NORFOLK, CONN., 17 MAY—To begin, a couple of quotations.
No. 1: “We are seeing in the U.S. a developing schizophrenia. There is no other way I can explain the accusations against the acting [sitting] U.S. president that he gave away some secrets to Lavrov.”
No. 2: “If you had asked me a few days ago, ‘What’s the No. 1 threat to the United State today?’ I would’ve said, ‘International terrorism.’ It’s up there. Today I would say, ‘This assault on President Trump.’ Can we be clear: What he’s being accused of is treason…. This is beyond belief now, and by ‘this’ I mean the assault on Trump and his loyalty. This has become a national security threat to us in itself.”
To continue—it’s Wednesday morning and the work goes well this week—a couple more:
No. 3: “Have you guys been reading American newspapers again? Don’t read them. They can be used in many different ways, but one shouldn’t read them—recently it has become not only harmful, but dangerous.”
No. 4: “Those who are destabilizing the internal U.S. political situation using anti–Russian slogans either don’t understand that they are bringing this nonsense in on their own side—and then they are just stupid—or else they understand everything, and then they are dangerous and corrupt people.”
All of these things have been said in the 24 hours previous to this Cú Chulainn entry. They are all in response to the latest accusation against Donald Trump: In his Oval Office meeting with Sergei Lavrov last week, the president revealed “highly sensitive” intelligence concerning “an Islamic State plot,” thereby betraying “a Middle East ally” that was the source of the intel. (No surprise: It turns out to be Israel.) The supposed implications are legion: The Russians will figure out who supplied the conveyed information. No one will trust the U.S. any more. President Trump also betrayed “the intelligence community” (a phrase I have special affection for). And, punch line: President Trump committed treason by sharing secrets with “an enemy.”
So does the case for impeachment build a couple of stories higher.
Now, who uttered the above-noted observations?
No. 1 goes to Vladimir Putin, at a press conference in Moscow today, during which he offered to supply the U.S. with a transcript of the Trump–Lavrov encounter so as to demonstrate that no secrets were conveyed.
No. 2 goes to Stephen F. Cohen, the best Russianist now active in the American academic community and a consistent truth-teller as to the yearlong campaign against Trump. Cohen spoke Tuesday evening to none other than Tucker Carlson on the latter’s daily Fox News program.
No. 3 comes from the inimitable Maria Zakharova, the sharp-tongued, always-to-the-point spokeswoman for Lavrov’s ministry.
No. 4 continues Putin’s remarks in his Tuesday presser, delivered after a meeting with Paolo Gentiloni, the Italian premier, at the Kremlin.
I WILL NOTE ONE FURTHER MATTER that made the news this week before proceeding to my point.
Tuesday’s editions of the government-supervised New York Times carried a report that we—we Americans, this is all done in our names—now accuse the Assad government in Damascus of running a crematory at one of its prisons to dispose of the corpses of murdered political prisoners so as to eliminate evidence of war crimes. This is based on satellite photographs in the possession of American spooks for the past three or four years. They are released a few days prior to the next round of peace talks co-sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Trump, a day after meeting Lavrov, sent a fairly senior State Department diplomat to the talks in Astana, the Kazakhistani capital.
I assume readers can see where this goes without explanation. The facts do the job in this case.
I note this latest on Syria only in part because it is a here-and-now adjunct of the Russiagate insanity in Washington. It also marks a new low, and I do not say this for mere rhetorical effect, in what now passes for credible assertion in our nation’s capital. Here’s my favorite passage in the piece—which, had a student in one of my courses submitted it to fulfill an assignment, would have merited and “F” and a private discussion in my office:
Mr. Jones acknowledged that the satellite photographs, taken over the last four years, were not definitive. But in one from 2015, he said, the buildings were covered in snow— except for one, suggesting a significant internal heat source. “That would be consistent with a crematorium,” he said.
Officials added that a discharge stack and architectural elements thought to be a firewall and air intake were also suggestive of a place to burn bodies.
“‘That would be consistent of a crematorium,’ he said.” Most certainly it would. And also a bakery, a heated basketball court, a machine shop, and… I think you will understand: The assertion means bananas. Even the Times, to my surprise, took a step back from this silliness. The next paragraph:
The United Nations is scheduled to begin another round of Syria peace talks in Geneva on Tuesday, and the timing of the accusations seemed intended to pressure Russia, Mr. Assad’s principal foreign ally, into backing away from him.
Well, half a step in the direction of reality—which is half a step more than our Pravda on the Hudson typically takes.
I HAD AN IDEA TO WRITE this entry before seeing Steve Cohen’s appearance on the Carlson program. But he made my point better than I will. It runs, indeed, all through those four quotations I transcribed above.
The preposterous nonsense about the Syria crematorium pushes me into positing a kind of meta-phenomenon. The Russia case is a problem, the Syria case, the Ukraine case: There is a far larger and more consequential problem running through all of these matters. It is the frightening extent to which we are succumbing to fabrication. An extraordinary proportion of our public discourse now rests on nothing but ideologically inspired disinformation. All is said by way of suggestion; nothing of importance is ever attributed. As Cohen put it, we’re creating our own new national security “threat.” As Putin put it, the people behind this are either ignorant of the destruction they systematically wreak, or they know full well what they are doing.
My quite committed judgment is that we witness the latter. We are watching as our 45th president is deposed.
I put our moment down to this: America has entered its late-imperial phase, decisively now, and the cliques in Washington resist. In direct consequence, we’re losing touch with reality. This is indeed dangerous. One thing unites the Clintonians on the overt political side and the “deep state”—a phrase I don’t actually mind—on the dark, unseen side: They’re restorationists. Varied agendas, same intent: To preserve “the liberal order,” which Donald Trump—the curious man doing the most curious thing—threatens.
It is hard to imagine a fight more epic in character. Shakespeare or the Greeks could make tragedy of it. I do not, readers must know, say “frightening” simply to turn up the volume. I am more afraid for American stability than at any time in my six and change decades. From a young age I had an idea that something in our system and our way of life would have to give in my lifetime. It was a kind of premonition that used to come to me on long, solitary walks. Never did I imagine it would come to this.
The sooner one forgets about distinctions between Democrats and Republicans, the niceties of our political process, and other such delusions, the sooner understanding of what transpires before us arrives.