By Nicholas F. Benton
The on-going Russian intervention into the U.S. presidential election and White House operations goes way beyond just telephone communications, and its journalistic digging that has the best shot at rooting it out.
“A district judge cannot make immigration law for the United States, cannot give foreign nationals and foreign countries rights they do not have, and cannot prevent the president of the United States from suspending the admission of refugees from Syria.”
So intoned the stone-faced, dead-eyed senior Trump adviser Steven Miller on “Meet the Press” last Sunday. It was recited in the form of a stiff-armed diktat, with special emphasis on the word, “cannot,” each time. We’ve getting used to seeing in the last four weeks this kind of defiance from Trump and his minions to any check or balance, including from the courts, the legislature, the legitimate media and the intelligence community, to autocratic presidential fiat.
While, of course, this is a fiction in the real world, as Trump is finding out, it is the kind of rhetoric that feeds the addled perceptions of his “true believers,” and the important question is whether the ranks of those are growing or dwindling as a result of everything going on.
It’s evident that it’s been the likes of Miller – who appeared on no less than four talk shows last Sunday and was rewarded for his effort with a singular pat on the forehead by Trump – and Steve Bannon who’ve been driving the Trump White House. These “alternative right” figures are pulled from the “lunatic fringes” beyond the pale of democratic political normalcy to put anti-democratic radicalism in charge of the country.
Why would Donald Trump, a career business mogul, do this? Known as “Easy-D” most of his adult life because he never cared about anything but an easy buck and easy pleasures, why is Trump such a hard core ideological radical now?
The answer lies in Moscow. This operational behavior of the Trump White House is in the classic mode of the centuries-old oligarchic Russian autocracy now headed by Putin. They would be more subtle, with a hallow deference to democratic institutions, but frankly, they don’t know any other way.
This goes back to the early 1970s, when under Nixon, the Russians (then Soviets) were invited to invade the socio-cultural corridors of the U.S. to help quell, in the eyes of Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, the ferment of the civil rights and anti-war movements.
What a deal, they thought! Smash the “left” (what remained of it) and with it any residual vitality of the trade unions, smash independent inner city political machines (that is, by having the Russian mafia muscle out the older brands), and provide a new, robust phalanx of formerly leftist but re-purposed right wing cults to become the cutting edge of a new popular radicalism.
Trump was swept into this in the 1970s by his new Russian mafia masters, who used the threat of blackmail to offer him fame and fortune in exchange for his influence in corridors of power. He sold his soul, and quasi-friends like Roy Cohn had no choice but to go along. Trump has been a malleable stooge since.
(The definitive work of investigative journalism documenting all this at the time was by the late Village Voice writer Robert I. Friedman in his Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America. A close friend of a close friend of mine, Friedman reported that the FBI told him a red mafia hit had been put out on him, and he died mysteriously soon after in 2000 at age 51. I wrote more about this in my October 19, 2016 column published just prior to the November election, “Trump’s Role in a Russian Coup.”)
Getting to the bottom of this in the many ongoing and pending investigations will reveal that too much of the entire nation capitulated to a Russian brand of authoritarianism long before this past few months.
The implications of this for serious reflections on our culture will be more profound and important, in the long run, than kicking out Trump and his immediate Russian controllers.
By Nicholas F. Benton