Lost in a narrative that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available.
Instead, we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception. These officials profess “high confidence” in their “assessment” as to what happened in the spring and summer of last year—this standing as their authoritative judgment. Few have noticed since these evasive terms first appeared that an assessment is an opinion, nothing more, and to express high confidence is an upside-down way of admitting the absence of certain knowledge. This is how officials avoid putting their names on the assertions we are so strongly urged to accept—as the record shows many of them have done.
We come now to a moment of great gravity.
American discourse has descended to a dangerous level of irrationality. The most ordinary standards of evidentiary procedure are forgone. Many of our key institutions—the foreign policy apparatus, the media, key intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, the political leadership—are now extravagantly committed to a narrative none appears able to control. The risk of self-inflicted damage these institutions assume, should the truth of the Russia-gate events emerge—as one day it surely will—is nearly incalculable. This is what inspires my McCarthy and Civil War references.
Russiagate has become too big to fail.
Indictments are not evidence and do not need to contain evidence. Evidence is supposed to come out at trial, which is very unlikely to ever happen. Nevertheless, the corporate media has treated the indictments as convictions.
Numerous sets of sanctions against Russia, individual Russians, and Russian entities have been imposed on the basis of this great conjuring of assumption and presumption. The latest came last week, when the Trump administration announced measures in response to the alleged attempt to murder Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former double agent and his daughter, in England last March. No evidence proving responsibility in the Skripal case has yet been produced. This amounts to our new standard. It prompted a reader with whom I am in regular contact to ask,
“How far will we allow our government to escalate against others without proof of anything?”
This is a very good question.
Which brings us to an essential problem: What is the place of evidence in American public discourse? Of rational exchange?
The questions are germane far beyond the Russiagate phenomenon, but it is there answers are most urgent. What is implicit in the Russiagate indictments has been evident everywhere in our public sphere for a year or more: Make a presumption supported by circumstantial evidence or none and build other presumptions upon it until a false narrative is constructed.
The press has deployed this device for as long as I have been a practitioner: “Might” or “could” or “possibly” becomes “perhaps,” “probably” and “almost certainly,” and then moves on to unqualified fact in the course of, maybe, several weeks. Now this is how our most basic institutions—not least agencies of the Justice Department—routinely operate.
This is what I mean when I refer to ours as a republic in peril.
There is the argument that certain things have been uncovered over the past year, and these are enough to conclude that Russia plots to undermine our democracy. I refer to the small number of Facebook advertisements attributed to Russians, to strings of Twitter messages, to various phishing exercises that occur thousands of times a day the world over.
To be clear, I am no more satisfied with the evidence of Russian involvement in these cases than I am with the evidence in any other aspect of the Russia-gate case. But for the sake of argument, let us say it is all true.
Does this line up with the Russophobic hysteria—not too strong a term—that envelops us? Does this explain the astonishing investments our public institutions, the press, and leading political parties have made in advancing this hysteria as they did a variant of in the 1950s?
As global politics go, some serious thought should be given to a reality we have created all by ourselves: It is now likely that America has built a new Cold War division with Russia that will prove permanent for the next 20 to 30 years.
All this because of some Facebook ads and Twitter threads of unproven origin? Am I the only one who sees a weird and worrisome gap between what we are intent on believing—as against thinking or knowing—and the consequences of these beliefs?
“What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
There was an orthodoxy abroad many centuries ago called Fideism. In the simplest terms, it means the privileging of faith and belief over reason. It was the enemy of individual conscience, among much else. Fideism has deep roots, but it was well around in the 16th century, when Montaigne and others had to navigate its many dangers.
Closer to our time, William James landed a variant on American shores with an 1896 address called “The Will to Believe.” Bertrand Russell countered this line of thinking a couple of decades later with “Free Thought and Official Propaganda,” a lecture whose title I will let speak for itself. Twenty years ago, none other than Pope John Paul II warned of a resurgence of Fideism in an encyclical letter Fides et Ratio. It is still around, in short.
Do we suffer from it? A variant of it, I would say, if not precisely in name. There seems to be a givenness to it in the American character. I think we are staring into a 21st century rendition of it.
