Saturday Report 3/19/22: The “Putin Caucus” Strikes Again...
The Best of the Rest of the News
— It’s time to prosecute Trump for his crimes against America and the American people. A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article suggesting that DOJ prosecutors would have a difficult time prosecuting Trump. The basic premise was that they’d have to prove he knew he lost the election but fraudulently promoted his Big Lie anyway, and who can know what a person really knows or believes? Lawrence Tribe and Dennis Aftergut have written a scathing rebuttal in The Guardian, pointing out that after 60 courts found no fraud and that he definitely lost, after he was told by his five most senior officials in a position to know (including Attorney General Bill Barr, who oversees the federal police agencies) that he lost, and after Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State told him bluntly that he lost, Trump did, in fact, know that he’d lost. Everything after that was a lie and a scam, done with a clear intent to defraud the United States and disrupt the normal functioning of government, both felonies. The article is a tight and reassuring read, although I’m not expecting any serious action on the “prosecute Trump” front until after the House’s January 6th Committee has laid out their case in public hearings tentatively scheduled to begin next month. I’ve noted before here on these pages and on my radio/TV program that Trump is politically dead and probably heading for his seventh bankruptcy; this OpEd by Tribe and Aftergut make the case irrefutable. The big question now is whether the GOP will embrace another neofascist “wannabee Putin” like Trump was, or return to their billionaire- and big-business-friendly roots with somebody like Mitt Romney or Ben Sasse. The GOP primaries over the next five months or so will tell us a lot.
—Putin held a superspreader rally in Moscow yesterday and it had an eerie resemblance to Trump’s early rallies, right down to the paid attendees like Trump hired when he announced his candidacy in 2015. Western reporters still in Russia tell us many of the estimated 80,000 people in the stands were government employees or people paid between 300 and 1400 rubles to attend. We take such reports as defining what actually happened, however, at some risk. We must never forget that when LBJ lied us into a war in Vietnam that killed an estimated 2 million Vietnamese it took almost a decade before more than half of Americans agreed the war should end. Similarly, it took about five years for the majority of Americans to realize that Bush and Cheney had lied to us and the world to justify killing several hundred thousand Iraqis (Bill Clinton is still working to rehabilitate George W. Bush‘s image). And we had a “free press,” something completely lacking in Russia. People are people, and our first instinct is to trust our governments in the hope that we can just go on about our lives; Russians are no different. While Putin is politically dead on the world stage, like Bush and Cheney — who were re-elected just a year and a half after they criminally invaded Iraq — it could be years before he’s out of power domestically and the chance of successfully prosecuting him for war crimes is close to zero.
— Last Thursday the House of Representatives voted 428-8 to suspend permanent normal trade relations with Russia. The eight Republicans who voted against the motion, sometimes referred to as “The Putin Caucus,” were Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Glenn Grothman (R-WI), and Chip Roy (R-TX). Meanwhile, right wing media continues to push Putin’s line that he invaded Ukraine to stop “Nazis” and that Zelensky’s government is irredeemably corrupt. So, what’s going on here? One theory is that these people are all somehow in Putin’s pocket, the way Trump has spent more than two decades allegedly using real estate to launder dirty Russian Mob money. While that may (or may not) be true of some of the real outliers like Tulsi Gabbard, it’s pretty unlikely that Putin has his hooks into the billionaire Murdoch family or the fabulously rich Swanson Foods heir Tucker Carlson. A far more likely explanation is that when these people on the far right look at Vladimir Putin and the way he holds and wields power, they simply like what they see. Authoritarianism, for all its faults, still appeals to the minority of people who value hierarchy and stability above freedom and the messy processes involved in democracy. They seem to be particularly fond of Putin’s intolerance for dissent or corruption-exposing media. Our challenge as a nation