Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives
Whatever the truth about Trump and Russia, the
speculation surrounding it has become a
dangerous case of mass hysteria
By Matt Taibbi
04, 2017 "Information
So Michael Flynn,
who was Donald Trump's national security adviser
before he got busted talking out of school to
Russia's ambassador, has reportedly offered
to testify in
exchange for immunity.
seemingly the 100th time, social media is
exploding. This is it! The big reveal!
it will come off just the way people are
expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk
into the House or the Senate surrounded by a
phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid
He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised
by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and
perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB
sex tape, made a secret deal. He'll say Trump
agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an
war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia
in exchange for Vladimir Putin's help in
stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
and John Podesta.
personally would be surprised if this turned out
to be the narrative, mainly because we haven't
seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like
the Flynn story have even the most careful
reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all
turns out to be true?
What if reality does turn out to be a massive
connect-the-dots image of St. Basil's Cathedral
sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly
legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch's construction
in The New York Times last week.) What if
all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts
with the circles
somehow all make sense?
one of the tricks that keeps every good
conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the
one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day
His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia
thing has spun out of control into just such an
exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.
think there should be a legitimate independent
investigation – one that, given Trump's history,
might uncover all sorts of things. But almost
irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on
the Trump side, the public prosecution of this
affair has taken on a malevolent life of its
we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that
everyone who doesn't believe is accused of being
in on the plot. This has been going on virtually
unrestrained in both political and media circles
in recent weeks.
The aforementioned Mensch, a noted loon who
murdered Andrew Breitbart
but has somehow been put front and center by
The Times and HBO's Real Time, has
denounced an extraordinary list of Kremlin
She's tabbed everyone from Jeff Sessions ("a Russian
Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant FBI Director
James Kallstrom ("agents
to Glenn Greenwald ("Russian
ProPublica and Democracy Now! (also "Russian
the 15-year-old girl with whom Anthony
Weiner sexted (really,
she says, a Russian hacker group called "Crackas
With Attitudes") to an unnamed number of FBI
agents in the New York field office ("moles").
And that's just for starters.
Others are doing the same. Eric Boehlert of
Media Matters, upon seeing the strange behavior
of Republican Intel Committee chair Devin Nunes, asked
"what kind of dossier" the Kremlin has on Nunes.
Dem-friendly pollster Matt McDermott wondered
why reporters Michael Tracey and Zaid Jilani
aren't on board with the conspiracy stories
(they might be "unwitting" agents!) and noted,
without irony, that Russian bots mysteriously
appear every time he tweets negatively about
about that last one. Does McDermott think Tracey
and Jilani call their handlers at the sight of a
scary Matt McDermott tweet and have the FSB send
waves of Russian bots at him on command? Or does
he think it's an automated process? What goes
through the heads of such people?
I've written a few articles on the Russia
subject that have been very tame, basically
arguing that it might be a good idea to wait for
evidence of collusion before those of us in the
media jump in the story with both feet. But even
I've gotten the treatment.
I've been "outed" as a possible
paid Putin plant
by the infamous "PropOrNot" group, which is
supposedly dedicated to rooting out Russian
"agents of influence." You might remember
PropOrNot as the illustrious research team the
Washington Post once relied on for a
report that accused
200 alternative websites
of being "routine peddlers of Russian propaganda
during the election season."
Politicians are getting into the act, too. It
was one thing when Rand Paul balked
at OKing the expansion of NATO to Montenegro,
and John McCain didn't hesitate to say that "the
senator from Kentucky is now working for
Even Bernie Sanders has himself been accused
of being a Putin plant
by Mensch. But even he's gotten on board of
"What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?"
people who themselves have been accused of being
Russian plants are now accusing people of being
Russian plants. As the Russians would say, it's
enough to make your bashka hurt.
should know better. Last week, during hearings
in the Senate, multiple witnesses essentially
pegged his electoral following as unwitting
fellow travelers for Putin.
Former NSA chief Keith Alexander spoke
openly of how
Russia used the Sanders campaign to "drive a
wedge within the Democratic Party," while Dr.
Thomas Rid of Kings College in London spoke of
Russia's use of "unwitting agents" and
"overeager journalists" to drive narratives that
destabilized American politics.
