This has been a weird election season, but this week it turned just plain crazy, with paranoia typical of Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian politics. In those countries, every failure gets blamed on a plot. Crops fail, oil prices plummet, the economy tanks? It must be the fault of Israel, the Jews, the Americans. You, Ali, don’t succeed? Others have plotted against you. Heaven forbid that blame falls where it belongs—on the corrupt and incompetent government, the tyrannical monarch, on any definable individual.
So now America’s Democratic Party is in disarray over leaked e-mails showing that the Democratic National Committee actually did put a heavy thumb on candidate Hillary Clinton’s scale, conspiring against her opponent, Vermont socialist senator Bernie Sanders, to make doubly sure he didn’t win the nomination. Infuriated left-wing Democrats called for the head of party chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who had intended to resign after the nominating convention in Philadelphia. But, shouted down by enraged Bernie-ites, as if she were some conservative speaker at an Ivy League graduation ceremony, Congresswoman Schultz resigned her gavel there and then.
The Democrats then had to deal with the embarrassing truth that the national committee did indeed conspire against the septuagenarian socialist. They were even prepared to use his religion against him, though whether his Jewish birth or his purportedly atheist beliefs were disqualifying, the leaked documents don’t make clear. So, in good Middle Eastern style, the Democrats shifted the blame away from themselves—away from their own shady dealings—to . . . a plot! Why were the e-mails leaked? A plot! A plot to elect Republican Donald Trump. And, again in good Middle Eastern style, it was a plot orchestrated by malign foreign powers to harm America. Those nefarious Russians, our perennial adversary, had done the hacking, with the express intent of blocking Hillary Clinton’s election.
Worse, they had interfered thus in our presidential politics with the devilish purpose of electing Trump, who, the Democrats broadly hinted, was of course Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s lapdog. “State actors,” pronounced Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook, had engineered the spy-movie caper “with the purpose of helping Donald Trump,” because of his announced willingness to rethink the NATO alliance that has been the key to the Western democracies’ military defense against the Russians. After all, Democrats charged, didn’t Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort once advise Viktor Yanukovych, Russia’s Ukrainian puppet? And, judges one expert observer, Manafort was indeed trying to make a fast buck off the upheaval in Ukraine.
That’s a far cry, however, from the charge of California congressman Adam Schiff, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Given Donald Trump’s well-known admiration for Putin and his belittling of NATO, the Russians have both the means and the motive to engage in a hack of the D.N.C. and the dump of its e-mails prior to the Democratic convention,” Schiff insinuated. “That foreign actors may be trying to influence our election—let alone a powerful adversary like Russia—should concern all Americans of any party.”
That’s strong stuff, not the usual nastiness you hear in a campaign. An international conspiracy! Left unsaid, of course, is the fact that candidate Clinton maintained an illegal private e-mail server at her Chappaqua home, thorough which she sent and received Top Secret documents when she was secretary of state, “pressing the reset button with Russia,” as she put it—with the result that U.S.-Russian relations blew up. For an ordinary person, some poor slob like General David Petraeus, say, using such a server would be indictable. An even more ordinary American would go to jail for it. And no wonder, because intelligence agents well know that Russia, North Korea, China, the United States, and other governments continually hack one another’s sensitive computer networks, stealing valuable intelligence and business secrets. Nothing easier to hack than Mrs. Clinton’s little basement machine, and no doubt we’ll be reading leaks from it as the election approaches.
Allegations like Mook’s and Schiff’s are outrageous, but politicians are not in the truth business. What is more scandalous is that this story should have featured boldly on Page One of the New York Times for two days running. The Times even reported suspicions that Trump may be a “Siberian Candidate”—that is, a brainwashed agent of the Russians, as in the great 1962 movie The Manchurian Candidate, in which Laurence Harvey plays just such a brainwashed agent, this time of the Chinese. His mission is to assassinate his presidential-candidate stepfather, and his American controller is his mother, played brilliantly by Angela Lansbury, who uncannily reminds one of Mrs. Clinton. All Americans know that the press is partisan, and getting ever more so. But the Times’s partisanship borders on—dare we be so paranoid?—Pravda’s.
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