To doubt the hollowed-out myth of American innocence is a grave sin against the faith. It is now unpatriotic to question the Russia-gate narrative despite the absence of evidence to support it. Informal censorship of differing perspectives is perfectly routine. It is now considered treasonous to question the word of intelligence agencies and the officials who lead them despite long records of deceit. Do we forget that it was only 15 years ago that these same institutions and people deceived us into an invasion of Iraq the consequences of which still persist?
This was the question Craig Murray, the former British diplomat (who has vital information on the DNC mail theft but who has never been interviewed by American investigators) posed a few weeks ago. Eugene Robinson gave a good-enough reply in a Washington Post opinion piece shortly afterward: “God Bless the Deep State,” the headline read.
How we got here deserves a work of social psychology, and I hope someone takes up the task. Understanding our path into our self-created crisis seems to me the first step to finding our way out of it.
~ Patrick Lawrence
‘Too Big to Fail’: Russia-gate One Year After VIPS Showed a Leak, Not a Hack
In philosophy, there is a concept called Teleology, which means to view things “by the purpose they serve rather than by postulated causes.” If we are to look at Russiagate from a teleological perspective, and indeed we should, as the evidentiary and proportional justification is severely lacking, we see a distinct organism with a broad purpose. So let’s examine, what purposes are being served by Russiagate, what agendas being driven, and interests being advanced?
1. Control of information by imperial, establishment, and corporate interests
2. Control of discourse and dissent being stigmatized
3. Restriction of democracy by third parties and anti-establishment candidates being smeared as “Kremlin supported’
4. The enlargement of the military industrial complex
5. The ideological alignment of the nominal left and center with authoritarianism
6. The justification of imperialism and aggressive foreign policy
7. The deflection from widespread issues of discontent
8. The projection of issues in the 2016 election, particularly primary rigging, voting irregularities, voter suppression, candidate funded troll operations like Correct the Record, widespread collusion between candidates and the mainstream media, and outsized influence of Israeli, Saudi, and Ukrainian lobbies
Considering how much of an impact Russiagate has had towards these ends, in comparison with how meagerly it has tackled these phantom Russian meddlers and “active measures,” I think it’s fair to say Russiagate has NOTHING to do with it’s stated cause.
If Russiagate can be described by what it does, and not what allegedly caused it, what it is is an authoritarian push to broadly increase control of society by establishment elites, and to advance their imperialistic ambitions. In this way, it does not look dissimilar to the way previous societies have succumbed to authoritarian and imperialist rule, nor do the flavors of propaganda, censorship, and nationalism differ greatly.
The 2016 election represented the ruling Establishment losing control of the narrative, and to a lesser degree, not getting their preferred candidate. And in response the velvet glove is slipping.
~ Ian Brown
(comments from the peanut gallery)
Although the oft-cited January intelligence report “uses the strongest language and offers the most detailed assessment yet,” The Atlantic observed “it does not or cannot provide evidence for its assertions.” Noting the “absence of any proof” and “hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims the Russian government engineered the election attack,” The New York Times concluded that the intelligence community’s message “essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’” That remains the case today.
The same holds for the question of collusion. Officials acknowledged to Reuters in May that “they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.” Well-placed critics of Trump—including former DNI chief James Clapper, former CIA director Michael Morrell, RepresentativeMaxine Waters, and Senator Dianne Feinstein—concur to date.
Recognizing this absence of evidence helps examine what has been substituted in its place. Shattered, the insider account of the Clinton campaign, reports:
“In the days after the election, Hillary declined to take responsibility for her own loss. Aides were ordered to make sure all these narratives get spun the right way. Top officials gathered to engineer the case the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up.
Within 24 hours of Clinton’s concession speech, already Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”
But the focus on Russia has utility far beyond the Clinton camp. It dovetails with elements of state power that oppose Trump’s call for improved relations with Moscow and who are willing to deploy a familiar playbook of Cold War fearmongering to block any developments on that front. The multiple investigations and anonymous leaks are also a tool to pacify an erratic president whose anti-interventionist rhetoric—by all indications, a ruse—alarmed foreign-policy elites during the campaign.
~ Aaron Maté