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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 10-03-2018 12:15

The great Russian bogeyman

The reminder that for many decades the US has shown an active interest in other countries’ elections has been brushed off by the progressive establishment.

Ever since Donald Trump elbowed his way through the Republican primaries and then, to the dismay of rightthinking folk everywhere, got the electoral college to name him president, clever people have been trying to work out just how the fellow pulled it off. Feminists put it down to misogyny; males, especially the ones with pale pinkish skin, do not want to be bossed around by a woman, especially one as unlikeable as Hillary. That seemed fair enough, until it was pointed out that most white females voted for the beast, but their betrayal of the feminist cause was blamed on racism which, when you think about it, is even worse.

Was it fake news that did the trick? Many apparently believe that, with Russian assistance, Trump and his lackeys managed to feed a gullible electorate enough phoney stories to turn much of it against what her supporters told the world was “the best qualified presidential candidate in US history.” If they really did that, it was quite a feat; most of the journalistic establishment backed Hillary and showed little interest in the murky doings of the Clinton Foundation because it was too busy trying to discredit Trump by painting him as, among other disagreeable things, a sexual predator far worse than Bill Clinton or the still revered John F. Kennedy.

Despite everything, what was inevitably dubbed ‘Russiagate” has not gone away; special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into it looks likely to continue for many years to come. However, while there can be no doubt that some Russians – along with thousands of other foreigners who wrote about what was brewing in US or posted stuff on some social medium – felt they were entitled to tell voters what to do, as yet no hard evidence of collusion between the Trump team and Russian agents has been found. Even so, hardly a day goes by without respected news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, plus The Guardian and the BBC in the UK, excitably informing us that a breakthrough that will spell the end of Trump’s term in office could soon be made.

Their confidence is not shared by those progressives who presumably loathe Trump and what he stands for but think it is foolish to cling to the belief that Vladimir Putin had contrived to steal the election either because he feared Hillary or because he imagined he could blackmail her oafish rival and make him his stooge. About a week ago, The New York Times published an article by Scott Shane in which he described what the CIA used to get up to, and presumably still does, in order to swing elections in other parts of the world. Some attempts to do so worked well enough, but others backfired in a spectacular manner, as happened here in 1946 when Juan Domingo Perón named the by then-former US ambassador Spruille Braden leader of the opposition and went on to trounce it in elections that, in retrospect, put Argentina on the road to where she is today.

In comparison with the US operators, who happily handed out bags stuffed with greenbacks to friendly campaign managers in Italy and other countries, the Russians, even if they did succeed in nudging some voters toward Trump by spending a tiny fraction of the money invested by Hillary’s team in an attempt to win over her compatriots, are models of discretion. Indeed, if any of what some in Washington are saying is true, politicians here, where for years it has been routine to hire allegedly brilliant foreign electoral strategists, men like Dick Morris, James Carville, the Brazilian Duda Mendonça and, the most famous of the lot, Mauricio Macri’s guru, the Ecuadorean Jaime Durán Barba, to tell them how to get the votes they need, would be well advised to ask the Russians to lend them a hand. In Democrat circles in the US, many assume that they effortlessly wiped the floor with the local competition. As well as being better at their job than the products of the US system, they would be far cheaper.

Needless to say, the reminder that for many decades the US has shown an active interest in other countries’ elections has been brushed off by members of the progressive establishment. People belonging to it have no intention of letting the Russians or anyone else deprive their country of the monopoly of moral rectitude its representatives have always enjoyed. Even if Putin is innocent of the charges that are being levelled against him, he has given North American politicos a chance to do one of the things they like most and preach to foreigners, berating them for their moral failings and telling them they need to behave better in future. So we shall continue to be treated to the touching spectacle of US governors, senators, Hollywood celebrities, television journalists and other equally eminent individuals who, their voices quivering with indignation, express the outrage that overcomes them whenever they hear that the Russians have been doing to them what they have long been doing to a great many others.

In addition to allegedly helping Trump win office, Putin has given US progressives an excuse to avoid asking themselves whether their recent obsession with gender issues, race, the way people speak and their open contempt for most of their fellow citizens, had something to do with the Trump phenomenon. Refusing to think about their own contribution to it would surely be more harmful to the progressive cause than all that “fake news” its partisans say they find alarming.

Left-of-centre people everywhere like to talk about the therapeutic benefits of “self-criticism,” but lately they have proved as willing as any reactionary to blame others for whatever in their view goes wrong. This is happening not only in North America but also in Europe. Frenchmen hint that Russian gold is behind Marine Le Pen’s National Front and that could be why she reached the finals in last year’s presidential campaign, while distraught Italians say they suspect the Northern League and the bizarre Five-Star Movement, both of which did very well in the general elections that were held a week ago, are being teleguided from a basement in Moscow where, if special counsel Mueller is to believed, the “troll farms” that are busily seeding Western minds with nasty rightwing thoughts are located.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


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