What Is The Real Threat to Democracy? Q&A (Pt 1/5)
Watch Part 1 of Paul Jay and Aaron Mate’s interactive discussion with viewers about the controversy over Trump’s visit to Helsinki – From a live recording on July 18th, 2018
AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. And we are live today. I’m here with Real News Senior Editor Paul Jay. And we thank those of you who were patient with us, as we started a little bit late.
We are talking today about the latest in the Trump-Russia story, one that has dominated U.S. politics for well over a year now. But I think it’s safe to say that right now it is at its most intense moment. This was prompted by Trump’s comments at a news conference in Helsinki after his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Standing side by side, Trump told reporters that he did not automatically side with U.S. intelligence agencies and their conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections. And he also said that Putin had offered a very strong denial.
This prompted a national freakout in the U.S., with cable news hosts calling it disgraceful. Former CIA chief John Brennan called Trump treasonous, and said that that act alone, of not siding with the U.S. intelligence community, amounted to high crimes and misdemeanors. And just to give you a sample of the overall reaction that Trump’s comments elicited, I want to play for you a montage of cable news hosts. This was put together by the right-wing site News Busters, and they added some music to this montage, which I apologize for. But the clips themselves are important, so here it is.
VIDEO: First of all, I just have to say, I’m sick to my stomach. I’m really feeling nauseous.
We’re hearing words like ‘I feel sick,’ ‘This is frightening,’ calling it an abomination.
What is going on?
Astonishing. Just astonishing.
It is astonishing, it’s heartbreaking. And it represents, I think, a pivotal turn in our nation’s history.
It’s time for Americans to be out on the street.
There were people protesting in the streets every day in the ’70s. Why is that not happening now?
When do we see almost a shadow government come out and say we cannot side with the government?
As an American citizen, I just personally think today is just an incredibly depressing moment in our time, in our history, as an American.
AARON MATE: So that’s a sample of what we saw on cable news in the aftermath of Trump’s comments in Helsinki. So amid that outrage, Trump returned back to Washington. And the grief over his comments was so strong that he was reportedly convinced by his aides to walk them back. So at a meeting yesterday with U.S., with Republican lawmakers, Trump said that he walked back his comments and that he had full faith in the U.S. intelligence community.
DONALD TRUMP: So I’ll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies. Always have. And I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that, and I’ve said this many times, I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people, also. A lot of people out there.
AARON MATE: So that’s President Trump. And then shortly after, he then went on to explain that he misspoke when he said in his news conference that he didn’t see why Russia would meddle in the elections. He explained, he said, that he said the wrong word.
DONALD TRUMP: The sentence should have been I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So, just to repeat it, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ And the sentence should have been, and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video, the sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative.
AARON MATE: Now Trump’s comments- not surprisingly, because you can tell by body language that it’s quite likely he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying, and there are reports to that effect, as well, has not, obviously, contained the uproar. And we are seeing congressmembers call for hearings. The translator who was present to interpret for President Trump in his one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, there is talk of subpoenaing that translator to come to Congress. And this is a bipartisan uproar that Trump is facing. And among many things, it’s sparked a great deal of of uproar, not just against Trump, but against pretty much anyone who questions U.S. intelligence agencies, and who also takes a different view than the bipartisan consensus around Russia, which Trump ran against during his campaign, where people who question U.S. intelligence are being called traitors. And there is a surge of chauvinism and nationalism right now that we have not seen in many years. And there’s also the mainstreaming, as there has been for a while, of conspiracy theory talk. Of talk that Trump is a, essentially a Russian asset. And to illustrate that, one more clip of Rachel Maddow on her news show.
RACHEL MADDOW: I mean, for everything that we have been through as a country, for every kind of trial, and challenge, and intrigue, and embarrassment, and scandal that we have been through as a nation, we haven’t ever had to reckon with the possibility that somebody has ascended to the presidency of the United States to serve the interests of another country rather than our own. What’s the corrective to that? How do you remedy that?s These are no longer hypothetical questions.
AARON MATE: So the questions that we want to address today, and we have Real News Senior Editor Paul Jay here for that, are what is the impact of this culture right now, this mainstreaming of conspiracy theory talk around Trump? And far beyond Trump, what is the impact of this surge of nationalism, of Russia-baiting, of blind reverence for intelligence agencies, and this talk of treason for people who question them?
So, Paul Jay, you are in Baltimore. Thank you for joining us. I’m wondering, as you take in all this, as you hear those clips that I’ve just played, your thoughts?
PAUL JAY: I don’t want to repeat any of the words we just heard, shocking, and so on. First of all, the sharks see blood in the water, and they’re getting ready to pounce on President Trump as much as they are going to be able to. The question is, why do these sharks want to pounce on President Trump? The American state has great divisions, and sections of the state are at war with each other. Sections of the oligarchs have deep divisions. There’s a lot of reasons to want to see Trump attacked. He is probably the most dangerous president in the history of the country.
