Russia, Agent Orange* and the Defoliation of the American Political System.

*With apologies to Monsanto.

From a scene in the 1987 TV miniseries: Amerika which depicts a bloodless Russian takeover of the USA:

Peter Bradford: [in voiceover, as he looks at the Lincoln Memorial] You can’t look at those eyes and not think of what being an American has meant. Now there’s an end to it. Soon, there will be no America. We’ll be history, quickly lost and distorted, like Mr. Lincoln himself [used in the movie as a tool for Soviet propaganda]... I suppose there will have to be new revolutions, with new generations who will have to discover the values which our forefathers handed down to us. If those truths stop being real, maybe it’s better to let them go, to let some new generation discover, as though for the first time. Maybe freedom is just one of those things you can’t inherit.

Over the decades, I would, from time to time, think about the only two scenes from this show that have stuck with me all these years because they’ve been seared in my memory. I just re-watched them for the first time in 32 years to ensure that my creaky recollection was correct. As it’s turned out, my usually faulty memory has been spot on. One of the scenes takes place in a nightclub with pounding rock music and a crowd of, clearly disaffected, raucous kids, fired up from the music. The band incites them to go out on the streets and riot. I clearly remember thinking as I watched it long ago, “Great! This is the start of the revolt against the Russians.” In the next scene, in an apartment nearby, a Russian official and a compliant American politician observe the resulting mayhem in the streets below as the youth go on a rampage, setting fire to things. The Russian informs the American, as the police sirens and helicopters overhead announce their arrival: “Your young people, attacking the symbols of power they can see. They’re ways that make them feel good, not those that actually accomplish anything. It’s a controlled provocation. Our agents stir them up so that we can let them release their frustrations.”

The other scene I’ll never forget was quite a shocker for its time. In the climax, the Russian Governor overseeing America goes before the, up until then, compliant Congress and announces it is to be disbanded. The American politicians refuse to comply and in the next scene, armed men enter and kill all the representatives, right there in the Capitol Building.

Is it any wonder, in the Time of Trump, that I would recall this movie for precisely those two scenes? When Michael Cohen gave his public testimony to the House Committee a few weeks back, he darkly warned that… “there will never be a peaceful transition of power” if Trump loses in 2020.

Watching any Trump rally or the recent CPAC meeting where he gave a Fidel Castro-like two-hour, plus “stemwinder” rant against his “enemies” recalls to me, the “controlled provocation” to stir up gullible people allowing them to release their frustrations. With Trump he stirs up his base, egging them on by stoking their unspoken fear that their time of white privilege is demographically doomed. In the time of Trump, his base is thinking: “Enemy at the Gates” while the rest of us may be thinking, “Amerika,” to extend the Russian metaphor.

Speaking of Russia, I also recall what may be an apocryphal story but one which is quite possible because it involves Joseph Stalin. We all know that the Soviet Union’s founder, upon his death in 1924 was ensconced in a glass coffin even though he requested burial next to his mother (Yes, even Vladimir Lenin had a mother!)  I read some years back that it was Stalin who came up with the idea to put him on display. Seemed like a genuine gesture. In that way, everyone, for all time, could publicly venerate, honor and pay tribute to the founder of the world’s first “Workers Paradise.” How thoughtful of Lenin’s successor. Not quite. It was really an act of revenge on the part of Stalin. In 1923, Lenin knew he was dying and wrote his political testament suggesting that the Party remove Stalin as General Secretary because of his brutish methods and lust for power. Of course, Lenin didn’t prevail in that regard and what better way for Stalin to repay the favor than to have Lenin to visit any time day or night to mock, as was Stalin’s wont (yes, that is a word).

I always think of Stalin’s sinister joke (if true) towards the system he pretended to embrace and worship publicly, when I see Trump hug the American flag with his contemptuous, almost mad grin. Few things are more unctuous and dishonest than watching the Tangerine Tornado hug the American flag, as he recently did at that CPAC meeting. He’s done it before and he always has a smirk that is one of his trademark “tells” announcing “I’m lying through my teeth.” While his adoring audiences see a man who “clearly” loves his country, I see a man who’s thinking as he embraces Old Glory, “I just love a country so stupid, I could con them into giving me the presidency.”  After all, according to Cohen, Trump said how “stupid” the government is to give him a 10 million tax refund in 2008 as a result of his deflating his net worth which is the nice way of saying he committed tax fraud. While I’m not comparing Trump to Stalin (apparently, Stalin was whip-smart) Trump does display the unbounded cynicism of humans that was a hallmark of Joseph Stalin. And like Stalin (and most autocrats for that matter) utterly lacking in anything that resembles a  sense of humor other than something that is sick, twisted and taunting (see above.)

