It was the strangest development in the strangest U.S. presidential I can recall (and I can recall Truman versus Dewey in 1948).
On the night of Friday, Dec. 9, The Washington Post broke an amazing story: unnamed CIA officials claimed that Russia was deeply involved in the U.S. election, hacking into both the Democrats’ and Republicans’ computer files while releasing only information that made Hillary Clinton look bad.
Twitter and Facebook predictably exploded. Rumours and charges of Russian meddling had been circulating for months before the election, and this seemed to confirm them. Trump’s longtime business involvement in Russia now acquired a sinister undertone, and millions with an already low opinion of the president-elect were now convinced he was Putin’s stooge.
A Saturday morning post by Glenn Greenwald calmed things down a little. Greenwald reminded us that strong claims demand strong evidence, and anonymous officials are very weak evidence indeed. Greenwald introduced Edward Snowden to the world, but Snowden would have been just another crank without the thousands of documents he’d swiped to back up his claims. What’s more, Snowden had identified himself and put his freedom on the line.
The CIA is not the most honest of U.S. government agencies, and itself has over half a century of experience in screwing around with other countries’ elections. It seemed odd that this announcement should come just as outgoing President Obama ordered a multi-agency investigation of charges of Russian interference.
The election had already been complicated when FBI Director James Comey announced a new investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails 11 days the vote. Now the CIA was weighing in post-election on Trump. Was this an election, or a Game of Thrones with American security agencies fighting for supremacy?
Future historians may say that this was the greatest moment of the paranoid era in American politics. Americans (and the rest of us) seemed to be completely detached from reality; it was all a question of which alternate universe you chose to live in.
The gaslighting of America
New expressions competed to be word of the year: “post-truth” threatened to be unseated by “gaslighting,” a term drawn from a 1944 suspense movie in which an evil husband tries to convince his wife that she’s going insane. Events in the next few weeks may confirm the CIA charges, but the gaslighting of America will ensure that not all will believe them.
Just as a thought experiment, let’s suppose Obama got absolutely reliable information confirming that Putin’s hackers did indeed intervene in the election to help Trump. What could he, an outgoing president and ongoing constitutional scholar, do about it?
In Obama’s shoes, I would consider this a greater attack on the United States than Sept. 11, 2001. That was a vicious assault; this is grand theft superpower, and very close to an act of war. A serious response would require what’s called an “autogolpe,” a government-run coup. As we’ve recently seen in Turkey, such coups can be vicious, but in this case it would be sheer self-defence.
With the barbarians not just at the gates but inside them, I would take suitable measures: declaration of a national emergency, with the federalization of all state National Guard units. I would put the armed forces on DEFCON 3, with the Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes.
As well, I would close and evacuate the U.S. embassy and consulates throughout Russia, while simultaneously giving all Russian diplomats in the U.S. 72 hours to leave the country before being interned for the duration, including Russian delegates to the UN. All Russian assets in the U.S. would be frozen.
While Putin reflected on that, I would also declare the Nov. 8 election null and void, with a new election scheduled for November 2017 — not only for president, but for both houses, currently dominated by Putin’s stooges the Republicans.
It would be the end of over two centuries of consecutive elections, but the U.S. tipped into a civil war after the election of 1860, and this would be at least as serious a threat to the Union.
After the 9-11 attacks, George W. Bush told Americans to hit the malls and shop till they dropped. President Obama should tell them their lives as free Americans are at stake, and they’d better be prepared to help in their country’s defence, whether in the armed forces or other public service. Those who resisted with armed force would be jailed.
It’s hard to imagine Barack Obama, probably the most civilized man ever to hold the office of president, imposing such measures in the last days of his presidency. But what alternative would he have, if the CIA charges are true? Just hand over the country to a half-demented quisling who would do the bidding of Vladimir Putin and the CEOs he’s put in his cabinet?
True or not, the charges have exposed the world’s greatest nation (and our very close neighbour) as far more fragile than anyone imagined. Three hundred million people literally don’t know what to think while being bombarded with incessant lies on their TVs, laptops and phones.
If the findings of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies are accurate, and Obama doesn’t do something, Canadians will soon have far worse problems on their hands than squabbles about election reform and climate agreements.