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Will Russiagate Hysteria Lead to an American ‘Soft Coup’?
Posted on May 15, 2017
Where is Stanley Kubrick when we need him? If he hadn’t died in 1999, he would be the perfect director to transform today’s hysteria over Russia into a theater-of-the-absurd movie reprising his Cold War classic, “Dr. Strangelove,” which savagely satirized the madness of nuclear brinksmanship and the crazed ideology behind it.
To prove my point, The Washington Post on Thursday published a lengthy story entitled in the print editions “Alarm at Russian in White House” about a Russian photographer who was allowed into the Oval Office to photograph President Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The Post cited complaints from former U.S. intelligence officials who criticized the presence of the Russian photographer as “a potential security breach” because of “the danger that a listening device or other surveillance equipment could have been brought into the Oval Office while hidden in cameras or other electronics.”
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One could picture Boris and Natasha, the evil spies in the Bullwinkle cartoons, disguised as photographers slipping listening devices between the cushions of the sofas.
Or we could hear how Russians are again threatening to “impurify all of our precious bodily fluids,” as “Dr. Strangelove” character, Gen. Jack D. Ripper, warned us in the 1964 movie.
Watching that brilliant dark comedy again might actually be a good idea to remind us how crazy Americans can get when they’re pumped up with anti-Russian propaganda, as is happening again now.
Taking Down Trump
I realize that many Democrats, liberals and progressives hate Donald Trump so much that they believe that any pretext is justified in taking him down, even if that plays into the hands of the neoconservatives and other warmongers. Many people who detest Trump view Russiagate as the most likely path to achieve Trump’s impeachment, so this desirable end justifies whatever means.
Some people have told me that they even believe that it is the responsibility of the major news media, the law enforcement and intelligence communities, and members of Congress to engage in a “soft coup” against Trump – also known as a “constitutional coup” or “deep state coup” – for the “good of the country.”
The argument is that it sometimes falls to these establishment institutions to “correct” a mistake made by the American voters, in this case, the election of a largely unqualified individual as U.S. president. It is even viewed by some anti-Trump activists as a responsibility of “responsible” journalists, government officials and others to play this “guardian” role, to not simply “resist” Trump but to remove him.
There are obvious counter-arguments to this view, particularly that it makes something of a sham of American democracy. It also imposes on journalists a need to violate the ethical responsibility to provide objective reporting, not taking sides in political disputes.
But The New York Times and The Washington Post, in particular, have made it clear that they view Trump as a clear and present danger to the American system and thus have cast aside any pretense of neutrality.
The Times justifies its open hostility to the president as part of its duty to protect “the truth”; the Post has adopted a slogan aimed at Trump, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In other words, America’s two most influential political newspapers are effectively pushing for a “soft coup” under the guise of defending “democracy” and “truth.”
But the obvious problem with a “soft coup” is that America’s democratic process, as imperfect as it has been and still is, has held this diverse country together since 1788 with the notable exception of the Civil War.
If Americans believe that the Washington elites are removing an elected president – even one as buffoonish as Donald Trump – it could tear apart the fabric of national unity, which is already under extraordinary stress from intense partisanship.
That means that the “soft coup” would have to be carried out under the guise of a serious investigation into something grave enough to justify the president’s removal, a removal that could be accomplished by congressional impeachment, his forced resignation, or the application of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to judge a president incapable of continuing in office (although that could require two-thirds votes by both houses of Congress if the president fights the maneuver).
A Big Enough ‘Scandal’
That is where Russiagate comes in. The gauzy allegation that Trump and/or his advisers somehow colluded with Russian intelligence officials to rig the 2016 election would probably clear the threshold for an extreme action like removing a president.
And, given the determination of many key figures in the establishment to get rid of Trump, it should come as no surprise that no one seems to care that no actual government-verified evidence has been revealed publicly to support any of the Russiagate allegations.
There’s not even any public evidence from U.S. government agencies that Russia did “meddle” in the 2016 election or—even if Russia did slip Democratic emails to WikiLeaks (which WikiLeaks denies)—there has been zero evidence that the scheme resulted from collusion with Trump’s campaign.
The FBI has been investigating these suspicions for at least nine months, even reportedly securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Carter Page, an American whom Trump briefly claimed as a foreign policy adviser when Trump was under fire for not having any foreign policy advisers.
One of Page’s alleged offenses was that he gave a speech to an academic conference in Moscow in July 2016 that was mildly critical of how the U.S. treated countries from the former Soviet Union. He also once lived in Russia and met with a Russian diplomat who – apparently unbeknownst to Page – had been identified by the U.S. government as a Russian intelligence officer.
It appears that is enough, in these days of our New McCarthyism, to get an American put under a powerful counter-intelligence investigation.
The FBI and the Department of Justice also reportedly are including as part of the Russiagate investigation Trump’s stupid campaign joke calling on the Russians to help find the tens of thousands of emails that Hillary Clinton erased from the home server that she used while Secretary of State.
On July 27, 2016, Trump said, apparently in jest, “I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
The comment fit with Trump’s puckish, provocative and often tasteless sense of humor, but was seized on by Democrats as if it were a serious suggestion—as if anyone would use a news conference to seriously urge something like that. But it now appears that the FBI is grabbing at any straw that might support its investigation.
The (U.K.) Guardian reported this week that “Senior DoJ officials have declined to release the documents [about Trump’s comment] on grounds that such disclosure could ‘interfere with enforcement proceedings’. In a filing to a federal court in Washington DC, the DoJ states that ‘because of the existence of an active, ongoing investigation, the FBI anticipates that it will … withhold all records’.
“The statement suggests that Trump’s provocative comment last July is being seen by the FBI as relevant to its own ongoing investigation.”
The NYT’s Accusations
On Friday, in the wake of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and the President’s characterization of Russiagate as “a total hoax,” The New York Times reprised what it called “The Trump-Russia Nexus” in a lead editorial trying to make the case of some fire behind the smoke.
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