The thing is, he needs to be critiqued. He needs to be attacked. He needs to be exposed. But for the principled reasons, for the right reasons. For the policy that he’s instituting. The Russia piece of this is the least of the issues. The divisions in the state, the American state, I think- and I don’t have an insider’s view of it. But from what I can see, it’s on various levels why there are such sharp divisions. There is a cabal of people around Trump. We’ve told the story of Robert Mercer, the billionaire who brought in Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. John Bolton. There’s a very far-right extreme hawkish group that has, I can’t say seized the White House, because they did get elected, for whatever that’s worth. But they have a very clear, very aggressive agenda.
So the reasons that are being given for attacking Trump simply don’t compute. He’s an autocrat. Well, since when do, do the Chuck Schumers of this world, or any of the leading Republicans of this world who are so, now even they are outraged about dealing with the gangster Putin, since when do they care about autocrats? The, you know, one of the closest allies of the United States is Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia that is waging an illegal war in Yemen, that waged an intervention into Bahrain to suppress legitimate peaceful protest in Bahrain, that is funding jihadists all over the region and all over the world, that Senator Bob Graham says is implicated even in the 9/11 attacks in the United States. How is it that that’s an acceptable ally, and, and Putin and the Russian government- which has its own list of crimes, there’s no doubt. But in terms of international footprint, even just- never mind the United States. Which is, you know, criminal number one when it comes to international activities for at least since World War II, if not before.
But even just compare what Russia has done internationally, what the Saudis have done. I mean, yes you can critique in any language you like Russia and Putin for propping up Assad, who, yes, he’s a murderous dictator, but he’s also a murderous dictator that collaborated with the United States after 9/11, and putting people like Maher Arar in jail and torturing them, working closely with the U.S. administration. But it’s Saudi Arabia that was instrumental in destabilizing Syria and taking a situation of what, as I understand it, relatively peaceful protest and turning it into an armed civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions. Just, just the comparison of the Saudis and the Russians shows the hypocrisy of why Putin is enemy number one.
So it’s not because he’s an autocrat, because clearly Americans love autocrats as long as they’re pro-American. So what, he suppresses his own people. Again, the Saudis and any other number of American allies you can mention. There’s no, there’s far freer elections. And they’re not free in Iran. But there are freer elections in Iran than there are in Saudi Arabia. Yet Iran gets demonized, and Saudi Arabia, again, is an ally. Compare Israel, the occupations in the West Bank and the savaging of Gaza by Israel. That’s an acceptable thing. So let’s, let’s get real here about what’s really motivating this onslaught against Trump for the alliance with, not alliance, but meeting with Putin, and such.
Now, I’m not saying Trump’s a peacenik, and nor is Putin. In fact, I think the real story of those meetings is that they are plotting something very dangerous. And I think they’re plotting a way to go after Iran. And I think the Russians are going to be in on this, because all the Russians have to do is not do with Iran what they did with Syria. And this is speculation on my part. But if you put this into the context of what Netanyahu has been asking for, what the Saudis have been asking for, what the UAE, United Arab Emirates has been asking for, is they want Putin to push Iran out of Syria. And if he does, Netanyahu has made it clear that Israel will accept the Assad regime, not do anything to destabilize it. There’s not yet, apparently, a deal on whether the arms will still go through Syria to Hezbollah.
But there’s a, but the real deal going on here with Trump and Putin involves Netanyahu, the Saudis, and the UAE. That’s the real danger of these meetings, is that they’re plotting war of some kind against Iran. Not that they’re just playing footsie. But you don’t hear any of that in the political establishment or the corporate media going after, after Trump. And why it’s important is, one, too many of the people going after Trump would love him to go after Iran. I’m sorry, going after Trump over the Putin issue. Like when, when Trump did throw this one missile at Syria, that’s Chuck Schumer says, finally, Trump looks presidential. Many of the political forces that are trying to weaken and wound Trump the Russia connection will be cheering him on when the day of a real attack on Iran takes place. And I think that’s highly possible.
The other part of this, and why it’s important to expose the reasons they’re going after Trump- and let me say again, there are so many better reasons to go after Trump- is this idea that the Russians have attacked American democracy. And when you talk about just what American democracy is, because we’re being fed this chauvinist American exceptionalism, McCarthyite, even, vision, this ideal of American democracy which doesn’t exist. And, frankly, has more or less never existed. but it sure doesn’t exist now. And as I’ve said on Real News before, the real danger to what amount of democracy there is is, you know, gerrymandering, is the amount of money controlling the outcome of politics, voter suppression, and so on. I mean, that’s the real threat to what kind of democracy there is. But let’s really on the nose talk about just what is this American democracy.