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Thoughts on Russiagate

February 24, 2018

So the Russiagate campaign turned up a click in intensity this past week.

As a defensive strategy for the Democratic party, it has some merits

1. Creates an atmosphere of patriotic and pro-democracy motivation that will translate into get-out-the-vote in 2018, maybe thru 2020

2. Is a superior alternative to certain other more divisive storylines

2a. vs the Trump-Admin-Is-Racist angle. (Factual merit, but utterly ineffective rhetoric- unfortunately this is not dark humor, you really can’t go up to any sizable group of people and throw an accusations of racism in their face. has never worked. From a political tactics point of view, abandoning the “White Working Class” angle is probably the smartest part of Russiagate).

2b. vs the Trump-Admin-are-corporate-plutocrats angle. (alienates key players in the business community, undermines the critical fundraising game)

2c. vs the Trump-Admin-is-plainly-militarist angle. (unclear motivational value for get-out-the-vote, would put the Democatic party on an obstacle-laden path to a disruptive shift in policy positions)

3. Russiagate has pretty good institutional support from national-security (argument-from-authority)

4. Presents a more appealing explanation of 2016’s political patterns

5. Russiagate presents a plausible path towards putting pressure on leftist voters to vote for centrist candidates. Candidates, who in normal circumstances, would not enjoy left wing support due to trickle-down-corporatist or pro-war policy positions.

 

In my opinion, Russiagate also has some distinct drawbacks for Democrats.

1. Focuses on the person of Trump, vs the Republican party as a whole

1a. Gives Republicans the option of “calling the Democrats’ bluff”, by

1a1. ditching Trump and going with Pence or Romney in 2020.

1a2. appropriating anti-Russia rhetoric (as effectively happened with “fake news”)

1b. Of major national Democrats and Republicans (i.e., excl. Sanders), Pence now has the highest net approve-disapprove rating (over Schumer and Pelosi?)

1c. Sacrifices opportunity for positive development of a Democratic leader, or Democratic party position.

1c1. related – repeats a primal mistake of the 2016 election- by repeating your opponents name, again and again, his presence drowns out your own.

2. Displaces most discussion of policy, leaving the door open for the Tump Administration to quietly pursue the Republican party agenda

3. Cultivates negative personality/thought patterns in Democratic voter base

3a. base motivations. the Russiagate strategy, if one were to use a derogatory term, is a form of fear-mongering.

3b. in certain contexts, encourages “low-information” voting by attempting to discredit critical examination and counterarguments. This pattern has traditionally favored Republicans, appropriating it may be risky.

4. Legitimizes flag-waving / very primitive forms of national pride. Again, this is traditionally a home-field of the Republican game. Democratic party strategists take it there at own risk.

5. Cultivates alliance of convenience with a fundamentally conservative group of
law-enforcement / national-security institutions.

5a. Such an alliance is unlikely to pay off for Democrats, unless they alter party positions on social issues to the point of becoming unrecognizable.

5b. The alliance of convenience extends only as far as the person of Trump himself – See point 1 above. It most clearly does not extend to the Republican party as a whole.

5c. As a side effect of seeking out this alliance of convenience, we now have increased bipartisan support in congress for granting further power to national security agencies. There is also de-facto public and media support for inviting national security agencies to become involved in US political processes. If there was ever a double-edged sword, this is it.

5d. Democrats are putting their political fortunes in the hands of agencies reporting to their avowed political enemy, and having a long history of being their ideological opposite. It is a horrifying gambit if Democrats fail to win the internal power struggle…    This is why 5c above is a bad idea.

6. Russiagate is vulnerable to broad criticisms, difficult to defend outside of preaching-to-the-choir

6a. double-standard / hypocrisy (multiple dimensions)

6a1- deceptive marketing in US elections by the good guys

6a2- foreign involvement in US elections by the good guys

6a3- US interest in foreign elections in which we

6a3a- engage in deceptive practices (with good motivations)
6a3b- support right wing candidates (with good motivations)
6a3c- support violent destabilization (with good motivations)

6b. exaggeration of facts / rumor-mongering in the media presentation

6b1. changing details over time / boy-who-cried-wolf pattern

7. Burns / Fails to rebuild the position of the news media as an impartial reporter of facts, in the eyes of independents

7a. essentially, FOX-news-ification of Democratic-allied media. I am so deeply disappointed in this.

8. Presumes a lack of intelligence among American voters

8a. That Republican voters were swayed by overt propaganda

8b. That Democratic voters will be swayed by overt presentation of media designed to instill fear.

8c. Recall that unintentional displays of contempt or condescension towards “middle american” voters backfired in 2016

 

I think the drawbacks dominate, especially in the medium-long term. So what should one do about it? It reached enough critical mass that it is

1. socially punishable to voice doubts about “Russian Meddling” at this point.

2. presenting any facts in contradiction to the story actually provoke a small crisis in your interlocutor, putting them in an uncomfortable position at best, or more likely making them feel like they have to defend the worldview to which they are committed.

 

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