The Russia House: Pope or Kafka?

By | 2017-07-26T22:26:51+00:00 July 16th, 2017|
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Not the Pope, Francis the anti-American environmentalist Jesuit. No, I mean Alex, the 18th-century English poet.

Here’s my question: Is the whole Russia-meddled-in-U.S.-election/Donald-Trump-colluded-with-Putin-to-snatch-the-presidency-from-its-rightful-owner,-H.-Clinton narrative an example of what Pope talked about at the beginning of The Rape of the Lock?

What dire Offence from am’rous Causes springs,
What mighty Quarrels rise from trivial Things . . . 

Or is Kafka’s book The Trial a better entrée into the fevered and surreal swamp that has Democratic, and not a few Republican, heads exploding with conspiratorial visions?

Poor Josef K.: there was no crime, there wasn’t ever even a trial, only a suffocating atmosphere of menace populated by malevolent state actors: clean, well-dressed chaps who show up at your front door and take you away—There! Was that Max Boot and Gabe Schoenfeld? Or maybe Ralph Peters and Richard Blumenthal and Robert Mueller? In this light it’s so hard to see. But they’ve latched on to the fellow—Josef., Don Jr., whatever—and you know how it ends: “the hands of one of the gentleman were laid on K.’s throat, while the other pushed the knife deep into his heart and twisted it there, twice.”

I don’t think it’s going to end like that. I think the whole RussiaRussiaRussia “investigation” will end as did the world in T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” not with a bang, but a whimper. It is like Gertrude Stein’s famous judgment of Oakland, California: there is no there there. All there is is foaming-at-the-mouth hysteria.

Foam: The other day, the former news outlet CNN devoted 93 percent of its morning show to RussiaRussiaRussia.

But what’s the news? Are you ready? Here’s the stop-the-presses revelation that has the credulous classes in a swivet: In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., having been pinged by Rob Goldstone, a British-born “entertainment publicist” (really: look him up), met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who claimed to have incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Oh my God, can you believe it? And just like Hillary Clinton—oh, wait, I mean unlike Hillary Clinton—Don Jr. released the relevant emails leading up to this awful meeting in Trump Tower. On June 3, Don Jr. wrote back to Goldstone saying “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

My, how the anti-Trump press pounced on that. There’s the smoking gun, all right: “I love it”! Can you believe it? According to Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), former vice-presidential aspirant, “To meet with an adversary to try to get information to hijack democracy: the investigation is now more than just an obstruction of justice investigation; it’s more than just perjury; it’s a treason investigation.”

Treason, mon ami! You know, like what Benedict Arnold or the Rosenbergs did.

Don Jr. meets with a Russian lawyer—who, curiously, got to the United States courtesy a special pass from the Obama administration—and that’s treason? Yes! According to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) “these emails are a textbook example and evidence criminal intent that is potentially a violation of the espionage act, yes, treason.” Poor Blumie. But then, he is clearly delusional. Remember, he is so far gone that he thinks he served in Vietnam, but as even the New York Times acknowledges, he didn’t.

The other day, my friend Andy McCarthy, casting his eye over the Russia mess, wrote a sober piece explaining the ins-and-outs of impeachment. He pointed out, inter alia, that impeachment is a political remedy, not a legal one. That is, impeachment is first of all a safeguard against an individual’s violation of a public trust: incompetence, maladministration, “the misconduct of public men,” as Hamilton put it: “the abuse or violation of some public trust.” By that standard, I’d say that both Tim Kaine and Richard Blumenthal might well have committed impeachable offenses, groundlessly accusing someone of treason in their hysterical efforts to hobble the Trump presidency and repeal the 2016 election.

But Donald Trump? Or Don Jr.? He, together with Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin. He took the meeting because a seedy PR guy said they had compromising information about Hillary Clinton. As it turns out, they didn’t. Too bad, of course, but it didn’t really matter since Hillary Clinton was a walking compendium of opposition research against herself. The private email server, the 30,000 erased emails, the shadowy money-laundering scheme known as the Clinton Foundation . . . really, it is quite a tale.

