Pundits on the left who focus on the Trump-Russia story are frequently criticized for pandering to the shallowest elements of the resistance, often at the expense of more important issues. This is totally understandable from a certain perspective: no matter what plots may have played out between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, many would defensibly argue that they’re not as important in the grand scheme of things as issues like climate change, our shocking wealth inequality crisis, or America’s shameful involvement in the Saudi-led bloodbath in Yemen.
But even those progressives wariest of the center-left agenda—and most allergic to jingoistic nationalism—should be deeply concerned about Russia’s rapid ascent to the head of the far-right global white surpremacist counterrevolution. Yes, many traditionalists are appalled by Russian interference in our democracy as a matter of national defense and sovereignty, but that is crucially not how the far-right or the Russian oligarchs see the issue. Quite the opposite: they view their intercessions in democracies as a restoration of American and European nationalistic sovereignty against what they perceive as an era of liberal globalism—a restoration that just so happens to create a multi-polar world that advantages Russian interests and makes it harder for democracy to flourish. Some, like Glenn Greenwald, who see globalism as a cover for American imperialism, might welcome that multilateralism. But those with a broader view understand that allowing the likes of Putin, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and Marine Le Pen to succeed will cause far more damage to social and economic equality than the admittedly flawed neoliberal order of the Blairs and Clintons. As I wrote shortly after the 2016 election:
Russia is now the lodestar of the global conservative religious fundamentalist white supremacist movement. Under Putin, Russia has fought brutal wars against Muslim insurgents in Chechnya. It has sought to re-emphasize the public role of the Orthodox Church. It has suppressed tolerance for the LGBT community, and has engaged in an ethno-nationalist campaign of aggression to reabsorb Russophone parts of its former empire, such as Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. It’s not hard to see why Putin’s Russia is regarded was one of the primary backers of the new nexus of ethno-nationalism that has engulfed the United States through Trump and Europe through the likes of Brexit and Nigel Farage in Britain, and the Le Pens in France. Russia has even now allied with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in his efforts to derail a two-state solution and necessitate a state of permanent occupation in the West Bank. There is a reason a strong faction of the right has a metaphorical crush on Putin: through his dictatorship, he has accomplished the same domestic and foreign policy goals that the American and Western European nationalist right would like to impose on their respective countries…
There is every reason to believe that this alliance presents a greater threat to global security, press freedom and human rights than any realistic geopolitical scenario arising from the empowerment of the neoliberal establishment so greatly feared by Intercept libertarians. The risk of World War III posed by increased tensions between a putative Clinton Administration and Russia is insignificant compared to the threat of global fascism, multilateral destabilization and inaction on climate change posed by an alliance between Putin, Trump, Netanyahu, European nationalists, and assorted violent dictators like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte.
The latest confirmation that Trump-confidant Roger Stone was in direct correspondence with both WikiLeaks and the Russian hacker responsible for delivering stolen Democratic emails to WikiLeaks brings this point even further into focus.
The Trump Administration and the Republican Party’s furious denials notwithstanding, we know that a grandiose and shocking conspiracy was perpetrated in plain sight against both the American people and the entire world. We even know most of the elements of that conspiracy already.
We know that Vladimir Putin personally ordered historically unprecedented criminal theft of material from the Democratic Party to assist Donald Trump. We mostly know why he did it: to relieve sanctions on his mafia cronies, to advance his fossil-fuels based economy, and to weaken the structural international supports of his greatest geopolitical rival. We also have more than an inkling of the leverage he possessed over Donald Trump: regardless of whether Trump fears the revelation of even more lurid kompromat, we already know that Trump was hoping for a big real estate deal in Moscow, and that Trump’s real estate holdings and his lone lender, Deutsche Bank, both have alarming connections to Russian oligarchs and money laundering.
What we don’t yet know is what Trump offered the Russians in return. This and only this is the fig leaf that still allows Republicans to claim there is “no collusion.”
But there can be little doubt that a deal was indeed proactively made. There is zero chance that Vladimir Putin risked the wrath of the entire world without a concrete promised reward in exchange. It is inconceivable that Guccifer 2.0 would have been in contact with the likes of Roger Stone without an agreement having been reached in advance. It is ridiculous to think that a deeply indebted Paul Manafort simply worked as Donald Trump’s campaign manager for free without a promise from his oligarch friends to be made whole—a promise that would not have been made without Manafort offering something of greater value in return. And, of course, we know that there was at least one infamous meeting at Trump Tower with all the usual suspects to discuss sanctions relief from the Magnitsky Act under the guise of “adoptions.”
This matters because Russia’s actions to install Trump as president have advanced the interests of fossil fuel barons, making it much harder to deal with climate change in a timely fashion. It matters because, by putting Trump in office, Vladimir Putin enabled Republicans to pass an enormous tax cut for the wealthy and for corporations, thereby making it much more difficult for progressives to tackle badly pressing problems like infrastructure, monopoly power, and inequality. It matters because Russia’s successes in propping up Assad and pushing Brexit have made it much, much harder for internationalists and anti-war progressives to advocate for a peaceful multilateralism that benefits everyone around the globe.
That’s why it’s so critical to keep a spotlight on Trump and Russia. This isn’t just for immediate partisan gain. If the alliance between conservative Russian fossil-fuel kleptocrats and the global white supremacist movement is not exposed, broken, and destroyed, then the progressive policy agenda is in deep trouble. None of the laws that Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, or Bernie Sanders will push for will have any chance of passage as long as there remains an unbroken alliance between the real power in the Republican Party and the Russian mafia state’s hacker collectives. Progress will be impossible if the only morally decent party in the most powerful nation in the world is under constant sabotage from a hostile foreign power while the party of racism, sexism, and corporate plunder eagerly and fearlessly accepts its assistance.
As it so happens, very little in the way of progressive policy priorities will pass in the next two years with a Republican White House and a Republican Senate. Which means that even as activists continue to work at the state and local level to push for justice however they can, nothing is more important at the national level than exposing the criminal conspiracy that put Trump in the Oval Office, debilitating Putin’s ability to promote similar candidates elsewhere in the world, and making sure that none in the Kremlin or the Republican Party ever dare contemplate attempting such an outrage again.