Collusion: a big Russian mistake?

I just finished reading Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, And How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, by the British journalist, Luke Harding.

Harding lays out the several-decade chronology of Trump’s Russian connections, ending with Robert Mueller’s three indictments (so far). He makes a clear, comprehensive story-line out of the complex of events and relationships.

Anyone who regularly watches Rachel Maddow on MSNBC knows the depths of this drama; what Harding does is gather all the facts together in one place. And as much as I know of this rotten mess from Rachel, the book herds all the pieces together into a smooth, logical story.

Throughout my reading, I was aware that Harding’s long experience in Moscow and his nationality gave him (and me, as reader) a cooler, differently angled perspective than American journalists and commentators have given us. For one thing, he knows Christopher Steele and describes the dossier in proper context.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the United States vis-a-vis Russia and speculating that Russia and the Kremlin, for all their offensive antics and attempts at disruption, did not seem to grasp our country at all.

This isn’t the first time I’ve contemplated how difficult it must be for non-Americans to understand America. At the center of this lack of comprehension are two big things: America’s history as a slave nation and our continuing Civil War; and the unusual and historical mash-up of peoples and of cultures who live here and call themselves American.

And how, despite upheavals, prejudices, rages, protests, radical shifts in policy and regressions, we all get along pretty well. Moreover, we learn from each other and our attitudes shift in response to what we learn.

Thus, we are a very, very complicated people. Peoples, really. And I don’t think any other country understands us very well. Despite our penchant for endless self-analysis, I’m not sure we understand ourselves very well — and that’s yet another aspect to being American.

I’ve often thought that Putin miscalculated in his malicious interference, misunderstood the incompetence and stupidity of Trump and his associates, thought that those brash and vile pronouncements which resonated with a small minority in this country signified an anti-democratic revolution. That Trump’s adoration of Putin was a magic kiss that would turn the clown frog into a Putin clone. With all of Putin’s autocratic powers.

(A tangent, maybe: This past week for whatever reason I’ve been thinking about Jean-Philippe Rameau’s raucous, brilliant comedic opera, Platée, about an ugly, vain swamp creature who is easily conned into thinking a god is in love with her. My happy memories of Platée are courtesy of William Christie’s great company of musicians and singers, Les Arts Florissants.)

And, mostly, I think Putin did not understand in any way what a rambunctious society America is. He seemed to think if he could install a Putin-worshiper in the White House, everything else, i.e., us, would fall into place. Didn’t happen.

So I was pleased to read what follows, especially from a non-American who has had deep experience in Russia. I’ve bolded the central paragraph because–oh, hey, gee, I’ll admit it–it inscribes my own thinking and I do love it when experts say, “That Naomi, she’s pretty smart.”

For Vladimir Putin [Trump’s failure to lift Russian sanctions] was a profound setback. The Kremlin’s campaign to help Trump win the White House had a primary goal. That was to bring about an end to America’s economic embargo. (The secondary aim was to shove a finger in the United States’ preexisting social and ideological wounds. This had succeeded well enough.)

Putin’s operation was bold, cocky even. It involved cyber hacking, fake Facebook accounts, and classic KGB techniques of deceit and cultivation. But it had backfired, you might argue. Kremlin officials often imagined America to be a mirror copy of Russia. They had a poor understanding of U.S. institutional politics. They failed to appreciate the separation of powers or the constraints on a president–any president.

…As with Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, intervening in the 2016 U.S. presidential election had been a tactical triumph and a strategic disaster. The consequences for Russia’s economy were lasting. It remained shut out from cheap Western credit.

As I read that (bolded) section, I was thinking Harding did not give credit to the character of opposition in this country. As a friend who went to the January resistance march in New York City said, “It was so well organized and so non-violent. The cops were great–calm and good-humored.”

But mostly I thought that Harding left out one major, major American institution which Putin could not understand because Russia has nothing like it: our investigative journalists, our opinion writers. Our open, free press. Our First Amendment.

Yet at the end, in his Notes on Sources, he wrote this:

I spoke to a lot of journalists, too.

It is this last group who have made the greatest contribution to investigating the story of collusion. The Washington Post and The New York Times, as well as other U.S. newspapers and websites, have done some bravura reporting in the face of unceasing hostility from this president. They deserve great credit.

Indeed they do. And so do we Americans who fervently support them.


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