The Elephant in the room has Trojan ties, Russian roots...
Their words betray them…
“My assessment of what was happening with Torshin and Butina and the NRA was that the Russians decided, a good period of time before 2016, to run an influence operation here in the U.S.” — CIA veteran Steve Hall
“It might be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist?”— Tucker Carlson
“Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine.” — Marjorie Taylor Greene
“So Putin is now saying it’s independent, a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force.”— Donald Trump
Watching what seems to be an endless stream of events that are explicitly aimed at the weakening of American democracy, the current GOP acts like an agent of the Russian state. The Russian influence, like Homer’s Trojan Horse, hides in plain sight in the belly of the beast. It is as if the current state of affairs in America, once so unimaginable, is the result of a decades-long infiltration of our body politic by Russian operatives who have managed to “sheep-dip” a political party to serve its needs and provide it with an alternate identity— one that seems so far detached from its modern prototype as a red-baiting, defense-minded, intelligence-obsessed, purveyor of capitalism and replaced it with Russian “plants.”
Consider some rather obvious ties that GOP operatives have had with Russia over the past few years that should give us pause:
the ascension in the party of Donald Trump, a Russophile
Maria Butina’s infiltration of the NRA
the July 4th trips to Moscow by high-ranking Republican leaders
Michael Flynn’s emergence as a Russian apologist
the GOP's acceptance of home-grown terrorists like white nationalists and neo-nazis
the increased evidence of Russian cyber activity fueling political grievances on social media
the Russian interventions in the 2016 election
The list could go on, however, what is most interesting is how the GOP has so quickly abandoned old-line conservative positions on issues that had been the bedrock of its brand of politics. In 2020, at the Republican National Convention, the GOP dispensed with a party platform, abandoned convention, and ran on a MAGA agenda fueled by grievances and assorted culture-war issues. While at first glance we might conclude that this was simply a Trumpian whim and an indication that the party lacked a governing vision, the other conclusion we might draw is far more nefarious. Platforms are generally roadmaps drawn up for the electorate to demonstrate the party’s ideals— to the voters, the message is “This is what you are buying if you vote for our candidates.” A party with no platform, no open disclosure of its plans for governing it telling the electorate that their vote is a leap of faith— it suggests the party and its candidates have hidden agendas, secret plans. That is what the GOP ran on under Donald Trump. MAGA voters’ interests, then, were subservient to the party leader’s caprice. Republicans had, in effect, given over their investment in the democratic process.
Firehose of Falsehoods
This is the first step toward autocracy, the willing melding of the people’s interests to the party. That is how Putin and the other autocrats rule. It is the propaganda model used by Putin to support his dominance and control of his nation:
In some ways, the current Russian approach to propaganda builds on Soviet Cold War–era techniques, with an emphasis on obfuscation and on getting targets to act in the interests of the propagandist without realizing that they have done so.1 In other ways, it is completely new and driven by the characteristics of the contemporary information environment. Russia has taken advantage of technology and available media in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. Its tools and channels now include the Internet, social media, and the evolving landscape of professional and amateur journalism and media outlets.
We characterize the contemporary Russian model for propaganda as “the firehose of falsehood” because of two of its distinctive features: high numbers of channels and messages and a shameless willingness to disseminate partial truths or outright fictions. In the words of one observer, “[N]ew Russian propaganda entertains, confuses and overwhelms the audience.”
The Russian plan to “capture” an American political party required a leader who could “manage” the takeover and who had a specific talent for branding. Donald Trump had long been steeped in the use of lies and deception in his business practices. His practice of plastering the family name on everything he touched from steaks to casino resorts suggested a “Midas” touch right down to the golden toilets and over-goldened coif. Unlike Midas, however, everything Trump touched turned faux. The Trump family business, officiously named “Trump Organization,” was modeled on the principles that have long been used by dictators and strongmen to dominate and control the culture. Rebranding the GOP using MAGA merch and creating a political ideology based on his name, Trump became the Trojan Horse, and the Republican Party hid as the enemy lurking in the belly of the beast.
