which was precipitated by his phone call with Zelenskyy-- his House Republican defenders repeatedly referred to the allegation that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 contest, adopting this line to protect Trump and deflect from his wrongdoing. Fiona Hill, the former White House Russia expert, tried to shut this down when she testified, saying sternly, “Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did. This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
Her plea didn’t work. The Republicans kept at it-- and Trump did, too. The next day, he did exactly what Hill had cautioned against. In an interview with Fox, he prattled on about Ukraine covertly possessing the server: “A lot of it, they say, had to do they say, had to with Ukraine. It is very interesting, it is very interesting, they have the server from the DNC.” In September 2019, Russian state TV had said Trump should keep digging for “the sweetest” kompromat of all: “proving that Ukraine-- not Russia-- interfered in the US elections.” That’s what he was doing-- assisting a Russian disinformation campaign.
Russian intelligence has had a good winning streak in America in recent years. The 2016 attack. The Seth Rich smokescreen. The Ukraine-did-it operation. The latter served Moscow’s strategic interest of harming US-Ukraine relations. Putin’s spies and propagandists have a tougher task now that Russia is destroying cities and slaughtering civilians in Ukraine. But recent days have shown that on the right there’s still a strong market for Putin’s lies.
Yesterday was one of those days for Salon writer Chauncey DeVega who warned that despite all the polling and carefully crafted press statements The GOP love affair with Putin is worse than it looks. "If America were a healthy society," he wrote, "we would have an ongoing 'national conversation' about the peril the country experienced from Trump, his Republican-fascist allies and their movement-- danger that has only grown stronger. A healthy society would now ask: How can we prevent another Donald Trump, another fascistic, sadistic demagogue, from ever coming to power? What does it say about American society that Donald Trump and his cabal of coup plotters and other enemies of democracy and freedom have not been punished? That they are plotting in public how overthrow American democracy and return Trump to power without fear of punishment or other negative consequences? And that Trump still has many tens of millions of followers-- many of whom are potentially willing to engage in acts of violence, and perhaps even die, at his command? What does that say about a country and a people?... [Americans] have become desensitized to what not long ago would have been judged unconscionable."
The most recent YouGov poll for The Economist asked respondents if they consider Russia a friend of enemy. Among all reregistered voters (and Trump voters):
Ally- 1% (1%)
Friendly- 5% (3%)
Unfriendly- 23% (23%)
Enemy- 63% (68%)
Unsure- 8% (4%)
Even if their leaders aren't, Republican voters appear more in tune with moral Americans. YouGov then asked the same question about Ukraine. Again, among all reregistered voters (and Trump voters):
Ally- 29% (22%)
Friendly- 51% (61%)
Unfriendly- 5% (6%)
Enemy- 2% (2%)
Unsure- 13% (9%)
DeVega terms America "a pathocracy. The masses take their cues from corrupted elites. Malignant normality is the new normal. Political deviance has been normalized. The Age of Trump constantly offers further proof that a sick and broken society can accept just about anything, no matter how surreal and grotesque. Fascism thrives in such societies. But the poison could not have spread so quickly if the soil and foundations were not toxic to begin with. It is not adequate simply to say that Donald Trump idolizes authoritarians, demagogues, political strongmen and tyrants. The essential question must be this: Who are the specific objects of ideation and worship for Donald Trump, the other American neofascists and their followers?"
The most prominent example, of course, is Vladimir Putin. The American people and the world should not be swayed and bamboozled by the Republican Party and its propagandists, who are now trying to claim that they are diehard Cold Warriors, forever united against Putin and his aggression. The American people and the world should also not be seduced by superficial public opinion polls that purport to show that Republican voters are now vigorously anti-Putin and do not support his war against Ukraine.
Today's Republican voters and other Trumpists are part of a political cult. They follow, uncritically, whatever directives and various signals are sent to them by Donald Trump, Fox News, the white right-wing evangelical churches and the larger right-wing echo chamber.
