After the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian interference with the U.S. election, I had to renew my press credentials and took the elevator down to the private subway that runs beneath the Capitol. As the train approached and the glass doors opened, I imagined a shirtless Alex Jones screaming that this subway is evidence of the Deep State.
Whatever role Russia, the actual country, played in Trump’s election, “Russia” is now the battlefield in which our conspiracy theories play out.
I. Revising Recent History
As I was whisked beneath the halls of government, shortly after FBI Director James Comey confirmed that the bureau was investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, White House press secretary Sean Spicer demonstrated that even if the regime did not have ties to Putin, it had thoroughly absorbed his techniques.
“General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign,” he said. And Paul Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
Flynn played a prominent role in the campaign and served as the administration’s national security adviser until he resigned because of a failure to disclose meetings with a Russian ambassador. Manafort was the campaign chairman until Trump fired him when his connections to pro-Russian Ukrainian interests became a burden on the campaign. These facts are indisputable, and yet Spicer disregarded them. In the days since then, the Associated Press has revealed that Manafort once signed a $10 millionper-year deal with a Russian oligarch to help improve the image of the Putin regime in America.
Long before Putin, Stalin made a habit of revising history. Trotsky was erased from the revolution entirely. How far can they go with Manafort?
II. Palace Intrigue and Putin’s Polonium
“Donald Trump will resign ‘soon’, says top Democrat Dianne Feinstein,” an Independent headline reads. She actually said, of allegations that Trump has violated various laws: “We have a lot of people looking into this, technical people. I think he’s going to get himself out.”
Who knows what she actually means by “get himself out,” but plenty of people seem to be possessed of this idea that Trump is going to go down soon.
This seems unlikely. Trump escalates. He does not de-escalate.
Others think that Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet will use the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to boot Trump from office. No way. The deplorables would see it as a coup and fight. The left would see a fatal weakness. The GOP would lose virtually every race they run.
Now if Pence could maintain the support of the deplorables, unite the country behind him, and crack down on dissent? If Pence were Putin, polonium would be his best bet. We are not that far gone yet.
III. The Impeachment Punchline
“Get ready for impeachment,” California congresswoman Maxine Waters tweeted last week.
The House Republicans will never impeach Trump. They are too deeply tied to him. Their party would be forever destroyed. Instead, they’ll escalate.
California congressman Devin Nunes—who chairs the House committee investigating Russia—worked on the Trump transition team. After the hearing, he told Mother Jones’s David Corn that he had never heard of longtime Trump lackey and Roger Stone or shady upstart adviser Carter Page, both of whom are under investigation for their ties to Russia.
Then, two days later, Nunes held a press conference. “I have seen intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored,” Nunes said. “It looks to me like it was all legally collected, but it was essentially a lot of information on the president-elect and his transition team and what they were doing.”
Nunes was seemingly the only person the information was shared with—although he shared news of its existence with the press and the White House before sharing it with the committee he heads. When asked about his impartiality, Nunes said: “I’m not worried about that. I’m the chairman of the intelligence committee. It concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this and he needs to be able to see those reports.”
“All of us are in the dark, and that makes what the chairman did today all the more extraordinary,” ranking Democrat Adam Schiff said, questioning the committee’s ability to continue the investigation and calling for an independent investigator.
The darkness favors Trump’s conspiracies. The far right interpreted Nunes’s claim as proof that Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower.
IV. Fake News and the Chaos Machine
The authoritarian chaos machine uses each scandal to its advantage. Immediately after the election, when a slew of stories examined the role that “fake news” played in the campaign, it looked bad for Trump. Then, during his first press conference as presidentelect, Trump screamed “You are fake news!” at CNN’s Jim Acosta.
Trump and his allies are almost the only ones using the phrase now—and they use it solely in reference to legitimate news outlets.
This is what scares me the most about “Russia.” When it looked like Trump was going to lose the election, he declared it was rigged. That was the best thing he could possibly have said if he were, hypothetically, in the process of stealing the election. Stalin regularly accused his enemies of the very things he was doing. In Trump’s case, it would have forced his opponent’s supporters to blindly vouch for the election system, so that any subsequent charges of it actually being rigged could be called sour grapes.
In the intelligence committee hearing, Comey said that Russia will be back in 2020, and that looks like pretty good ammo for Trump. If he loses the election, he could say it was compromised by the Russians and cancel its results—the most Putinesque move possible.
The subway stopped, the doors opened, and I reemerged from underground, weighed down with Dostoyevskian dread.