Not for the first time, I flipped over to MSNBC this morning for the first hour block of Morning Joe. Mixed with probably half a dozen other reasons why the presidency of Donald J. Trump is hanging by a thread were yet more stories about collusion with Russians by members of his campaign team. As usual, there’s no word as to what on Earth they might have been “colluding” about, and much of it still comes in the form of speculation by nameless sources, but the story rarely changes. It’s all about the collusion.
Let’s just say for a moment that James Comey is eventually going to produce some sort of blockbuster bombshell showing that there was some form of “collusion” going on. Collusion to do what? And were any laws broken? A bigger concern is precisely what the Russians supposedly were trying to accomplish and if this “collusion” aided them in those goals. At the Washington Post this week there’s a fascinating essay from James Kirchick, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age.”
Kirchick is no Trump cheerleader, as should be obvious from his previous work. He clearly has his share of misgivings about some of the President’s decisions and methods. But at the same time, he cites NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, who argues that there has been, “no proof of collusion, no evidence that Russia changed the outcome of the 2016 election, no revelation that fundamentally revises our understanding of the trajectory of events.” With that as a backdrop, Kirchick argues that Trump’s opponents who are constantly ginning up talk of collusion in terms of High Crimes and Misdemeanors are actually doing Russia’s work for them, undermining public confidence in our elections and even our democracy. (Emphasis added)
The word “collusion” became a household term. For some Trump critics, every action or utterance of his presidency — firings, tweets, executive orders — is analyzed through the prism of these presumptions, breathlessly anticipating special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s nearly year-long Russia investigation will find a smoking gun validating it all.
Trump supporters, up to and including Trump himself, have tried to delegitimize Mueller’s necessary investigation for crassly partisan purposes — with the president constantly professing innocence while routinely acting guilty. But it’s also true that Trump’s opponents, eagerly taking reports of each new crumb of circumstantial corroboration as ironclad proof of collusion, are rapidly delegitimizing the presidency, our government and democratic processes.
In their haste to brand President Trump a tool, they’re unwittingly doing the Russians’ work for them: validating the notion that our democracy is a sham.
That has the ring of truth to it. From the beginning, I’ve said that if it turns out that either the President or his campaign staff were knowingly working with actors from the Russian government to disrupt the election, alter the vote count or otherwise directly change the outcome, the public deserves to know and all guilty parties must be held to account. And if it involved the President himself then he would need to be impeached.
But if, as so many indicators have suggested thus far, the only fire under all of the MSM smoke is a few inexperienced campaign aides talking to people they thought might have useful information, only to continually fail like the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight, what then? If the Russians were the only party responsible for hacking the DNC emails (a subject still up for debate) then they may have succeeded in having an effect on the polls, but if they didn’t involve the Trump campaign then most of this collusion talk becomes smoke and mirrors.
But the President’s opponents in not only the Democratic Party but also the media, seem to be delivering in spades what Putin allegedly desires. (And I purposely say “opponents” here rather than “critics” because there is clearly an ongoing, direct campaign against the White House taking place.) With the employment numbers looking as good as they are, the stock market and people’s 401Ks soaring, taxes being lower and consumer confidence hitting impressive levels, how do you explain a sitting President who has to take comfort in his approval level which barely scrapes above 40% on occasion?
Easy. The poll respondents are being buried in a deluge of news reports every day suggesting that the sky is about to fall on the House of Trump. And if they lose faith in the person in the White House their confidence in the office itself begins to erode as well. In that regard, Kirchick makes a valid point. If Vladimir Putin’s goal truly was to undermine our democracy, he must be having a good chuckle at the moment.