Public opinion polls taken before the invasion of Ukraine show that Republicans view Vladimir Putin as a better leader than Joe Biden. That is no coincidence. It is publicly known that Putin and Russia's intelligence agencies have been engaged in a long-term influence campaign designed to manipulate (and manage) the Republican Party, its leaders, the right-wing news media and their public.
Putin is an authoritarian and a demagogue. He is anti-human, anti-freedom and anti-democracy. He stands against the future and human progress and pluralism. To many of his admirers in America and the West, he is a leader of "White Christianity." Putin has persecuted and imperiled the LGBTQ community, and is hostile to women's rights and women's equality. He kills and imprisons journalists, and is doing his best to silence free speech.
Most recently, Putin has indicated that criticism of his regime and the war in Ukraine will be viewed a type of thoughtcrime. He is using similar language to the Republican fascists and the larger white right in claiming victimhood and suggesting he has been "canceled" by elites.
Putin's Russia is a plutocracy and a kleptocracy controlled by an oligarchic elite of white men. He uses secret police and other enforcers to terrorize any person or group he deems to be the enemy. Republicans in the U.S., and many of their allies and followers, want to exercise that kind of power in America.
...In total, the Republican fascists and the larger "conservative movement" have shown themselves to be Putin's puppets.
To make matters even worse, Putin now imagines himself as a 21st-century version of Joseph Stalin.
To wit. In a speech on Wednesday, Putin denounced "national traitors" who are supposedly undermining the war on Ukraine, saying that "real" Russians will "always be able to distinguish true patriots from scum and traitors." This is the man so many of today's Republicans idolize. That should make clear how dangerous to American democracy and society they truly are.
The form of politics modeled by Vladimir Putin and his Stalinist dreams cannot be precisely replicated in America. As such, it is being massaged and reshaped by the Republican neofascists and their allies to assimilate more easily into American political culture. But it is no exaggeration to suggest that those forces are engaged in a Stalinist revolutionary struggle against American democracy; their tactics, strategies and goals are that extreme.
For many reasons, this moment has brought renewed interest in George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984... [which] was meant as a direct rebuttal to both Stalinism and Nazism.
The American people have been repeatedly warned about the dangers represented by the Republican fascists and the Trump movement. The past is prologue-- but it does not have to be. The American people can choose to learn the lessons of the past about how democracies succumb to fascism and authoritarianism and act accordingly, or they can continue to insist, against all available evidence, that such evils only bloom elsewhere and cannot possibly happen here.
But democracy must be an active choice. Indifference and passivity are sure to destroy it. What choice will the American people make?
The choice? Trying to put food on their families' table in a maddeningly toxic capitalist system takes all the energy most people have. And... all these cutbacks over years and decades that conservatives have administered against public education? It's paying off now. At least paying off for Putin and the Putin wing of the Republican Party.
Well, at least some members of Congress will get richer because of the Russian invasion and mayhem in Ukraine. One thing I can guarantee, none of the congressional war profiteers will recuse themselves from voting on weapons expenditures that benefit companies whose stock they own and no member of Congress will be indicted-- let alone tried and imprisoned-- as a war profiteer (or anything else). Last week, Military.com named the ones who should be, noting that "Some members of Congress stand to personally profit off Russia's war on Ukraine. At least 18 federal lawmakers or their spouses hold stock in Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, which manufacture the weapons Western allies are sending Ukraine to fight Russian invaders, according to an Insider analysis of federal financial records. The stock holdings by members of Congress come as the U.S. is preparing to send billions of dollars in defense aid to Ukraine. Both companies' stock-- especially that of Lockheed Martin-- have risen since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24... Among those investing in the defense contractors is Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who bought between $1,001 and $15,000 in Lockheed Martin shares on February 22. Two days after her purchase, Greene wrote in a Twitter thread: 'War is big business to our leaders.'"
Other criminals in Congress enriching themselves with weapons company stock include Diana Harshbarger (R-TN), Lois Frankel (D-FL), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Cindy Axne (D-IA), Kevin Hern (R-OK), Fred Upton (R-MI), Steve Cohen (D-TN), John Curtis (R-UT), David Price (D-NC), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).