Competing Show Trials
Ever since Donald Trump’s election, the 24-hour news cycle has been saturated with Russia. The undying flame was fanned again this week by revelations that Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, profited by supporting a pro-Russia Ukrainian government while working for a company with substantial ties to the Democrat Party (including Hillary’s former campaign chair). It is likely that Manafort violated inconsistently-enforced federal registration laws during this period. It was also discovered that a low-level staffer in the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, had been in contact with Russians and lied about it.
In response to these developments, conservative media resurrected a story that ties donations to the Clinton Foundation to policies which gave Russia control over a substantial proportion of U.S. uranium mining capacity. Left-leaning media quickly responded that the scandal was a distraction, because the deal had no clear ties to Hillary Clinton herself. That is true. But such a defense severely undermines the current case against Trump, where no clear ties exist either.
In a recent interview, Alan Dershowitz perceptively explained that the impulse behind conservative support for campaign slogans like “lock her up!” are the same motivations propelling the Trump-Russia Collusion probe. But the hypocrisy on both sides runs even deeper than that. Trump-defending Republicans are becoming apologists for activities they would have condemned just a year ago. Democrats, meanwhile, are feigning outrage at Russia-friendly policies that they have been comfortable with for decades. Not only have members of both parties proved willing to get dirt on their opponents from Russian sources; the parties themselves are conveniently switching sides on Russia in order to accuse each other of corruption.
Context - Russia Policy Prior to 2016
An anecdote from 2012 beautifully encapsulates the policy positions of the political parties only a few short years ago. During the 2012 presidential debates between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and then President Barack Obama, Obama famously quipped:
“a few months ago, when you were asked what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America you said ‘Russia’ – not ‘Al Qaeda’, you said ‘Russia’ – and the 1980’s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back, because, y’know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years!”
Obama’s jab took aim at the Republican Party’s tendency to exaggerate the threat Russia poses to our national interest. And, as Obama insinuated, this tendency is indeed a holdover from the Cold War era. The last time the Republican Party was truly successful, the Soviet Union was America’s largest geopolitical foe. And, during this time, Republican political success was tied to the fact that they were taking the Communist threat seriously. Since then, knee-jerk anti-Russian sentiment in the Republican Party has been bolstered by unsavory actions by former-KGB member Vladimir Putin. In the 2016 primaries, saber-rattling against Putin scored big points with Republican primary voters, and candidates competed with one another to have the toughest stance against Russia, with Senator Marco Rubio winning the fight.
Until hacks of DNC emails put Russia on their enemies list in 2016, the Democrat Party shared Obama’s softness toward Russia. In one of her first acts as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a reset button, signaling a desire for improved relations. This act came right on the heels of Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the annexation of South Ossetia and Azkhazia. In 2012, Barack Obama was caught on a hot mic telling Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have “flexibility” after his election to work with Putin on removing anti-missle systems from Alaska and Seoul. Only two years later, Putin felt bold enough to annex Crimea from Ukraine, and the Obama administration responded to this new aggression with sanctions on Russia that failed to pressure Putin into compliance. This was the time period where Paul Manafort was working with the Democrat-backed Podesta Group to lobby on behalf of the pro-Russian party in the Ukrainian government.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump abandoned Republican foreign policy wholesale. He openly criticized Iraq War, calling it “a disaster”. On Russia, candidate Trump opined during a presidential debate that “if [Putin and I] got along well, that would be good”. Even after his election, Trump infamously defended his friendly posture toward Putin with the rhetorical question, “what, do you think our country is so innocent?” Such moral equivalence arguments are usually anathema to the Republican party. Trump’s stance toward Russia had much in common with the Democrat position of 2009 and 2012, which had become unpalatable to most politicians (including Democrats) after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014.
Big Picture - The Greatest Geo-political Threat
The question from the 2012 campaign is an important one: what is the biggest geopolitical threat? Presumably, Donald Trump would point to ISIS or radical Islamic terrorism more generally as the greatest threat. Hillary Clinton might point at Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders would most likely blame Climate Change. But they’re all wrong. The gravest threat goes unnoticed by American politicians and the media, despite the fact that its symptoms are felt everywhere. The threat I refer to underlies Donald Trump’s election victory, Britain’s successful Brexit vote, America’s looming entitlement collapse, the Russian annexation of Crimea, rape culture, and Islamic terrorism. Have you guessed it yet?
The greatest threat most first-world countries face is their own infertility, which leads to economic stagnation and entitlement collapse. Many European nations attempt to mitigate this problem through open borders immigration, replacing a dearth of European children with foreigners. But this policy comes with a social cost that is being felt throughout Europe, and is sparking the rise of right-wing nationalist political parties.
Russia takes the demographic threat very seriously. Republicans often imagine that Putin’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine are evidence that he wants to recreate the Soviet Union. They are misguided. Russia is incorporating Russian-speaking provinces on its border for the same reason it is promoting the Orthodox Church and implementing pro-natalist economic policy. Russia is trying to stave off demographic implosion, because it knows that its long-term survival as a nation depends upon it. And while Russians are thinking three moves ahead, Americans hardly recognize that a problem exists.
Dangerous demographic realities make sanctions against Russia entirely useless. No amount of outside political pressure can divest a nation of its survival instinct. That is why it was a huge leap forward for realistic foreign policy when Donald Trump showed a willingness to work with Russia against ISIS and other terrorist groups. Unfortunately, that has since changed. Accusations of “collusion” are pressuring Trump to implement tougher sanctions, to the detriment of U.S.-Russia relations.
The longer these show trials continue, the longer America’s foreign policy will suffer.