Rumours that Donald Trump was assisted in last November’s election by Russian hackers have reached frantic levels, and several US intelligence agencies seem to have fallen behind this project. It might be too soon to suggest that an American ‘deep state’ is attempting a slow-motion coup against the flamboyant builder of gold-plated office blocks. Nonetheless, what used to be called a media feeding frenzy has been underway without pause for the two and a half months since the shock of his election. It’s as if the election’s still happening.
The atmosphere is fraught in the US and people there seem to inhabit two totally different countries. Opponents of Trump see an incoherent, unhinged lunatic who should be sent either to prison or a mental hospital. Supporters of Trump see a composed and wily operator running rings round the people trying to bring him down.
Trump clearly said in his campaign that he favoured more moderate relations with Russia, perhaps a common front with Putin against extreme Islamism, and attempts were immediately made to link him and his advisers to Moscow. This blossomed into allegations that Russian hackers somehow won him the election. Meanwhile little mention is made of Hillary Clinton’s role from 2009 to 2013 in helping Russian businesses buy into one of the United States’ major uranium suppliers, a total of over two million dollars flowing into the Clinton Foundation in four payments from a fund connected to the uranium company.
Also odd is that the Russian election-hacking story itself – now accepted by almost everyone who hasn’t checked it -is pitifully weak and thin on evidence.
It rests on flimsy US intelligence allegations (one could almost see in real time the CIA telling the initially unconvinced FBI and ODNI to fall into line) that hacking groups gave themselves away with completely implausible mistakes. Supposedly one group of hackers gave itself an online identity named after a prewar Soviet secret-police commander. Woops! Obviously that shows they must be working within the Russian intelligence community, right? Another supposed “tell-tale” sign involved a hacker forgetting to switch off one of another identity’s settings. Just the kind of schoolboy blunders you’d expect of high-level spooks from perhaps the world’s most espionage-obsessed great power.
Meanwhile the earlier version of the story is receiving almost no coverage.
This is the version that the embarrassing e-mails from Hillary Clinton’s team were handed over by inside whistleblowers at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in the summer of 2016. The truth or falsity of the e-mails (behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic party nomination) were also largely ignored, even though this is the story claimed to have unfairly stolen the election from Hillary Clinton.
So with her, the discussion is not about the embarrassing content compromising her, but about how it was obtained. Yet strangely, with revelations undermining Mr Trump (such as his vulgar “pussy-grabbing” remarks, surreptitiously taped a decade ago about what behaviour women will accept from male celebrities), it’s the reverse. With him, the discussion is just about the embarrassing content, not the way it was obtained.
American television-watchers are being given a distinctly black-and-white narrative. For example, this last week a man called Flynn was forced to resign from Trump’s cabinet because of phone calls to Russia. In fact, the FBI is on record saying Flynn did nothing wrong, but the strong perception is now successfully being cemented in the minds of the public that Trump’s people are linked in some sinister way to Putin and the Russian regime.
US newspapers, websites, and TV news bulletins (along with fellow travellers like Britain’s BBC or Germany’s Der Spiegel) almost daily since November have been speculating openly on how Mr Trump could be impeached, made to stand down, arrested, toppled, removed because he has psychiatric problems, and so on. Some are suggesting The Donald is planning a coup. He is being repeatedly called a fascist, an authoritarian, mentally unstable, and strangest of all, a dangerous warmonger. This is even though Trump explicitly ran for office on promises to insist European NATO members spend more on defence so US military spending could be cut. In contrast Mrs Clinton while Secretary of State helped organise several actual wars, such as the not-entirely-satisfactory toppling and killing of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. Civil war in Libya is still pushing migrants into Europe five years later.
Both Bernie Sanders (an old-fashioned socialist) and Donald Trump (an old-fashioned trade-protectionist) drew huge crowds in the thousands for their speeches all through the 2016 campaign. Both men had the ‘outsider’ credentials it was obvious that US voters, rightly or wrongly, wanted this time. Whereas rumours persistently claimed that Hillary Clinton had trouble getting 500 people into a room to listen to her. It’s hard to shake the impression that Sanders and Trump, two very different men, faced opposition from many newspapers and television channels for one and the same reason.
The term that another Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, coined in his curious 1960 television address to American voters, warning of what he awkwardly labelled the “military industrial complex”, comes to mind. There does seem something concerted about the character attacks on Trump – going back almost two years. Around the time Sanders was denied the Democratic nomination after DNC voting irregularities, Trump not so surprisingly said he was now concerned the presidential election might not be fairly counted. The media bristled with righteous indignation. Outraged commentators immediately started suggesting Trump himself might cheat in the election.
Is there a US deep state that tried to stop The Donald getting elected, and is it trying to overthrow him early in his first term? Would the people who voted for Mrs Clinton care if it was?
And is it possible that Mr Trump, just as on the campaign trail, is one step ahead of this? …cheekily hinting mid-press-conference these scandals will help him flush out who’s undermining his administration?
Mark Griffith is a financial trader who keeps a weblog at http://www.otherlanguages.org