For more than a year now the American people have been waiting for evidence that Donald Trump knowingly colluded with the Russian government or its agents in the hope of securing victory over Hillary Clinton in an election that took place nearly three Star Wars ago. So far there hasn't been any.
Over the last few days we were treated to two more pieces of non-evidence. The first was the indictment of one Alex Van der Zwaan of London for lying to federal investigators about his work for a law firm in Ukraine that prepared a report in 2012 about a gas deal that the former Ukrainian prime minister had been involved with in, oh, 2009. If that sounds confusing to you, it's because it is. And not in a John le Carré, "man, the complexity of what these Ruskies get up to when they plant a mole is dizzying" sort of way. None of this has anything to do with the churlish individual who is now America's president. It's confusing because it's aimless, pointless proceduralist hand-waving from the most shameless special prosecutor this country has seen since Ken Starr. How far away are we, I wonder, from the Ghostbusters-like crossing of the streams, when it's suddenly revealed that Jim McDougal sold land to a front company owned by a one-time Soviet bureaucrat in 1986 and that the cleaner where the infamous dress would have been taken if Linda Tripp had not convinced Monica Lewinsky otherwise was owned by a Ukrainian immigrant?
The second would-be development was the indictment of some 13 Russian nationals involved in an obviously phony organization called the "Internet Research Agency LLC" for interfering with the integrity of our election process by purchasing things like pro-Jill Stein ads on Instagram. Mueller's 37-page document has been called "incendiary." It isn't. It tells us absolutely nothing except what should be obvious to anyone who has ever watched RT or read an article in The Intercept or The Nation. Kremlin policy has favored American dysfunction, confusion, chaos, and despair. They want Americans to question the legitimacy of their institutions. They egg on the far left and the far right, anti-racists and pro-racists, radical feminists and online sad-boy misogynists, with equal enthusiasm.
We do exactly the same thing over there. Radio Free Europe, Gary Kasparov's post-chess career, the mindless cheerleading on behalf of Pussy Riot: all of these are evidence of American interference in Russian domestic political affairs. Sticking our nose in other countries' business is synonymous with having a foreign policy. It's why our intelligence services exist. Every living sentient adult not named Ron Paul knows this. Moscow pushes the Green Party and fringy Russian Orthodox theology; we boost Putin's opponents and the IMF line on free trade. Russia wants to disrupt the status quo over here just like we do over there.
Maybe our own foreign policy establishment wants to shake things up even more. Indict all the Borises and Natashas who have ever so much as paid for promoted tweets. Seize their assets, deport other Russian nationals, recall diplomatic staff. Don't be surprised when things get heavy later. It might be worth it, it might not. But don't make the rest of us suffer through these outraged kindergarten teacher routines where you pretend that the normal conduct of foreign policy is some sinister aberration. And don't insist that those who may have been lucky enough to benefit from Russia's omnidirectional mischief-making are by definition implicated in hitherto undiscovered plots.
We need to stop equivocating about what we mean by interference, as The New York Times does in a recent report: "The detailed indictment of 13 Russians for intervening in the 2016 presidential election has rekindled a debate that had never fully gone away and now seems destined to become one of the great unresolved questions in American political history: Did Moscow tilt the election to Donald J. Trump?"
This is not, in fact, what is up for debate. The question is not whether certain Russian nationals attempted to influence the outcome of our election — obviously some did — or even whether their massive Twitter ad buys had any discernable effect on the minds of retired blue-collar voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — doubtful, but who knows — but whether Trump was engaged in some kind of conspiracy with these persons. So far the answer seems to be no. By now skeptics are used to being told that we should be patient and wait for more evidence. It would be easier to take such exhortations seriously if those who are making them were consistent about what this evidence should consist of.
Six years ago when Mitt Romney dared to suggest that Russia was "the biggest geopolitical threat facing the United States," President Obama mocked him. "The 1980s, they're now calling to ask for their foreign policy back," he said. Russia, like Iran, was supposed to be a problem but a manageable one. Pretending that they posed a greater threat to American security than, say, ISIS, was just right-wing fear mongering of the same kind that gave us the war in Iraq.
Is Russia a more serious issue than Obama thought in 2012 when he oh-snapped Romney and had an exchange with Dmitry Medvedev that right-wing bloggers considered treasonous? One sometimes gets the feeling that reports of a similar conversation about "flexibility" taking place between, say, Tiffany Trump and a Russian pro wrestler ("I'll transmit this information to Vladimir") would have The Washington Post calling for a military coup.
Are American liberals on the verge of irony-memeing themselves into John Birch-style paranoia about the Ruskies, or at least old-fashioned Cold War hawkishness? Maybe. But I feel like they should at least let the American people know that they have radically altered their position on such an important question before they start planning the next Tet Offensive.