Timothy Snyder Speaks, ep. 11: Much More Than Collusion

08:02
we then see some tactics which are very
revealing about what Russia will do with
mr. Trump against the United States of
America so let me give you some examples
of some tactics the first is a head of
state who simply denies reality what I
call in the book in plausible
deniability so when mr. Putin sends the
Russian army to invade Ukraine he simply
denies that he’s doing so
which is a
little bit unusual but it’s a tactic
because if you stand up and you deny
something that every reporter knows is
true
you put the profession of journalism and
indeed the whole media into a difficult
position
because on the one hand you
could actually cover the facts of the
war which we are as money and effort and
it’s risky on the other hand you can
cover this fantastically charismatic
leader who seems to have mazing power to
bend real
to his will who can deny factuality
itself who can turn reality into a
television show that’s very tempting and
that’s what most of the Western media
actually did
instead of covering an
actually existing war in the real world
people preferred to watch a reality
television show
where a head of state basically created
an alternative world
now that should
sound familiar
because that is of course how mr. Trump
also governs he’s a head of state who
constantly generates unreality thereby
forcing reporters into this impossible
choice do you do you get into the the
television drama or do you actually
cover real issues which in the u.s.
would be things like wealth inequality
opioid abuse and and so on a second
example of a tactic in Ukraine which is
also now very familiar in the u.s. is
what I call in the book cacophony that
is something happens it’s out of your
control because where you don’t control
everything by lying about it something
happens it’s out of your control and the
way you react to it is you throw a whole
bunch of fictions around it so that
nobody’s then really sure what’s
actually happened
so in the Russian
invasion of Ukraine this is mh17 this is
the civilian airliner which Russian
forces shot down over Ukraine while they
were invading the country so what the
Russian media does is when this happens
this as it were irreducibly real thing
happens people die you attack it not by
directly denying it but from the flags
you come up with a whole bunch of
different versions like Ukrainians did
it by accident trying to shoot down mr.
Putin’s airplane the Ukrainians did it
because a certain Ukrainian Jewish
oligarch controls the airways Ukrainians
said it by accident from the ground NATO
did it from the air you come up with a
whole bunch of different variants none
of which you can pretend have any
factual basis but they serve as a kind
of discursive shrapnel they just cloud
everything up and at the end of the day
and I mean literally at the end of that
day because this starts on the day the
plane is shot down at the end of the day
no one is exactly sure what’s going on
and no initial who’s responsible even
for this very simple thing so in the
yes this happens during mr. Trump’s
campaign during the Access Hollywood
incident remember for a moment for half
an hour everybody thought that Access
Hollywood the tape where mr. Trump
advocates sexually assaulting women that
this would end his campaign mr. Trump
seemed to think that mr. pence seemed to
think it the Democrats seem to think it
the commentary it seemed to think it why
didn’t that happen it didn’t happen
because half an hour after that tape was
released Russian BOTS and Russian trolls
and others began to spread other
versions fictions like Hillary Clinton
is a pimp who sells sex with children or
John Podesta takes part in wild rituals
where he consumes human bodily fluids
and those things although completely
fictional surround the real event which
is mr. Trump thinks that it’s okay to
sexually assault women and confuse it to
the point where no one knows what
actually happened and in a way the whole
Access Hollywood event never takes place
because it never actually reaches the
people that it’s supposed to reach now
we experience that as a weird American
event Access Hollywood seemed it was
going to matter and then suddenly didn’t
matter at all
what I’m trying to explain here is that
if we keep in mind the whole background
the Russian philosophy about fiction
ality the Russian strategy about
strategic relativism and Russian tactics
which involved this kind of discursive
and propagandistic trick it all makes a
whole lot more sense it all it all falls
into place and and this is in a way a
plea for history right because what
history allows us to do a history even
of the 2010s of recent events allows us
to do is get out of this daily news
cycle where we’re how we think about
this framed in terms of the way our
leaders wanted to be framed collusion
not collusion um you know so what what
the book then does in the end is it runs
through 2016 with all of this in the
background and so we’re not surprised
then to see that mr. Trump only exists
at all as a public figure
thanks to Russian money from the 1990s
and the 2000s
people often ask I mean could did Rush
and influential II make a difference
well think about it this way if Russian
money and I go into this in great length
13:28
in the book doesn’t rescue mr. Trump who
13:31
is a total failure as a real estate
13:32
developer if Russian money doesn’t
13:34
rescue him he doesn’t even exist as a
13:36
public figure there’s no logical
13:38
possibility that he could have become
13:39
president without Russia and then the
13:42
next step is we think about the
13:43
personnel whether it’s Man afford or
13:45
Papadopoulos or Flynn or Kushner or Ross
13:49
it’s astonishing on the extent to which
13:52
the people around mr. Trump were morally
13:55
politically and financially connected to
13:57
the Russian Federation nothing like that
13:58
has ever happened before and then of
14:00
course when we get to the campaign
14:01
during 2016 Democrats and Republicans
14:04
alike marveled at the fact that mr.
14:06
Trump didn’t seem to have a traditional
14:07
campaign but what he did have was all
14:11
kinds of support from the rear for all
14:13
kinds of support in the world of cyber
14:15
the public opinion polls were in favor
14:17
of Secretary Clinton but the bots were
14:20
decidedly
14:20
on on the side of mr. Trump and that
14:23
turns out to matter whether it’s Russian
14:26
intelligence agencies hacking and
14:28
leaking emails as I mentioned or whether
14:30
it’s Russia’s internet research agency
14:32
working in social media to figure out
14:34
what what frightens and what motivates
14:37
America and going on a social media
14:39
offensive from September to early
14:41
November of 2016
14:43
either way mr. Trump had a campaign
14:45
which wasn’t his he was in a way just
14:48
kind of going along for the ride so the
14:50
idea that mr. Trump colluded doesn’t
14:53
really make a lot of sense because he
14:55
wasn’t an equal partner mr. Trump was
14:57
not an equal and this is the thing that
14:59
Americans I think we have really a hard
15:01
time understanding because we want to be
15:02
number one you know we’re in the worst
15:04
case we want to be cooperating with
15:05
someone else in this case there’s not
15:06
we’re not number one um we’re not
15:09
cooperate in this case we’re just being
15:11
brought along mr. Trump is just being
15:13
brought along he’s not capable of
15:16
colluding he’s not an important of
15:18
person to collude with the Russian
15:20
Federation he’s an instrument he’s a
15:23
tactic that makes sense with the
15:25
strategy
15:25
he’s an instrument that makes sense with
15:28
the philosophy in light of all that it
15:30
makes sense at the end of the day mr.
15:33
Trump can’t collude mr. Trump is the
15:36
pelo
15:36
of a Russian cyber weapon the payload of
15:39
a weapon doesn’t collude it just does
15:42
damage