Speaking yet again of Russia, although I won’t go into my reasons for why I think America takes the lion’s share of blame for the dismal state of relations between the two countries, I will say that all of the Russian meddling was entirely predictable. It isn’t unlike that scene from Amerika where Russian provocateurs are working behind the scenes to foment unrest and discord for their own sinister purposes.

When all is said and done with Trump’s borderline treason, his complicity with the Russians to hijack the American election, his bottomless pit of frauds and cons and his endless calumny against just about everyone, it will all come down to money. He’s been useful to Russian oligarchs for years as a conduit for their money laundering because he was such a terrible businessman and deal-maker that the Russians were the only ones he could turn to when legitimate financiers wouldn’t give him a dime because of his many bankruptcies, and incessant and compulsive dishonesty. Hench, they own him, lock, stock and barrel and have, for quite some time. Probably, the Russians could hardly believe their luck when he decided to run for the presidency and ended up winning. I would bet their prior thinking was: “If nothing else, he’ll bring his trademark chaos into the American electoral process and cause a lot of mayhem and we can sit back and enjoy the show as Americans engage in a national food-fight.”  Then their guy won!

“Agent Orange” is now in the White House. BWAHAHAHAHAHASKI! How “the worm has turned”  they must have thought. But, for all of their political sophistication and mastery of American social media (and it IS impressive!), the Russians can be notoriously ham-handed about things. They were probably a victim of their own success. They had such a good run without anyone seeming to notice that “The Russians are coming” to an “inbox” or media market near you, they stopped even bothering to hide their intentions. They got sloppy and left a trail of breadcrumbs (or rather loaves) leading right back to the Kremlin. Even before their Manchurian Candidate took the oath of office, the whole fetid plot to muck up our political process was unraveling and “Operation Matryoshka doll” has been unceremoniously and quietly uncovered by the FBI and other agencies who have been following in Trump’s shadow even before he was “elected.”

Ironically (and perhaps most tragic of all) is the once upon a time, rabidly anti-communist party, the Republicans, have not only been providing cover and flak, but in a plot twist so absurd, a Hollywood producer would toss a scriptwriter out of his office for suggesting it, the Grand Old Party has turned pro-Russian and anti-FBI.

I’m hardly the first person, nor the last to say the now, almost cliché observation that Trump isn’t the cause, he’s the effect. The end result of political polarization of America that began years ago. We can actually date it to 1994, when after 40 years of being the minority party, the Republicans took control of the House thanks in large part to Newt Gingrich’s selling voters on his “Contract with on America.” We can also date the first salvo in the war between the two parties to that fateful day in 1995 when President Clinton snubbed the Newtster by forcing him to ride in the back of Air Force One. As a result, Newt translated his hissy-fit into the first forced shutdown of the U.S. Government. It’s been a race to the bottom since. We can “bookend” Newt nicely with Mitch McConnell, his erstwhile bomb-throwing comrade in the Senate who continues to wreak havoc on the political infrastructure of America. Both of these social and political assassins have been undermining the American political system from within for over a generation, like termites systematically eating away at the internal structure of a home. McConnell has been aptly summed up as the “gravedigger of American democracy” in a recent article titled “The Suffocation of Democracy” by historian Christopher Browning. Add a “generous helping” of Republican enabled Trumpism and you truly have the defoliation of the American political process. Just add gasoline!

So here we are, on the fringe of the election of 2020 and even though Primary Season is still an entire year away, it’s already dominating the news cycle. On those rare days, when the latest stories about the, so far 17 investigations into Trump’s corruption don’t lead the news, then it’s about the 200 or so Democrats who have so far, announced their run for the Oval Office.

Assuming Trump isn’t impeached and removed (as the Republicans are in control of the Senate, that means his litany of crimes will amount to no more than that of John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer) it will necessitate the Dems actually elect someone who is, well, electable. And I’m starting to get nervous about that. Some well informed voices are raising warning flags that the Dems could, once again, step on a rake. After all, it’s been stated repeatedly that it was Trump’s good fortune to run against the only person who was more disliked than he in 2016.

Although it’s way too early to handicap the race, there are the nascent beginnings of what appears to be the proverbial circular firing squad that the Democratic Party is famous for “lining up” in the modern era. Looking out at the political and legal landscape it seems inconceivable that given Trump’s low standing in the polls and the 17 investigations into his corruption that stretches from here to the Oort Cloud, that Alfred E. Newman couldn’t easily defeat him, gap-tooth smile and all. But if we know one thing about the D’s, it’s their penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. And even if Trump loses and as Cohen indicated, he won’t go gently into that good night, then what? Who’s going to make him leave? I can’t be the only one to picture Trump saying: “You and who’s army?..” He has already started to plant the seeds of doubt in the manure infused soil of his base that since the Democrats can’t possibly win the 2020 election “fairly” they are already plotting to steal it. If he does lose, will he call for the pitchforks to man the barricades? Then what? Buckle-up, America. We’re all about to go on “Mr. Trump’s Wild Ride.”