Italian Election Results Show Why the Left Needs to Focus on Russia

There is a lot to digest to Jane Mayer’s big new Christopher Steele piece in The New Yorker, but the following bit interests me in particular.

[Clinton campaign manager Robby] Mook told me, “The problem with the Russia story is that people just weren’t buying it. Today, it’s, like, ‘Of course!’ But back then people thought that we were just desperately peddling conspiracy theories.” After the D.N.C.’s e-mails were hacked, Mook went on TV talk shows and pointed the finger at Russia, but, he says, his comments were often dismissed as “spin.” On Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union,” he declared, “What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the D.N.C., stole these e-mails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these e-mails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump.” Tapper then interviewed Donald Trump, Jr., who ridiculed Mook’s accusation as “disgusting” and “phony”—even though it’s now known that, just a few weeks earlier, he had met at Trump Tower with a Russian offering dirt on Clinton.

Both during the campaign and after it, there were a lot of people on the left who did not want to hear about who was responsible for the hacks and the leaks that had damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Some saw the question of culpability as a distraction from the actual content of the emails, and that’s certainly how Trump wanted people to see it.

The first thing that leaked was the DNC’s dossier of opposition research on Trump, which was pretty clever if you think about it. It gave Trump the chance to accuse the Democrats of “hacking themselves.”

Donald Trump on Wednesday asserted that the Democratic National Committee hadn’t been hacked at all — and in fact conjured the story itself — after the party’s research on Trump was purportedly sent to journalists by a hacker.

“This is all information that has been out there for many years. Much of it is false and/or entirely inaccurate,” Trump said in a statement. “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader. Too bad the DNC doesn’t hack Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails.”

Trump consistently denied that the Russians were responsible for the hacks, but he was echoed by many people on the left who refused to accept the word of the intelligence community or cybersecurity firms. When Trump wasn’t denying that the Russians were behind the hacks, he was asking people to focus on the content, and particularly the fact that Bernie Sanders had supposedly gotten screwed by the DNC. This same argument was made by not a few Democrats and supporters of Stein and Sanders.

After the election, these same folks argued that the Russia investigation was just a way for Clintonite Democrats to avoid introspection and responsibility for losing to the most ridiculous major party candidate in our country’s history. They wanted a reckoning on what went wrong, and some nefarious foreign interference wasn’t something they wanted interfering in the conversation.

If we really want to have some introspection and responsibility, it’s time for the left as a whole to look at what happened in Italy yesterday and get real. It’s true that Italians are feeling overwhelmed with migrants and that the economy is stagnant, which means that there are actual causes for the right-wing populist revival of fascism. But the Five Star Movement, which got the most votes, is a completely Putin-aligned political phenomenon. Putin has been pushing these fascist forces in elections throughout Europe as a way of weakening the European Union and NATO. Helping Trump and hurting Clinton were part of the same overall plan.

It’s working strikingly well, at least in part because the left in the West is so slow to recognize the threat. Part of the needed correction is to identify the people who are pushing the Kremlin line either because they’re misguided or have some other higher order agenda, or because they actually want to divide and weaken the left. It’s easy to identify Roger Stone or Sean Hannity or Alex Jones. It’s harder to identify people or sources that we may trust, but shouldn’t.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.