Forget “No Collusion.” Trump Is Now Pro-Collusion

There is no such thing as an outrage-free week anymore. On Wednesday, President Trump offered us a particularly stunning example of this new political reality, telling the ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos that he would welcome foreign interference in an election and probably wouldn’t bother to tell the F.B.I. about any outside governments bringing him dirt on his opponent. On Thursday, he doubled down on this position, arguing, in effect, that accepting help from Vladimir Putin would be no different from dining with the Queen of England and the “Prince of Whales,” as he put it in a tweet. Trump, instead of proclaiming “no collusion,” now seemed to be announcing that he is pro-collusion. It didn’t take long for commentators to wonder about his strategy here as much as about his poor spelling: Does the President actually want Congress to impeach him?

One of Trump’s great skills has been to confound his opponents. In the third year of his Presidency, this is as true as it was on his first day in office, and his critics, at home and abroad, have, in the intervening time, become more skilled at reading Trump but hardly less capable or united in agreeing what to do about him. They have received the message that he is a threat to the established order—just about any established order—but resistance has often been more loud than effective, and the divisions over how to take him on seem to widen by the day. He is historically unpopular for a President by many measures, but no matter what he does the allegiance of some forty per cent of the American public has so far remained unwavering.

In Washington, Democrats currently have two opposite and contradictory theories of the case. They cannot both be right. For the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, the idea is to beat Trump politically in the 2020 election and, while using Congress’s powers to aggressively investigate him and his Administration, refuse to be drawn into a politicized impeachment proceeding that will not result in his removal from office. “A reluctance to drop the hammer is a healthy thing in a democracy,” Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who agrees with the Speaker’s approach, told reporters on Thursday, when confronted with the President’s latest insult to his own law-enforcement agencies. Many of the nearly two dozen Democrats running for President are also believers in a version of this theory. Though some have endorsed impeachment and all are vociferously anti-Trump, they are focussing their campaigns less on the damage that the President poses to the constitutional order than on wonky, issues-oriented appeals to voters.

Then there is the Biden school. The former Vice-President regularly called Trump an “existential threat” to the country this week, in an Iowa campaign swing. In this, he is more or less in synch with those lawmakers back in Washington who believe that the evidence of Presidential obstruction assembled by the special counsel Robert Mueller warrants immediate impeachment proceedings, regardless of whether they turn out to be politically advantageous for the Democrats. So far, there are about sixty members of the House (including a majority of the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee and a lone Republican, Justin Amash, of Michigan) who are on the record as supporting this course, which leaves a couple hundred more to convince. On the campaign trail, Biden leads early polls with his “Make America America Again” approach, but, if his opponents are right that voters want more than just an anti-Trump crusade, then his theory of the case will be not just wrong but disastrously so.

A fight between Pelosi and her fellow-Democrats is exactly what Trump wants. He seeks division and discord; he benefits from it. It is surely one reason, among many, why the damaging revelations reported by Mueller have had almost no effect on his public standing. If anything, this week’s tiresome outrage cycle is a reminder of Trump’s uniquely successful brand of public crazy. Does anyone remember that he also announced this week that he will soon meet alone with Putin again, despite the uproar over their still mysterious one-on-one summit this past year, in Helsinki? Or that Trump said that he wouldn’t allow the C.I.A. to spy on his “friend,” the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, after revelations that Kim’s murdered half-brother had been an American informant? Or that Trump spent the first part of the week claiming that he had cut a secret deal with Mexico on illegal immigration, a deal which Mexico denies exists and whose particulars he has yet to produce?

Trump is a political octopus, squirting so much diversionary black ink at us that diversion is the new normal. The new issue of Foreign Affairs out this week declares this historical moment “the self-destruction of American power” and offers a depressing autopsy on the vanishing of U.S. global leadership. But there are too many outrages of the day, of every day, to think about it. Some members of Congress are now publicly confessing that they haven’t had time even to read the Mueller report (and more are saying so in private, as I myself have heard). I doubt that they are stopping to consider the collapse of the liberal international order.

I happened to watch this week’s edition of the Trump show from the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, which, later this year, will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the American-midwifed reunification of Germany that followed. I attended a meeting of fervent transatlanticists that was dominated, as conversations invariably are these days, by the question of what to do about Trump. The Germans are no less confounded than the Democrats.