By KAY MATTHEWS
Most Democrats and Progressives support the impeachment of Donald J. Trump on Ukrainian bribery charges but would have preferred that such articles were based on the cornucopia of illegal and inhumane policies and actions of which he is also guilty. In an article in The New Yorker, the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen explains that with the “two irreconcilable realities of the impeachment” process currently on display between the Democrats and Republicans, there is an equilibrium that favors the status quo. To upset that equilibrium, the Democrats need to penetrate the Republicans’ reality bubble, which seems unlikely with the narrow Ukrainian investigation currently underway.
A more successful attack might be one on all fronts: “on the President’s self-dealing; the profits he has extracted, using the office of the Presidency, from his hotels and resorts; the profits and roles in the Administration of the President’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner; the family’s relationship with Saudi Arabia; the malfeasance of issuing and revoking security clearances; the accusations of sexual assault; the cheating of charities; the still-unseen tax returns; and much, much more [I would of course include the separation of Central American children from their parents at the Mexican border]. No matter the approach, the outcome appears predictable: the House indicts and the Senate acquits. But at least the impeachment hearings ought to lay down a record of abuses that will make future historians blush, rather than a protocol of the time that the Democrats tried to get Trump on the one obscure smoking gun they had—and failed.”
Gessen, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is also the author of the recent book “The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia,” which won the National Book Award in 2017. Scarcely an apologist for Russian corruption under Vladimir Putin, she has also expressed her concerns about the American media’s obsession with Russia’s attempts to meddle in American elections. In her assessment of the Mueller investigation she said, “The investigation may or may not turn up evidence of intentional coöperation between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. It is exceedingly unlikely that we will ever have a clear understanding of whether Russian meddling affected the outcome of the election. But a huge number of Americans imagine that it did.” In another article she states: “The real revelation is this: Russian online interference was a god-awful mess, a cacophony. . . . Is Trump any less President because Russians paid for some ads on Facebook? Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes? The answer to all of these questions is: no, not really.
A more strident attack on the mainstream media’s obsession with Russia comes from other leftist writers and publications, including Stephen Cohen in The Nation (an NYU professor emeritus and husband of that magazine’s editor, Katrina Vanden Heuvel). In his most recent book, War with Russia?: From Putin and Ukraine To Trump and Russiagate, he argues that American national interests are not well served by making Russia an enemy, particularly when the most likely outcome would be a nuclear conflict between the two countries. Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org, has written for Common Dreams and Truthdig about what he sees as the media’s obsession—especially that of MSNBC, supposedly the progressive cable news service—with Russia: “The most profound dangers from what Rachel Maddow and company are doing is what they least want to talk about—how the cumulative effects and momentum of their work are increasing the likelihood that tensions between Washington and Moscow will escalate into a horrendous military conflict.”
The impetus to get this message across to the American people, whom this cohort of progressives believes are being brainwashed, often rises to the level of its own obsession, which then leads to a lack of nuanced analysis and appreciation of integrity, wherever it can be found. I’ve seen several recent postings on social media taking to task “Russian expert” diplomat Fiona Hill who testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the two divergent policies being followed in Ukrainian foreign policy. They claim she is “naïve” and “out of date” in her “Russiaphobia.” But as I listened to her testimony, I heard her make the distinction, like Gessen, that while under Putin Russia has become a totalitarian state, its influence and powers are no match for American military and economic strength.
There’s the rub, of course: the American military industrial complex is dependent on a Cold War mentality that assures the weapons manufacturers’ continued profits from “smart bombs” and new missiles and weapons of mass destruction. So diplomacy in Ukraine to support peace negotiations with Russia is supplanted by conspiracy theories and backroom deals. It’s important that the House inquiry is trying to debunk these conspiracies. As Gessen predicts, however, it’s unlikely it will be successful. That makes it even more imperative that the media find its way out of the “reality bubble” propaganda wars that so severely limit what is covered in the news, how fairly it’s covered, and how its “manufactured,” as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman revealed to us so many years ago in Manufacturing Consent. In his new book, Hate, Inc., journalist Matt Taibbi takes Chomsky’s and Herman’s understanding of manufactured consent a step further: our corporate media have devised a highly-profitable marketing processes that manufacture fake dissent in order to smother real dissent.
Whatever happens in the impeachment inquiry or the election of 2020, it’s going to take enormous organizing, protest, and rebellion to change course. It’s happening in Hong Kong, Chile, Bolivia, and Columbia and in the European Extinction Rebellion. Is it going to happen here in the land of the free and the home of the brave?