Many leftists regard the scandal that Donald Trump calls a “witch hunt” as a distraction from the real issues that confront the United States and the rest of the world: poverty, racism, climate change, exploitation, immigration, and more. Others argue that renewed hostility toward Russia could provoke a new Cold War at a time when Putin’s government is a crucial player in international conflicts like Syria, where millions have either died or fled. Still others contend that the United States has intervened in elections in other nations too. And some on the left simply point to polls that show that “Russiagate,” obsessed over by the pundits on MSNBC and CNN, actually concerns only a small minority of voters.
Here are five reasons why we should care—and, perhaps, how we might persuade others to care too.
- Russian hackers, under the command of their government, produced a slew of negative stories about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. We will never know if those stories switched enough popular votes (fewer than 80,000) to swing the critical three states that usually vote Democratic (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) to Trump. But the question ought to concern anyone who truly cares about an open and honest electoral process, which Republicans have long been subverting in mostly legal ways. Yes, Clinton was a wretched candidate who ran an atrocious campaign. But, absent Russian subversion, she may well have won.
- Of course, U.S. officials have financed parties in other nations (Japan and Italy after the Second World War) and helped overthrow elected ones whose politics they didn’t like (Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Chile, and others). Those past transgressions should make us all the more determined to find out how the Russians sought to sabotage our election—and support and publicize the work of Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors. Immoral equivalence demands a moral response, not a cynical shrug.
Putin’s government is the most prominent and powerful member of a growing coalition of reactionary nationalist regimes in Europe (and elsewhere, like Turkey and the Philippines). They strongly oppose values that the democratic left holds dear: civil liberties, cultural and religious pluralism, an open door to refugees, international pacts to combat climate change, and a welfare state. Under Putin, Russia has helped finance the National Front in France and possibly the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom—and endorsed the right-wing governments in Hungary and Austria and now Italy, which is anchored by a virulently anti-immigrant party.
A more competent, less compromised president than Trump might find ways to work with Putin’s government to advance humanitarian ends. But no leftist should trust the Russian leader’s words or deeds. Putin aided Trump’s campaign not just because he viewed Hillary Clinton as an adversary; he and the president share the same abhorrent world view.
- Trump has attacked the existence and credibility of the Russia investigation from the start, even though a Republican deputy attorney general initiated and oversees it. The president is clearly obstructing a process enacted to punish chief executives who break the law. Untrammeled presidents led the nation into the bloody debacle in Indochina and the disastrous invasion of Iraq. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned after he was caught on tape plotting the obstruction of the Watergate investigation. We condemn lawless tyrants in other nations; we should be even more alarmed when we have one in the White House.
- The Republicans who control Congress continue to support and praise Trump—and attack the Mueller investigation—because they need him to enact all the terrible changes they want to make in the nation, from degrading the environment to destroying unions and outlawing abortion. If he were compelled to leave office in disgrace, Mike Pence, Trump’s most unctuous and faithful lackey, would find it difficult, if not impossible, to hold a fractured party together.
As David Klion writes in the Nation: “Russiagate isn’t just the narrow story of a few corrupt officials. It isn’t even the story of a corrupt president. It’s the story of a corrupt political party, the one currently holding all the levers of power in Washington.”
To uncover proof of Trump’s misdeeds would throw this corrupt party on the defensive and potentially destroy its chances of holding the House, perhaps the Senate, and the presidency. And as long as Republicans run the government, it will be impossible to advance the goal of creating the kind of society we care about.
Michael Kazin is co-editor of Dissent.