Let me summarize my thinking about this whole preposterous narrative.

1) Vladimir Putin is a bad guy. He has journalists who criticize him murdered and does other nasty things. He also regards the United States as a rival if not an enemy and he does what he can to thwart our interests.

2) Donald Trump knows this.

3) Trump also knows that, in this imperfect world, one has to deal with people and countries that are not our friends, including Putin. It would be better, as Trump said during the campaign, to get along with Putin than not.

4) This means that people like Ralph Peters and Max Boot, who are triggered like Pavlov’s dog by the sound of Putin’s name, have taken leave of their senses. If you don’t believe me, watch how they perform in their conversations with Tucker Carlson. Really, their loved ones should be worried about their sanity.

5) There are people working on the campaigns of all presidential candidates who engage in opposition research, i.e., digging up dirt on their rivals. Unpleasant, but true. Mitt Romney presented a difficult case because he is a supremely decent man, always has been. But that didn’t stop the hyena press from saying he was like Hitler and shouting from the rooftops that he had once teased a kid in high school and had even driven with a dog on the roof of his car.

Donald Trump was easier prey. There was the Billy Bush/“Access Hollywood” incident, of course, and the phantasmagoric “dossier” compiled by an ex-MI6 intelligence officer with “ties to Russia.” Then there were the Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump’s candidacy. “Donald Trump wasn’t the only presidential candidate whose campaign was boosted by officials of a former Soviet bloc country,” Politico reported. “Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office.” This is how our politics work. Unsavory. But there it is.


6) Don Jr. did nothing wrong by meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya who, by the way, had no known ties to Putin (though I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Vlad and she have been sharing a vodka or two in the last few days).

What’s the big picture here? I’d say it was this: Vladimir Putin really would like to do anything he could to thwart the United States. But in this ambition, his allies have been not Donald Trump but institutions like CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, and unwitting individuals like Max Boot and Ralph Peters whose hysterical anti-Putin animus has played right into Putin’s hands.

Ask yourself this: What would make Putin’s day? How about hamstringing the president of the United States, distracting him from his agenda of making America great again by harping endlessly on a fabricated non-story about supposed collusion that never happened? I suspect that Putin begins each morning with a little prayer to people like Boot and Peters, thanking them for doing more than he could ever hope to in weakening and delegitimizing the leader of the free world.

The good news is that it is not working. CNN is impressed by the fake scandal. Peters, Schoenfeld, Boot and their confrères in The Resistance (snicker) are obsessed by it. But who is paying any attention to them? Robert Mueller? Maybe. Throw enough lawyers at anything and a bad smell will inevitably occur. But we’ve had various investigations on the Russians going on for almost a year. And what have they turned up? Nothing.

This whole story is one part partisan animus—Richard Blumenthal, Tim Kaine—mixed with three parts wounded pride—the anti-Trump commentariat—underwritten, I have no doubt, by a chortling Russian disinformation machine that must be loving it, just loving it, that they have been able to get CNN to devote 93 percent of its morning show to a story that is not even a story.

Meanwhile, the real news is in Donald Trump’s judicial appointments, the strong jobs figures his policies are bringing home, the new-found confidence of America’s energy industry, the revitalization of America’s military, Trump’s strong endorsement, in his Warsaw speech, of the values of Western civilization and his promise to safeguard Poland’s access to alternative sources of energy: these are bullet points in a long agenda of renewal. Believe me, Vladimir Putin doesn’t like any of that one bit. I don’t expect professional pols like Blumenthal or Kaine to care about that: all they care about is their own power, not the good of the country.

But smart folks like Max Boot and Ralph Peters? How can they not see that their unfounded hysteria serves, if I may so put, to give aid and comfort to America’s enemies? Aren’t they, just a little, ashamed of themselves?

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About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.