The following is an edited version of remarks delivered to the Black Agenda Report panel on “Russiagate: Muzzling the Black Left and the March to War,”at the Left Forum, in New York City, this past weekend.
“Indications of deep unrest that occurred under Obama, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Sanders phenomena, have all been blamed on Russia.”
The era of Trump has been just as frustrating as the era of Obama. Over the last six months, I have channeled some of this frustration into the co-writing of a book with Professor of Liberation Theology Roberto Sirvent titled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of US Empire. The book will consist of twenty-one chapters detailing just how important the ideologies of American exceptionalism and innocence are to the promotion of US empire, racism, and capitalist exploitation. Russia-gate was a catalyst for the work and has its own chapter in the book. The psychotic narrative has dominated political discourse in the United States for over two years with no end in sight. There was no way to avoid it.
Russia-gate is a manifestation of American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism posits that the American way of life is the most superior way of life. It is the white man’s burden personified in the nation-state. The ideology burdens Americans, defined as white and preferably capitalist, with the duty to civilize those outside of their class and racial affiliation. The twin evils of white rule and capitalist plunder reign supreme and are expanded and protected by a third evil: militarism. American exceptionalism says that war redeems the uncivilized from the perils of ungovernability, capitalist plunder leads the uncivilized to prosperity, and white rule bestows humanity itself upon the non-white world.
“American way of life is ‘white man’s burden’ personified in the nation-state.”
Russia-gate has profoundly challenged the logic of American exceptionalism in a period of American decline. Unlike the first Cold War, Russia has been labeled a threat not for its socialist political economy but because it has been accused of helping elect Donald Trump. The imaginary Russian threat to America is not terrorism or communism, but Russia as a state itself. Russia-gate is predicated upon the notion that the Russian Federation possesses both the will and the power to shape politics in America. This assumes that the American nation-state is neither invincible nor its political system exceptional. A contradiction to say the least.
Russia-gate is another myth of American exceptionalism made for and by the American oligarchy. It follows a long history of the American oligarchy’s need to create an “enemy” to vanquish as proof of its racial and economic superiority. Russian meddling in the 2016 elections has not been proven and will never be proven. The mental gymnastics that the US ruling class has performed to prove their own lie are truly astounding to watch. We have heard everything from Russian President Vladimir Putin conspiring with WikiLeaks and Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton to Trump benefitting from $100,000 worth in supposedly Russian purchased advertisements on social media to promote efforts of Black Lives Matter activists and white nationalists alike. It seems that with each passing day, examples of Russian meddling in US politics become only more absurd and detached from reality. That is, unless one could conceive of $100,000 worth in social media ads superseding the most militarized and high-tech surveillance apparatus in human history or the most corporately-controlled, war-thirsty political system in human history.
“The imaginary Russian threat to America is not terrorism or communism, but Russia as a state itself.”
Russia-gate has buried all truth underneath the lie that the US is under attack from Russia. Putin is under every bed and in every wireless router in America. Untold numbers of Russians are hacking into social media accounts and turning the “alt-left” into Russian trolls. Russia has been conveniently positioned as the most dangerous and heinous nation in the world to instill fear and pro-American chauvinism into the minds of struggling workers and poor people. Who better to promote the lies of American exceptionalism than the spooks in the American intelligence services that have been at the vanguard of Russia-gate since day one?
All seventeen intelligence agencies led by the likes of James Clapper and John Brennan coalesced with Hillary Clinton and her big tent of Wall Street donors to spread the Russia-gate lie back in 2016. Russia-gate’s intelligence objectives were always numerous. The first objective was to make Trump’s campaign promise to ease relations with Russia a political impossibility regardless of the orange billionaire’s actual intentions. The second was to politically neuter the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party in the aftermath of the DNC’s theft of the primary. And the third was to demonize radical and revolutionary forces capable of moving struggling workers and poor people, especially Black people, in the United States away from the two-party system and toward efforts to imagine independent political alternatives. These goals ultimately explain why publications like yours truly have been labeled dupes of Russia and subsequently censored on social media and why the Green Party’s Jill Stein was subject to federal investigation for ties to Russia.
