The theory goes something like this: Donald Trump’s campaign met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and asked them for help in winning the election against Hillary Clinton. In return, the Trump campaign agreed to pursue better relations with Russia in the event that Russian help ended up putting them over the top. Russia proceeded to “hack the election” by sending phishing e-mails to Clinton campaign officials and spending money to promote ads and fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Russia also did some other things that we have yet to uncover evidence for, such as rigging voting machines and hacking voter registries. Trump went on to win the election, and will presumably do some favors for Russia at some point as a reward for their help in winning the election.
The above narrative is both simple and compelling. But as time goes on, we appear to be getting farther and farther away from this operating theory. Instead, what you’ll hear over and over is the word “collusion.” It’s a catch-all term that encompasses a number of possible activities, not all of which have anything to do with rigging an election. And as we get farther away from the shocking results of that election, it seems that fewer and fewer people are mentioning any vote-rigging, preferring instead to stick with the word “collusion.”
Listen: It’s pretty clear that there were Russian interests who were trying to curry favor with the Trump campaign, through a variety of means both legal and not-so-legal. But foreign countries currying favor with elected officials and prospective elected officials isn’t only not unusual – it’s actually an integral feature of our politics. Why do you think that a bill which criminalizes a peaceful boycott movement against Israel makes it to the Senate floor? Why do you think that people inside Obama’s white house referred to foreign policy think tanks in Washington DC as “Arab-occupied territory?” Why do you think our foreign policy establishment so overwhelmingly favors the interests of Israel and Saudi Arabia even as our actual material and strategic interests in the Middle East continue to decline?
Michael Tracey says it best on Twitter:
Insofar as the Russia “scandal” is a scandal, it’s a political corruption scandal masquerading as a global espionage scandal. Paranoid liberals want to frame it as the latter because it makes the wrongdoing appear unique to Trump. But the political corruption exposed – unregistered foreign lobbying, underhanded oligarchic influence, campaign hangers-on overstating their influence as a means of currying favor and attaining career advancement – reflects an indictment of the entire political system and is thoroughly bipartisan in nature.
Conspiracy theories are a constant tornado of information, innuendo, and – more than anything – certainty. Before we even heard that people in Trump’s orbit are being arrested last week, we all heard a chorus of people yelling “SEE?” simultaneously. Yet again, as the dust settled we learned that we are still waiting for that other shoe to drop – the one that proves that the conspiracy theorists were Right All Along. Throughout all this time, as the shoe continues to not drop, we are constantly being inundated with that certainty and innuendo. By the time all of this is over, the fact that the one big thing we were all waiting to learn never came to pass won’t even matter.
Here’s a corollary for you: Can anyone tell me what the Benghazi scandal was all about? Can anyone tell me what the central thesis was that implicated Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in some kind of wrong-doing after those attacks? I can’t either! But that’s the thing with conspiracy theories – it’s all noise and no signal. You see where I’m going with this – “collusion” is nothing more then Benghazi for liberals. There’s a smattering of wrong-doing underneath it all, a high degree of certainty that something larger lurks underneath, and a great number of people who will pointedly refuse to tell you what that something is.
The obvious response to this is, “who cares, as long as it hurts Trump.” I have a great deal of sympathy for that argument, and if I thought that this scandal would bring down the Trump administration without further reverberating throughout our cultural and political landscape, I’d say that a little exaggeration is OK. I’d call it politics. I’d say it’s for the greater good. But as I’ve explained before, that’s not how this is shaping up. This pseudo-scandal emboldens our horrible and murderous national security state, it moves the Democratic Party even further to the right (thus ensuring that they continue to lose), and it puts us at genuine risk of another Cold War with Russia. Worst of all, it’s not even going to bring down the Trump Administration. So what we’re left with is all of the negative impacts of this hysteria and none of the benefits.
You can count me out.