Working towards peace and sustainability

Trump, Russia & the Movement

President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller

For months now, Trump-Russia has dominated the media, crowding out coverage of many substantial public policy concerns. How should we in the progressive community relate to this issue?

The Case Against Focusing on “Trump-Russia”

We hear from many respected friends, allies and progressive icons that we need to keep our eyes on the prize, not be distracted by the allegations of Russia connections or collusion, when the real and pressing concerns are the incredible harm the Trump administration is doing, or trying to do, on multiple fronts.

This includes, of course, everything from massive budgetary cuts that will grievously harm the least among us, attacks on human rights and public education, a full-throttle assault on the climate, deregulation right and left, the assault on healthcare that threatens to take away coverage from tens of millions of people, attempts to redistribute wealth and income upward through massive tax cuts for the already wealthy, huge increases in military spending and escalation of U.S. wars in the Middle East, Afghanistan, etc., attacks on freedom of the press and an open internet, and, of course, the lifetime appointment of radical-right justices and judges to our federal courts.

These critics have some very valid points. We cannot allow these hugely destructive attacks to go unanswered or un-resisted. These critics make another very valid point that is often overlooked. The penultimate thing the world needs right now is a new, intensified Cold War II and a new arms race with Russia. And the very last thing we need is an actual war between the two nuclear titans, something that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy in Eastern Europe, and especially in Syria, is making more likely.

The focus on Trump-Russia fits well in the anti-Russia agenda of the hawkish neo-cons—including prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle—as well as their allies in the Military Industrial Complex. It really has no place on the progressive agenda. We need to make clear that, whatever we might think of Putin, the Russian nation and its people are not our “enemies,” and, in fact, we should be working, as we did during the many decades of Cold War I, to support and promote détente.

Those who argue against focusing on Trump-Russia take this a step further, however. They maintain, first, that there is no smoking gun proving collusion, and, that, second, even if one was found and Trump was impeached, we might be no better off with Mike Pence in the Oval Office. They also point out how hard it would be to get the GOP-controlled Congress to vote with a super-majority, to remove Donald Trump from office, and some say that it would be worse to have Pence at the helm. Their bottom line is: let’s move on and address what’s really important, not what MSNBC, CNN, WaPo or NYT tell us it is.

The Case in Favor

But, of course, there is a flip side to this story—a case to be made that Trump-Russia should, indeed, concern us. Those in this camp point out that it’s not simply the huge number of contacts between key Team Trump players and various Russian officials and operatives throughout the campaign. Nor is it just the fact that many of these were not reported, or denied, when required to be disclosed, in confirmation processes, or in applying for security clearances.

Many who feel we should press forward with the investigations point to what they see as circumstantial evidence suggestive of collusion, like Trump’s campaign-trail announcement that he’d soon be revealing damning information regarding Hillary Clinton, made between the time that Don Junior’s meeting with Russian operatives—ones he believed were representing the Russian state and their declared interest to aid his father’s bid for the White House—was arranged and when it was held. Or the fact that said information release unexplainedly never happened, when apparently the promised info was not produced.

Those who make the case for pursuing Trump-Russia also point to a much larger pattern of secrecy and obfuscation. It seems that Donald Trump is desperately trying to avoid scrutiny, and this “smoke” is likely indicative of some “fire.” They point to the obvious efforts to derail the FBI investigation, including the pressure placed on James Comey, and his subsequent firing, an action which Trump, himself, acknowledged to NBC was taken due to Trump-Russia.

They also point to the dismissal of Sally Yates, apparently to derail her testimony before a Congressional committee. And red flags go up in regard to the canning of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who had been assured by the administration that he was going to keep his position. Bharara has a stunning track record of pursing financial malfeasance, obtaining a record number of convictions of Wall St. insiders. 

And then there is the current round of attacks on his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, focused on his recusal from Trump-Russia, something the POTUS says he should not have done, despite the fact that Justice Dept. rules required him to do this. There is serious speculation in the news daily as to whether Trump will fire Sessions and whether he is contemplating doing this in order to remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Where this all gets really interesting is that it seems Mueller is investigating more than simply possible electoral collusion. We all recall clearly how Trump refused to release any of his tax returns; how he falsely claimed he couldn’t, due to being under audit; how he promised he would release them later, and then did a U-turn, saying no one but the “fake-news” media was interested.

Well, now it turns out that Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation is apparently looking into Trump’s finances, including said tax returns. Adam Serwer, in a July 21 Atlantic article writes “President Trump is reportedly apoplectic over the possibility that Special Counsel Robert Mueller might look into his finances—specifically his tax returns . . . .” Trump indicated in an interview with the New York Times that such an investigation might be a “violation,” although it is unclear what the President thinks is being violated.

There have been numerous allegations. Some accuse Trump of connections to Russian “mob figures.” Others say real estate deals with the Trump organization have been a vehicle for money laundering, done in the service of Russian oligarchs and crime figures. Whether or not any of this is true is, at this point, unclear. What is clear as day, however, is that Donald Trump, like Nixon during Watergate, gives the appearance of someone who’s got something to hide.

Peaceworks’ Take on This

Moving forward an investigation of Trump and his associates, including their contacts during the campaign and, more broadly, their finances, seems eminently in the public interest. So too, does continuing to push back on the multiple assaults mentioned above. These are not mutually exclusive. While we, most assuredly must focus public attention and concern on issues of substance—climate, war and militarism, healthcare, budget cuts, etc.—we should also support the Mueller investigation. And we should certainly be prepared to rally behind it, should there be an attempt to fire the Special Counsel or otherwise derail the process.

Regarding the claims that should Pence replace Trump things would be no better and even possibly worse, here are a few things to consider. First, Trump is an erratic and unpredictable figure. His mental health seems to many to be in question and who knows how he would react in a crisis? It certainly would behoove us to do what we can to remove his fingers from the nuclear “button.”

Impeachment presents a high bar. Trump will not be removed from office by a GOP-controlled Congress unless it turns out that there is clear and unequivocal evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing. This coming out would discredit more than Donald Trump. There would be a serious cloud over his movement and their agenda. It would likely lead at least some of his ardent base to rethink their loyalty and lead many more centrist voters who supported him to question their allegiance to the Trump agenda (as the polls seem to indicate many are already doing). It would also undermine the credibility of the administration officials Trump has put in place and lead some in the Congressional majority to feel the need, as a matter of political survival, to create some distance between themselves and the MAGA (Make America Great Again) agenda.

We need to recognize that impeachment is relatively unlikely, and would not solve all our problems, in any case. Rather, we must work as hard as we can to stop the pernicious Trump program wherever we can. We need to reach out to our neighbors and all our fellow citizens sharing with them our perspectives as to why the Trump prescription for this country is the wrong one, and sharing our own vision as to what would lead to “greatness” and how we might get there. Along the way, we should not vilify Russia. But we certainly should support efforts to find out what connections the President and his associates have had to Russian officials and financial figures.

Ultimately, we will create a more just, peaceful and sustainable future if, and only if, we can win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens and garner their strong support for an agenda that calls for more than a rejection of Trump. We need to win support, too, for a rejection of the failed neo-liberal policies that made Trump’s appeal to voters possible. And, most importantly, we need to find common ground upon which we can come together to build a truly workable, progressive future.