“The mental gymnastics that the US ruling class has performed to prove their own lie are truly astounding to watch.”
American exceptionalism is a potently racist and diseased ideological force that has prevented a public discussion on the consequences of Russia-gate from taking place. We have the Democratic Party and their allies in the intelligence services to thank for this. One can find banners and signs condemning Trump as Putin’s puppet or, homophobically, as “his bitch” at Democratic Party-led demonstrations. Hardline Democrats have expressed outrage over Trump’s mythical connections to Russia but have directed none toward the professional liars leading the campaign. American intelligence agencies are responsible for the COINTELPRO operations that assassinated scores of liberation fighters like Fred Hampton and sent many others like Mumia Abu-Jamal to a life of imprisonment. They are the same liars who told us there were Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq and Gaddafi-led genocidal crimes in Libya. These professional liars have led US operations to overthrow over fifty foreign governments around the world in the same number of years, killing millions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to enrich monopoly capital.
American exceptionalism requires that people in the US forget the atrocities of its government to be truly believed, especially in this time of crisis. The architects of Russia-gate have attempted to place the entirety of what calls itself the left in the US into a permanent political coma by blaming Russia for Trump. Under the spell of Russia-Trump fever, the racist and capitalist rulers of US imperialism can rest comfortably knowing that eight years of Obama-led imperialism -- let alone, the genocidal foundations of the US -- have been forgotten. Indications of deep unrest that occurred under Obama, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Sanders phenomena, have all been blamed on Russia. Trump has been vilified as a product of Russian-backed “alt-left” and “alt-right” insurgency when the reality is that the blame for Trump falls at the feet of the hobbling imperialist system.
“Russia has been conveniently positioned as the most dangerous and heinous nation in the world to instill fear and pro-American chauvinism into the minds of struggling workers and poor people.”
Russia-gate personifies everything that is wrong with narrow, Democratic Party-led anti-Trumpism. Trump has been made into a larger than life character in part because US imperialism needs him in the spotlight. If you can’t get rid of him, use him. Criminalizing Trump as a “Manchurian candidate” of Russia has given US imperialism room to continue its NATO-led war provocations in Eastern Europe, its imperial ventures in Syria, and its incessant war maneuvers toward Iran and Korea. It has also given the ruling class a convenient scapegoat to avoid accountability in the rapid decline in living standards across world. Millions are living half-lives under the threat of racist state-sponsored terror and mass unemployment and underemployment. Billions have no wealth at all. All of this is just fine so long as those pesky Russians stop meddling in US affairs.
Russia-gate is what American exceptionalism looks like in its most desperate state. The ideology makes it easy to fall into the trap of blaming Trump for everything, into calling him a fascist or worse, a Russian, as nearly the entire ruling class has pushed us into doing. It is easy to turn a blind-eye to the bi-partisan consensus on endless war and austerity when you have Putin on the brain. Trump can be labeled a fascist for scapegoating immigrants and blamed for Obama’s immigration policies, as prominent CNN and New York Timesjournalists were caught doing late last month. We can forget the hundreds of years of racist, capitalist oppression inherent to US empire and betray the impoverished masses whose lives are only becoming more imperiled by a system that has nothing to offer but worsening degrees of poverty and war.
“It is easy to turn a blind-eye to the bi-partisan consensus on endless war and austerity when you have Putin on the brain.”
Our commitment must be to the truth. There is no truth to Russia-gate. Russia-gate has muzzled the Black left and pushed the entire left into an even more conservative position than it was prior. Russia-gate has villainized Russia in a period when the world needsthe people of the US to align with Russia and China and whoever else is willing stop endless US wars abroad. Russia-gate has once again exposed why it is so difficult for workers in the US to view themselves as an exploited class even when the system has so obviously failed them. That the ruling class can so easily criminalize Russia as it kills Syrians and lynches Black Americans with impunity only amplifies the urgency of the moment. We must vigilantly struggle to expose Russia-gate as a farce, a farce rooted in the mythology of American exceptionalism. We need more to reject this mythology if we are to participate in the global class war with any hope for victory.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He is currently writing a book with Roberto Sirvent entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of US Empire. He can be reached at [email protected]