Bret Stephens Warns of the “Ukrainianization” of American Politics
He raises a very real problem.
Here’s something I don’t write very often: Bret Stephen’s column, The United States Is Starting to Look Like Ukraine, is very much worth your time. And his thesis, I fear, will start to look more and more accurate the more we find out about Giuliani’s dealings in Ukaine (as well as whatever it was the Devin Nunes was up to).
The whole column is worth a read, but the basics are summed up as follows:
we’ve been living in a country undergoing its own dismal process of Ukrainianization: of treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism; and fellow citizens as “human scum”; and mortal enemies as long-lost friends — and then acting as if all this is perfectly normal. This is more than a high crime. It’s a clear and present danger to our security, institutions, and moral hygiene.
Some key elements of this that need serious understanding include the willingness of the Republican Party (both Trump and members of Congress) to use unfounded, debunked theories (see, e.g., the whole Crowdstrike business) to further short-term political gains.
The subordination of truth to short-term political gain, especially of this nature, is profoundly disturbing. This is not an issue of interpretation nor of a reasonable disagreement about a set of facts. This is directly avoiding concrete knowledge and engaging in the purposeful creation of confusion along with the promoting of a combination of demonstrably false statements and outright lies.
I recognize that in a court of law one possible strategy is to give the jury a series of alternative theories so that they have a hard time coming to a conclusion about the guilt of the accused. I think that this is the basic strategy the GOP is employing, especially as it pertains to their elected members of Congress and their base voters. But, to Stephens’ point, this is using, as Fiona Hill called them, “politically driven falsehoods” purposefully and deliberately simply to give cover to corrupt actions by the president. This is not a defense attorney doing her ethical duty to provide the best defense for her client. No, this is a concerted effort by members of the Republican Party to use these falsehoods to deceive their own voters.
Let me emphasize that last sentence: GOP leaders are actively seeking to deceive GOP voters so that they will keep the GOP rank-and-file in Congress in line.
Hill, it is worth pointing out, went on to say:
These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes. President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a Super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives.
And to allow this to succeed is, dare I say, a type of collusion with the Russians to subvert our political process and the 2020 elections.
I recognize that politics is, to some degree, a short term game. But how it is played matters. Spin is one thing. I can live with fights over meaning and debates about interpretation. But when politicians are willing to knowingly traffic in falsehoods because it helps score points in the moment, we have a problem. It is dirty play and it should not be accepted and rewarded.
A second element that we are seeing from the Republicans is the denigration of civil service professionals. It has been a hallmark of Trump and his allies to decry “the deep state” as enemies (because, let’s face facts, professionals trying to do their jobs using known facts about the world are a challenge to Trump’s approach to, well, everything). Now we are seeing experts with decades of experience (Taylor, Clark, Yovanovitch, Hill, etc.) being dismissed as partisan (or, like Senator Kennedy, just someone with an “opinion” with no more weight than anyone else’s).
If made up stories can be substituted for truth, and experts are ignored, we are in very serious trouble. And it is incontrovertibly the case that the Republican Party is operating in this fashion.
I would note, too, that the issue of Burisma and the Bidens is clearly about smear tactics and innuendo far more than it is about an evidence-based concern on the part of Trump and his allies. This is just more the kinds of political games one sees in the oligarchic politics of places like Ukraine.
To requote Stephens, we are seeing “treating fictions as facts; and propaganda as journalism; and political opponents as criminals; and political offices as business ventures; and personal relatives as diplomatic representatives; and legal fixers as shadow cabinet members; and extortion as foreign policy; and toadyism as patriotism.”
This should be unacceptable.