Since The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Central Intelligence Agency believes Russia intervened in the election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, more damning revelations about his party have surfaced.
We now know that President Barack Obama, wary of publicizing the CIA’s findings unilaterally lest it be seen as an attempt to help his chosen successor, Hillary Clinton, summoned leaders of both parties to the White House in hopes of presenting a united front against Russia’s mischief.
Democrats were in favor; Republicans split. Senate leader Mitch McConnell reportedly raised doubts about the intelligence and told Obama he would consider it an act of partisan politics if the administration revealed to the public that a foreign power was manipulating the electorate to the advantage of his party’s candidate.
This is appalling.
David Frum, a George W. Bush speechwriter and conservative columnist, calls it the Vichy mentality: “We hate our domestic opponents (real and imaginary) so much that we collaborate with the foreign invader.”
Jonathan Chait argues in New York magazine that even the most cynical observer of American politics should be shocked by McConnell’s raw partisanship.
Presented with an attack on the sanctity of his own country’s democracy by a hostile foreign power, his overriding concern was party over country. Obama’s fear of seeming partisan held him back from making a unilateral statement without partisan cover. No such fear restrained McConnell.
The Senate leader has since called for an investigation — but by a Republican-led panel in his chamber, as opposed to a bipartisan committee, which is what the Democrats wanted. That way, he can bury the investigation’s conclusions if he doesn’t agree with them or feels they would damage the new administration politically.
“Just another excuse”
Trump, for his part, has dismissed the intelligence outright, calling it “ridiculous” to think Russia hacked into the Democratic Party’s emails and released them through WikiLeaks in order to help his campaign.
“I think it’s just another excuse,” he told Fox News Sunday.
His office put out an absurd statement:
These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and “Make America Great Again.”
There is little truth in the first two sentences. The intelligence community was by and large skeptical that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction but was cajoled and coerced by the Bush Administration into producing evidence that he did.
As for Trump’s Electoral College victory, it was actually one of the smallest in history and it happened a few weeks, not “a long time”, ago.
NBC News explained the other day why Trump has a credibility problem on Russia, so I won’t rehearse all that here.
Do keep in mind that Trump still refuses to read his daily intelligence briefings, claiming he’s so smart he doesn’t need them. Which is either delusional or he is willfully jeopardizing the security of the United States.
Height of partisanship
Whatever Trump’s failings (and there seems to be no end to them), he is a symptom, not the cause, of a partisanship that has now reached such heights that the president-elect and his party can dismiss evidence of election shenanigans as an attempt by the opposition to undermine them — and convince half the country they’re right.
Chait writes that this divisiveness extends to the security services: Whereas the CIA sat on its conclusions until after the election, the director of the FBI had no qualms about publishing a bizarre letter only days away from the election that suggested there might be more to Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state than had been discovered up until then.
It turned out there wasn’t. As with the entire email “scandal”, it was complete bogus. But the damage was done: polls showed even more Americans thought Clinton must have done something wrong.
All this — the polarization in Washington, the politicization of nominally impartial bureaucracies — has happened so gradually, it may be hard to appreciate just how abnormal it is. But there is no equivalent of this anywhere in the Western world.