The ability of many Americans to be honest with themselves has never been more in doubt.
On the populist right, the fact that President Donald Trump began his daily White House dissembling on the day he took office with false complaints about reports on the size of his inauguration crowd is ignored. The fact that Trump refused and still refuses to follow the successful tactics of other rich nations (mass testing, mass contact tracing, the use of tech tools) in combating the coronavirus — or as he used to call it, “the flu” — is ignored. Also ignored: the staggering vanity and dangerousness of his increasing suggestions that death tolls from COVID-19 — the disease caused by the virus — are being inflated to make him look bad.
But events of recent months show the left also ignores facts that undermine its narratives, starting with its favorite one of all: Trump and Vladimir Putin stole the 2016 election.
Yes, of course, Russia tried to help Trump win with online skulduggery. Yes, of course, Trump aides took meetings with Russian operatives, and Trump publicly said he hoped Russia would hack the Hillary Clinton campaign, which it did.
But the case that this is why Trump won is wafer-thin. There were no Florida 2000-type tight results in the swing states that gave him a solid Electoral College victory. And the idea that the crude Russian propaganda turned up by U.S. investigators persuaded a significant number of swing voters is also unsupported. The idea that this propaganda had outsized motivating influence in an election awash in cash and advertising of all kinds — one in which the Democratic nominee was caught on tape describing one-half of Trump’s voters as “deplorables” — is risible.
And while special counsel Robert Mueller’s report finds that Trump and his aides may well have obstructed justice during his probe, it “did not establish” — its own words — that the Trump campaign worked in coordination with the Russian government.
Yet this theory was and still is confidently put forward by progressive activists and MSNBC talking heads as if Trump is a stealthy operator. He’s not. When he was caught in the impeachable offense he plainly did commit, there was vast evidence. There was a long paper trail and on the record interviews showing he held up $391 million in military aid to Ukraine in 2019 as incentive to manufacture dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden.
And now there has been a steady drumbeat of fresh evidence that — just as Trump has said for years — the national security establishment exaggerated the collusion theory’s viability despite knowing its shakiness. In December, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a 416-page report that showed while there was no Deep State collusion to oust Trump, “years of breathless headlines” about the Russia scandal were wrong, as liberal Matt Taibbi wrote in liberal Rolling Stone that month.
Despite years of official denials, Horowitz concluded the error-ridden Trump dossier by British operative Christopher Steele paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee “played a central and essential role” in the FBI’s decision to sharply escalate its investigation by using the dossier to justify seeking wiretaps on some campaign officials. Even after many of its claims were shown to be unfounded or grossly embellished, FBI leaks continued to treat the document that the CIA laughed off as a serious report showing a well-developed conspiracy.
Still, most progressives shrugged off Horowitz’s well-documented findings. And now they’re showing the same dismissiveness with the release last week of House Intelligence Committee transcripts of formerly private meetings with top officials of the Obama administration.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes all took shots at Trump and his aides. But each said they had not seen evidence of collusion, coordination or conspiracy with Russia.
The contrast with the views that Clapper and some other former Obama aides have promoted on cable TV shows is striking.
This should matter.
A powerful appointee chosen by a Democratic president escalating a formal federal criminal investigation of a Republican presidential candidate in the months before an election based on uncorroborated innuendo is an extraordinary act. In doing so, was FBI Director Jim Comey being the same sort of political hack as so many Trump appointees, including Attorney General William Barr?
Probably not. Russia’s desire to help Trump, Trump saying he welcomed Russian help and Trump aides meeting with Russians were all ominous.
But Comey’s inexplicable decision to trust the Steele dossier and fast-track a criminal probe at such a delicate point was a mistake for the ages. One that taints whatever Russia claims are made about the president. And one that’s likely to enrage his base so much it could help him win reelection.