The political class is an odd gathering of fringe ideologues who believe in insane things, such as that Russian agents are working in tandem with a Manchurian candidate to neuter America, aided by a latticework of online fake news barons and white nationalists — their influence is great, this fifth column; few can evade its pull.
At least, that’s what many of those who make their coin in politics have been espousing since the election of Donald Trump. Our strutting elites have gone as febrile as any Idaho militiaman, dealing in conspiracy theories and leveling smears.
The real story of the 2016 election is this: a vast section of the electorate felt so alienated from American civic life that they voted Donald Trump into the White House. That’s a fascinating story and it deserves robust media investigation; instead, we’ve been too busy tweeting, and at machine gun pace. Switch on any number of political journalist Twitter feeds — Newsweek scribbler Kurt Eichenwald is my favorite — and brace yourself for a gushing fire hydrant of vitriol. Among the outstanding:
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher wants better Russian-American relations and was once treated for arthritis pain with medical marijuana, so it’s to be sneered that he’s a Putin apologist and pothead.
The meltdown continues with lurid conspiracy theories from Russia with love. Moscow is said not just to have endorsed Trump and embarrassed the Democratic National Committee, but to be a sort of Machiavellian godhead, omnipresent wherever Trump goes, while the president-elect is alternatively portrayed as a cunning Putin imitator and hapless Putin stooge. This encapsulates the former:
The tweet embedded is of Trump criticizing an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” From that, it’s intimated that Trump is about to purchase NBC and silence its programming.
On and on the hydrant gushes, flooding the street, swamping more measured critiques. Every foreign policy decision made by Trump is rooted in his overseas business interests. Every sneeze by Mike Flynn is grotesque with the phlegm of lunacy. Every conscientious criticism of the establishment press is negated by the existence of right-wing fake news, which, like Putin’s KGB, is everywhere, beamed into the fillings in your teeth, and really, if you think about it, that’s the only reason Trump won, right? The enigmatic alliance of ex-Soviets and tabloid journalists, sitting in palled rooms, their icy features illuminated by the menacing glow of hacked Facebook pages, and then the door opens and the big reveal: enter no less than James Comey! The plot has twisted again!
As with many conspiracy theories, there are seeds of truth germinating this field of bullshit. The Russians really did hack the DNC, conservative news is sometimes infected with nonsense, and Comey’s letter to Congress was horrendously timed, even if you sympathize with the position he was in. But none of this was the driving force behind Donald Trump’s victory, and continued hysteria over it will only push Trump voters with real problems further away from those who are supposed to represent them.
It also serves to delegitimize Trump, a strange strategy after eight years of bemoaning the Birther conspiracies about Barack Obama. The theory that Obama was born outside the country and thus ineligible to be president was flogged relentlessly — and not without merit — as a standout symptom of the right’s political mania. Birtherism wasn’t just false, we were told, it was corrosive to the presidency, whose occupant must at all times enjoy legitimacy even from his critics. Capital-P President Obama was a necessary tenet of our civic religion. A different standard cannot now be applied because the Electoral College produced a less agreeable outcome. Yet those who demanded that the 44th president be unconditionally accepted now muddy the election of the 45th president with innuendos that undermine his office.
The most dangerous of these is that Trump actually didn’t win, a claim that the Clinton campaign has advanced by jumping aboard Jill Stein’s fatuous recount effort. So meet the new Birthers, no less crazy just because they’re regarded as mainstream. It’s incumbent on everyone, including those of us who were #NeverTrump, to reject them.