This testimony was brought out by Virginia
Democrat Mark Warner. Warner has been in
full-blown "precious bodily fluids" mode
throughout this scandal. During an interview
with The Times
on the Russia subject a month back, there
was a thud outside the window. "That may just be
the FSB," he said. The paper was unsure if he
furthermore told The Times that in
order to get prepared for his role as an exposer
of 21st-century Russian perfidy, he was
"losing himself in a book about the Romanovs,"
and had been quizzing staffers about "Tolstoy
how nuts things are now: a senator brushes up on
Nabokov and Tolstoy (Tolstoy!) to get
pumped to expose Vladimir Putin.
Even the bizarre admission by FBI director (and
sudden darling of the same Democrats who hated
him months ago) James Comey that he didn't know
anything about Russia's biggest company didn't
seem to trouble Americans very much. Here's the key
a House hearing in which Jackie Speier quizzed
Now, do we know who Gazprom-Media is? Do you
know anything about Gazprom, director?
COMEY: I don't.
SPEIER: Well, it's a – it's an oil company.
(Incidentally, Gazprom – primarily a natural-gas
giant – is not really an oil company. So both
Comey and Speier got it wrong.)
As Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg noted,
this exchange was terrifying to Russians. The
leader of an investigation into Russian
espionage not knowing what Gazprom is would be
like an FSB chief not having heard of
Exxon-Mobil. It's bizarre, to say the least.
Testimony of the sort that came from Warner's
committee last week is being buttressed by news
stories in liberal outlets like Salon
insisting that "Bernie Bros" were influenced by
those same ubiquitous McDermott-chasing Russian
These stories insist that, among other things,
these evil bots pushed
on the unwitting "bros"
juicy "fake news" stories about Hillary being
"involved with various murders and money
voted for Sanders during the primary season last
year. What percentage does any rational person
really believe voted that way because of "fake
guess the number is infinitesimal at best. The
Sanders campaign was driven by a lot of factors,
but mainly by long-developing discontent within
the Democratic Party and enthusiasm for Sanders
describe Sanders followers as unwitting dupes
who departed the true DNC faith because of evil
Russian propaganda is both insulting and
ridiculous. It's also a testimony to the
remarkable capacity for self-deception within
the leadership of the Democratic Party.
If the party's leaders really believe that
Russian intervention is anywhere in the top 100
list of reasons why some 155
million eligible voters
(out of 231 million) chose not to pull a lever
for Hillary Clinton last year, they're farther
along down the Purity
of Essence nut-hole
than Mark Warner.
Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every
fiber of their being must see the dangerous
endgame implicit in this entire line of
thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading
the idea that straying from the DNC-approved
candidate – in either the past or the future –
is/was an act of "unwitting" cooperation with
the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of
legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.
it's four years from now (if indeed that's when
we have our next election). A Democratic
candidate stands before the stump, and announces
that a consortium of intelligence experts has
concluded that Putin is backing the
even better: that same candidate reminds us
"what happened last time" when people decided to
vote their consciences during primary season. It
will be argued, in seriousness, that true
Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin
candidate. It would be a shock if some version
of this didn't become an effective political
trope going forward.
you're not worried about accusing non-believers
of being spies, or pegging legitimate dissent as
treason, there's a third problem that should
Last week saw Donna
Brazile and Dick
declare Russia's apparent hack of DNC emails an
"act of war." This coupling seemed at first like
political end times: as Bill Murray would say, "dogs
and cats, living together."
there's been remarkable unanimity among would-be
enemies in the Republican and Democrat camps on
this question. Suddenly everyone from Speier to
McCain to Kamala Harris to Ben Cardin have
decried Russia's alleged behavior during the
election as real or metaphorical acts of war: a
"political Pearl Harbor," as Cardin put it.
That no one seems to be concerned about igniting
a hot war with nuclear-powered Russia at a time
when both countries have troops within
of each in Syria other is bizarre, to say the
least. People are in such a fever to drag Trump
to impeachment that these other considerations
seem not to matter. This is what happens when
people lose their heads.
are a lot of people who will say that these
issues are of secondary importance to the more
important question of whether or not we have a
compromised Russian agent in the White House.
But when it comes to Trump-Putin collusion,
we're still waiting for the confirmation. As
Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters put it,
the proof is increasingly understood to be the
thing we find later, as in, "If
we do the investigations, we will find the
the mass hysteria front, we already have
evidence enough to fill a dozen books. And if it
doesn't freak you out, it probably should.
views expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Information Clearing House.