How Trump hides the worst scandal in U.S. history in plain sight

How Trump hides the worst scandal in U.S. history in plain sight

The power of repetition and the price of normalizing betrayal.

It’s been more than a week since Donald Trump echoed his 2016 public request for Vladimir Putin’s help in winning a presidential election, and the press remains determined to ignore it. 

The convicted felon, presumptive GOP nominee, and wannabe dictator instructed the dictator of Russia to continue holding Wall St. Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich hostage until the election.

This treachery echoes the successful effort by the Reagan Campaign to “torpedo” the release of the American hostages held in Iran before the 1980 election while burying Trump’s failure even to attempt to arrange for the release of Paul Wheelan, an American imprisoned in Russia when Trump was in power.

The concerted effort to ignore Trump's begging for Putin's help in this specific instance goes along with the media’s general surrender on the connections between Trump and Russia. It was almost absent in the debate about supporting Ukraine and in the more than half-year delay in that aid that has given Russia an advantage in that war that Putin would never have had otherwise. 

This media’s abdication of any attempt to tell the story of how the Russia attack on the 2016 election has helped bring America to the brink of fascism is one of the main reasons I’m helping Marcy Wheeler put together her Ball of Thread podcast

You can watch the first episode above.  Given the stakes of November's election, it’s the kind of journalism any serious publication should be doing.

But you don’t have to be CSI: Moscow to connect the dots of what’s going on here. The GOP is signaling its support for Putin over Ukraine and Nato. And Putin is responding by demonstrating his impunity at home, in Ukraine, and against America’s Nato ally Finland

Putin trollingly suggested in mid-February that he would prefer Biden to Trump. But only because Trump’s anti-Nato statements had gotten so apparent that they might get in the way of Russia’s more subtle efforts to help him.

Instead, the press obsessed over far more critical issues, like Joe Biden being one summer Olympics older than Donald Trump.

When there was a scandal of this magnitude in the last century, the press became obsessed with questions like the one Brian Beutler keeps asking: “What did Republicans know, and when did they know it?

But there are several reasons the press refuses to ask these questions now:

  1. Trump has paralyzed the press corps with the repetition of a single word.
    “Donald Trump and his MAGA legions have spent years shock-training reporters not to bring up anything else about Russian disinformation programs aimed at helping Donald Trump,” TPM’s Josh Marshall explained. Most of this training has come from one word – “hoax.” Since 2017, Trump has used that word and the mocking phrase “Russia, Russia, Russia” to mock any suggestion of a conspiracy between him and Putin. No one should believe the “deep state” conspiracy theory that there’s anything to him begging Russia to hack Hillary Clinton (which it did), his son seeking dirt on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, and Trump himself siding with Putinover American intelligence in Helsinki. All you have to do is repeat the magic H-word. That and a constant torrent of death threats seem to have successfully trained the press not to get too wise about Trump and Russia.
  2. Democrats don’t see any political advantage in focusing on Russia.
    Evidence suggests that Special Counsel Robert Mueller expected his report to be taken as a referral for an impeachment. Instead, Trump’s pick to cover up the Russia scandal Attorney General showed the power of framing with a memo that gutted the overwhelming betrayal, illegality, and obstruction Mueller’s team discovered. With the media battle lost before it began, Democrats essentially moved on. They’d decide that their midterm wins over health care and opposing hugely unpopular things like Trump’s corporate tax cuts were far safer bets. Because as obvious as Trump’s alignment with Putin was, the details remain murky. And almost as soon as the Russian investigations retreated, Trump began the high crimes that led to his first impeachment, which coincidentally involved the president’s lawyer, Rudy Guliani, dealing with three Ukrainians now indicted for treason over their connections to Russia. And the press utterly failed to connect those crimes with the Russia attack, something we will make clear in Ball of Thread.
  3. Putin-backed propaganda has so infected our body politic that it’s almost impossible to track.
    You probably have never heard about Russia's connection to Trump's first impeachment. And I don’t blame you if you haven’t! Almost no one has the time or mental RAM to keep track of all the entanglements and obfuscations that cloud the obviousness of Trump and the GOP’s growing alliance with Putin. Marcy has documented nearly every step of this story as it happens, telling her readers what most of the public won’t know until historians have time to suss through the details if we still have historians in the future. She, almost solely, has documented the “corrupt and complex machinations” of former Attorney General Barr to not only spoil all the Russia investigations he inherited, which were finally killed off by pardons but also defend Trump from his first impeachment by making the Department of Justice a willing recipient of the Russian lies being trafficked through Guiliani. Marcy spends much of her day raging at the people who have gotten the details of this abstruse Ball of Thread wrong, including me. Because if she doesn’t, literally no one else will.

The way that the Republican Party led by Donald Trump has embraced Vladimir Putin, one of the worst people alive and possibly the greatest thief of his people’s wealth ever to live, is a scandal so catastrophic that it almost sounds ridiculous when you describe it accurately. And nearly everyone who has the power to convey the essential details of this ominous and growing threat has given up on their responsibility. 

The reasons for this range from cowardice to excessive “savviness” and outright complicity.

But it’s important to discuss it anywhere else we can, not just because we are patriots disgusted by this betrayal of our country and decency itself, but also because it shows the power of framing and repetition—two skills that Trump is better at than almost any American politician. 

Like Putin, his greatest strength is capitalizing on our weaknesses and capturing the brains of people who should know better.