If Putin sensed a weakness in American democracy, it was that it had been predicated on the Lockean view that all governmental legitimacy rests on the consent of the governed:
“The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their [lives, liberties and property]”
— John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, 1690.
Putin follows the sophism of all despots that requires total control of the citizenry through fear and propaganda. It works for a while and while it works, it is deadly. While Donald Trump may have been the tool of the obvious Russian interest in undermining our politics, the party is the prize. Through meticulous planning, Putin has seemingly sheep-dipped the Republican Party and created a traitorous cabal that has hijacked one of the two major brokers in American politics. Trump, the bright shiny thing with little experience and fewer smarts, has been able to turn Locke on his head. The MAGA political process is more Russian than Trumpian. The current GOP is actually motivated by a fear of its popular base. When given the reins of government, it rules without concern for anything other than the narrow interests of its donor base.
Starting with the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, the beginnings of a powerful, more insidious donor class have arisen to form an incestuous oligarchy that dictates public policy. The Russian “firehose” model is clearly visible in the power of the NRA, for example, over GOP legislators who quake in fear of their NRA rating. Maria Butina’s infiltration of the gun lobby is hardly a one-off. Her role in co-opting lawmakers and stoking the second amendment culture war that helped elect Donald Trump and give Republicans both houses of Congress is still underappreciated:
Butina, a former American University graduate student, pleaded guilty last December to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for Russia. She admitted that she and a former Russian lawmaker worked to leverage contacts in the National Rifle Association to pursue back channels to American conservatives during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton…
Butina pled guilty to being a Russian agent, a fact that was made obvious when she returned home to a hero’s welcome. Butina, a convicted Russian spy, chose NRA as her base of operations because
...(S)he identified in a 2015 memo as an organization that “had influence over” the Republican Party, according to court filings. Her relationships with the group, she wrote, could be used as the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication to the next presidential administration.
Party of Alternate Facts
The GOP allowed itself to become an agent of a foreign nation, used as a pawn by Vladimir Putin, in exchange for power and money. Their defection is neither grand nor momentous. Most traitors forego ideology and sell out for the mundane— for the money. This is the party that so easily entrusted power to a nominee hardly capable of running a small family-run company without filing for serial bankruptcies. As a flailing capitalist, Trump’s main interests throughout the world ran counter to American interests because his need for profit superseded his patriotism. Recognizing his vulnerabilities and his greed, it is no wonder Putin chose him as his patsy. Trump’s many public and private exposures to questionable behavior that have him defending himself in 34 court cases, his history of moral and financial bankruptcy, insured Putin a valuable asset.
Sheep dipped and willing to serve as the useful idiot, the GOP was weakened and conflicted by its treachery and happily pointed its own “firehose of falsehood” at the body politic. The takeover of the Republican Party by creatures like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Ron DeSantis, Kevin McCarthy, et. al. has created a wholly new alternative from the small government, fiscally conservative repository of its version of traditional American values. It has been transformed into a party of non-sequiturs. They have abandoned ideology, refuse to govern, and take their cues from the narrowest slice of American culture. They are laying the ground for the next step, a dissolution of democratic principles. A nation led by oligarchs and those who can empower them. A nation where one-man-one-vote is replaced by one-man rule.
The party once aligned with Lincoln and a full partner in American democracy has devolved into a party for whites only as it has come to represent a larger share of a dwindling constituency of supporters. It is time, perhaps, that we consider Washington’s warning concerning “political factions,” or parties, that he felt were antithetical to his vision of an American political system:
Washington, like a father chiding his bickering children, advised his countrymen, no matter what their political passions, to consider the fundamental bonds that connected them as Americans. Political parties were useful to check the worst instincts of a monarch, he wrote, but, in a democracy, a party
“...agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”
What is left of the party is hollowed out by Russian operatives and subverted by disloyalists satisfied with power at any cost. The GOP and its most ardent followers are happy with the knowledge that they serve the interests of America’s sworn enemy who gladly paid the price for their betrayal in pieces of silver— the going rate for treason.
It was a price they wouldn’t refuse.