This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
Let’s go back to the very beginning — Russian interference in the 2016 election, when, deep in the bowels of the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) two key strategic plans unfolded. One was “help elect Trump.” Imaginary bloggers and “likers” were set up to spoof American social media accounts delivering millions of pro-Trump tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook posts. Astroturf groups were organized to demonstrate for Trump and demonize Hillary. But that was only half the intended goal. The other half was to promote #DemocracyRIP by spreading discord. Social media campaigns to boost Texas secessionists, progressive protests, and pro and anti-gun control activists were all set up to ignite and inflame the body politic.
The IRA was Putin’s weapon to spread this chaos, and today’s America seems overwhelmed by Russia’s likely goal — spreading chaos in order to weaken the foundations of democracy.
A valid argument could be made that after four years of endless, often simultaneous, investigations, confidence that our institutions can get to the truth of anything has diminished. Republicans seem determined to defend whatever the President wants them to defend, no matter how far out on the limb of logic they need to go. It seemingly makes no difference to them what reputations are ruined in the process or — in the case of the House impeachment trial over the President’s Ukraine scheme — who they dishonor. Just ask Colonel Vindman or Fiona Hill, who asked Republicans to stop fomenting a “fictional narrative.”
A recent poll is telling. Eight in 10 Americans feel the country is heading down the wrong path. Dissatisfaction exists on both the right and left. Pollsters should have asked: What path is America heading down? This might be hard to answer. It’s hard to discern. That is the very essence of chaos; the inability to see clarity in policies or actions, the view that things are out of control.
A list of what is out of control could fill the pages of a door-stopper-length book. First, the telescopic view shows that Trump’s response to the environmental crisis has us on a worst-case-scenario path toward more wildfires, heatwave-withered crops, battered coastlines and blistering urban pavements. Shifting our focus to the foreign policy setting, we see that chaos reigns there too. Trump’s initiatives on North Korea, China, Mid-East peace, NATO, Syria, Venezuela and in respect to a half dozen other countries have all come to nothing. Friendless and untrusted by allies, Trump has been adept at spreading his Joker-like performance on the international stage.
Fiscal and monetary policy is no better. In a series of rare defeats, Trump failed to place blow-it-up anarchists (Stephen Moore and the late Herman Cain) on the Federal Reserve Board. The latest entrant, return-to-the-gold-standard Judy Shelton, may be a pill too large for even the Republican Senate to swallow. The conservative holy grail of hard money and no deficits has been blown-up too by the “king of debt” Trump. Red budget ink flows like the Amazon due to the Republican tax bill that gave corporations and the rich a free pass from funding American institutions, like the military. Now, with the possibility of dystopian carnage set to envelop the workforce, the stimulus taps are open even wider. The dollar is weakening and people who saved for retirement are being wiped out (by the lowest interest rates in American history) just as the Russian pensioners were in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Nearly every domestic issue — health care, immigration, gun control, school openings, police violence — is in full chaos, or at an absolute standstill. Nothing moves forward except executive orders like the one on DACA, which then face endless litigation. The once denounced “activist unelected judges” are now the policy back-stoppers of the Republicans’ legislative maw.
This brings us back to “shades of chaos.” Each state has its own protocol, guidelines, and, with COVID-19, interstate travel regulations. Worse, mayors are going their own way, provoking, as we’ve seen in Georgia vs Atlanta, a lawsuit over mask-wearing rules. Not to be left out, small towns are making access to parks and beaches subject to the whims of town supervisors with “emergency powers.” Is it any wonder infections and hospitalizations are soaring?
“Sleepy Joe” seems like “Sane Joe” after the convention last week, proof being that polls reporting America-on-the-wrong-path numbers are showing him with a commanding national lead, even a small one in some red-leaning states.
The Republican brand, now tarred by this chaos, will be the subject of intense scrutiny if they lose the White House and the Senate. The climb back will not be easy. And this time, they won’t have Steve Bannon to guide them to another victory.
Recent weeks may have been the crescendo in the soundtrack of the Trumpian reign of chaos. His statements about postponing the November election were full stop chaos. The underpinnings of American democracy are its elections. Fool with those and we are no better than Russia or China or Belarus. Fake elections for fake Republics. Trump’s constant “voter fraud” refrain ushers in existential chaos about election validity that is the hallmark of banana republics. Trump’s attacks on post office mail-in ballots has raised the chaos bar even higher.
Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year old vigilante charged with the murder of Kenosha protesters, demonstrated that this chaos can easily morph into a lethal civil war.
Somewhere in the bowels of a nondescript building in Russia, the IRA hackers must be doing a hearty Barynya, the cross-armed, high-kicking, traditional Russian folk dance. It would be hard to believe so few could bring America to its knees.
Fifty shades of chaos is now the paint on America’s portrait, spread by the hands of Putin and Trump, no matter what any investigation may find.
Jonathan Russo has been an executive in the New York media world for 40 years and has written about politics, economics, foreign policy and cultural issues for over a decade. His work has appeared in The HuffPost, Observer, Daily News, Times of Israel, Worth.com, Real Clear Markets and Real Clear World.
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