“Donald Trump broke the brains of a lot of people.” That’s leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald, talking about the way conspiracy theories have occupied the media despite the absence of any actual evidence.
For over two years, the line among mainstream media, from The New York Times to Rachel Maddow, has been that President Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin’s stooge. It was suggested that the Russians “hacked” the election by penetrating voting machines. When that was exploded, we were told that they “hacked” the election by arranging for Wikileaks to release (truthful) emails about how the Democratic Party rigged its primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton to ensure that Bernie Sanders wouldn’t get the nomination. At some point, the narrative shifted to vaguer references to “collusion.”
It was all bogus. As Greenwald notes, Mueller’s report didn’t just reject the Trump-Russia conspiracy theories, it obliterated them. Not only was no one in Trump’s campaign charged with conspiring with the Russians, no American anywhere was so charged, nor did Mueller find evidence along those lines to support criminal charges.
That should put the whole collusion narrative to bed, but of course it hasn’t. After two years of what can fairly be described as mass hysteria afflicting a huge portion of our political class, the cognitive dissonance is painful. It would be amusing to watch, if the “broken brains” weren’t so widespread among the people who are supposed to be the sober managers and reporters of our society. It’s like a doomsday cult whose predicted apocalypse fails to appear on schedule: They just announce that they made a mathematical mistake, and doomsday will actually come next year. Then they ask for more donations. The trouble is, this time it’s a cult that’s running a significant part of our nation.
Trump is not subordinate to Russia
Even post-Mueller, the hysteria continues. Ralph Peters, on CNN, referred to President Trump as "slavishly subordinate” to Vladimir Putin. But that’s crazy. Trump has sanctioned Russia for its actions in Ukraine, Syria, and Iran, under his command the United States military killed hundreds of Russian mercenaries in Syria, has been sending weapons to Ukraine to resist Russian invasion, and most importantly has promoted U.S. oil production, crushing Russia’s main source of money and influence.
As Walter Russell Mead wrote in 2017:
If Trump were the Manchurian candidate that people keep wanting to believe that he is, here are some of the things he’d be doing:
► Limiting fracking as much as he possibly could
► Blocking oil and gas pipelines
► Opening negotiations for major nuclear arms reductions
► Cutting U.S. military spending
► Trying to tamp down tensions with Russia’s ally Iran
That Trump is planning to do precisely the opposite of these things may or may not be good policy for the United States, but anybody who thinks this is a Russia appeasement policy has been drinking way too much joy juice.
Obama actually did all of these things, and none of the liberal media now up in arms about Trump ever called Obama a Russian puppet; instead, they preferred to see a brave, farsighted and courageous statesman.
Back when Mitt Romney warned of Russian influence in 2012, Democrats — including the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman — were quick to mock him. She’s suddenly repented of her Romney mocking, now that Romney, instead of being a Republican candidate for president, is a Trump critic. Broken brain, indeed.
One of the great legacies of the Trump Administration is the extent to which it has revealed that huge swathes of our national establishment, in government, the media, and elsewhere, are both hopelessly partisan and frighteningly incompetent. Buckle up, because all the evidence is that the establishment hasn’t learned its lesson yet.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of "The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself," is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
Mueller cleared Trump — now get over it
It’s now been more than six weeks since special counsel Bob Mueller, the former FBI director, concluded his investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 election and delivered his findings to the Justice Department. It’s been two weeks since Attorney General William Barr made the 450-page report public. This investigation went on for two years. It’s finally over. Many Americans were waiting to see how their elected officials would respond.
With an exhaustive investigation complete, would the country finally unify to confront the real challenges before us? Would we finally be able to move on from partisan paralysis and breathless conspiracy theorizing? Or would we remain consumed by unhinged partisanship and keep dividing ourselves to the point that Putin and his agents need only stand on the sidelines and watch as their job is done for them?
Regrettably, the answer is pretty obvious. So that’s what I want to discuss this morning. Russia’s interference in American elections. The work of the special counsel and the attorney general. And how we can finally end this “Groundhog Day” spectacle, stop endlessly relitigating a 2¹/₂-year-old election result, and move forward for the American people.
Now, it bears remembering what this investigation was actually supposed to be about: Russian interference in 2016. For many of the president’s opponents, it quickly morphed into something else. A last hope that maybe they’d never have to come to terms with the American people’s choice of a president.
In some corners, special counsel Mueller came to be regarded as a kind of a secular saint, destined to rescue the country from the inconvenient truth that the American people actually elected Donald Trump. For two years, many of the president’s opponents seemed to be hoping the worst conspiracy theories were actually true. They seemed to be hoping for a national crisis for the sake of their own politics.
Now look, I will say it was at least heartening to see many of my Democratic colleagues and the media abruptly awaken to the dangers of Russian aggression. An awakening to the dangers of Russian aggression. Remember, not long ago, Democrats mocked Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney for warning about the dangers posed by Putin’s Russia. Remember President Obama’s quip in 2012 when then-Governor Romney emphasized his concerns with Russia? Here’s what President Obama said when Mitt Romney emphasized his concerns with Russia back in 2012. Direct quote: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.” That was President Obama in 2012.
Well, I think many of us now see that President Obama’s approach to Russia could have used some more of the 1980s in it. More Ronald Reagan and less Jimmy Carter. We’d have been better off if the Obama administration hadn’t swept Putin’s invasion and occupation of Georgia under the rug or looked away as Russia forced out western NGOs and cracked down on civil society.
If President Obama hadn’t let Assad trample his “red line” on Syria or embraced Putin’s fake deal on chemical weapons. If the Obama administration had responded firmly to Putin’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in 2014; to the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in 2015; and to Russia’s intervention in Syria.
Maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened. Maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn’t have seemed so very tempting. Instead, the previous administration sent the Kremlin the signal they could get away with almost anything. So is it surprising that we got the brazen interference detailed in special counsel Mueller’s report? A concerted effort to divide Americans through social- media campaigns. Hacking into the e-mail accounts and networks of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party.
Thanks to the investigation, we know more about these tactics. Thanks to the investigation, 13 Russian nationals, three Russian companies and 12 more Russian intelligence officers have been indicted. These are the people who really did seek to undermine our democracy.
Yet, curiously, many of our Democratic colleagues and most of the news media don’t really seem to care about that. New insight into defending America? Russian nationals indicted? Doesn’t seem to interest my colleagues across the aisle. No interest. Just like there’s been little interest in the steps this administration has taken to make Russia pay for its interference and strengthen America’s hand.
Election interference was just one part in Russia’s strategy to undercut the United States. And this administration has taken the problem head-on. We have a new, coherent national security strategy and national defense strategy that take this threat seriously.
We have new sanctions. We’ve provided Georgia and Ukraine weapons to better defend themselves — capabilities the previous administration denied our partners — now listen to this — out of fear of provoking Russia. We’ve worked against pipeline projects like Nord Stream 2 that would further expand Putin’s influence. We’re strengthening and reforming NATO so the alliance can present a united front. We proved Russia’s noncompliance with the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] and walked away from a treaty that Moscow had made into a sham.
And the Trump administration has, over Russian objections, twice enforced President Obama’s red line in Syria after Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
With respect to election security: Congress appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to state governments to shore up their systems. The administration increased information-sharing from the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the states. And according to press reports, the Department of Defense has expanded its capabilities and authorities to thwart cyber threats to our democracy.
No longer will we just hope Moscow respects our sovereignty; we will defend it. These are just a few examples. There’s already evidence they’re having an effect.
We just had the 2018 midterm elections. Thanks to this administration’s leadership, all 50 states and more than 1,400 local election jurisdictions focused on election security like never before. DHS provided resources to localities for better cybersecurity, and private social-media companies monitored their own platforms for foreign interference. Thanks to efforts across the federal government, in 2018, we were ready.
That clearly is progress. The Mueller report will help us. So will the upcoming report from the Select Committee on Intelligence. These threats and challenges are real. Our responsibility to strengthen America is serious. And it requires serious work.
But seriousness is not what we’ve seen from the Democratic Party in recent days. What we’ve seen is a meltdown. An inability to accept the bottom-line conclusion on Russian interference from the special counsel’s report: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”
That’s the conclusion. Two years of exhaustive investigation, and nothing to establish the fanciful conspiracy theory that Democratic politicians and TV talking heads had treated like a foregone conclusion. They told everyone there’d been a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Yet on this central question, the special counsel’s finding is clear: Case closed. Case closed.
This ought to be good news for everyone. But my Democratic colleagues seem to be publicly working through the five stages of grief.
The first stage is denial. Remember what happened when the attorney general released his preliminary letter describing the special counsel’s bottom-line legal conclusions? Denial. Immediately, totally baseless speculation that perhaps Attorney General Barr hadn’t quoted the report properly.
But then, comes stage two: anger. Welcome to Washington, DC, in recent days. The Democrats are angry. Angry that the facts disappointed them. Angry that our legal system will not magically undo the 2016 election for them.
And they’ve opted to channel all their partisan anger onto the attorney general. They seem to be angrier at Bill Barr for doing his job than they are at Vladimir Putin. This is a distinguished public servant whose career stretches back almost 50 years. He’s widely respected. Nobody claims he has any prior personal allegiance to this president.
And why are they angry? Did the attorney general fire the special counsel or force him to wind down prematurely? No. Did he sit on the Mueller report and keep it secret? No, he quickly reported out its bottom-line legal conclusions and then released as much as possible for the world to see. Did he use redactions to mislead the public? No. Working with the special counsel’s team, he released as much as possible within standard safeguards.
So it’s hard to see the source of this anger. Maybe my Democratic colleagues are thinking of some strange new kind of coverup — where you take the entire thing you’re supposedly covering up and post it on the Internet. The claims get more and more utterly absurd. Baseless accusations of perjury. Laughable threats of impeachment.
Look, we all know what’s going on here. This is the whole angry barrage that Democrats had prepared to unleash on President Trump. Except the facts let them down. And so the left has swung all those cannons around and fired them at the attorney general. Not for any legitimate reason. Just because he’s a convenient target.
So look, there’s this “outrage industrial complex” that spans from Capitol press conferences to cable news. They are grieving — grieving — that the national crisis they spent two years wishing for did not materialize. But for the rest of the country, this is good news. Bad news for the “outrage industrial complex,” but good news for the country.
So, now they’re slandering a distinguished public servant because the real world has disappointed them. Instead of taking a deep breath and coming back to reality, our colleagues across the aisle want to shoot the messenger and keep the perpetual outrage machine right on going. Even undermining the institution of the attorney general itself in the process.
Remember, Russia set out to sow discord. To create chaos in American politics and undermine confidence in our democracy. But, on that front, given the left’s total fixation on delegitimizing the president Americans chose and shooting any messenger who tells them inconvenient truths, I’m afraid the Russians hardly need to lift a finger. Well, the last stage of grief is acceptance. For the country’s sake, I hope my Democratic friends get there soon. There are serious issues the American people need us to tackle. There is more progress for middle-class families that we need to deliver.
For two years, the Democratic Party held out hope that the legal system would undo their loss in 2016. They refused to make peace with the American people’s choice. But the American people elected this president. They did. The American people voted for change. The American people sent us here to deliver results for their families. That’s what Republicans have been doing for the past two years and counting. It’s what Republicans will continue to do. And whenever our Democratic friends can regain their composure and come back to reality, we look forward to their help.