The Paranoid Style of Jonathan Chait

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter published The Paranoid Style in American Politics.  Conspiracy theories and movements of suspicious discontent are recurring phenomena in American history. A current example is the Russian collusion theory. In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait combines all the real and imagined interactions between Russians and President Trump from 1986. He earns the silver medal in conspiracy theories. The gold medal belongs to Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society.  He claimed Present Eisenhower was a communist. 

It’s easy to doubt this article is that silly.  Here’s the title: "Will Trump be Meeting His Counterpart -- or His Handler?" The tab descriptor reads, "What if Trump has been a Russian agent since 1987?”  

Indeed, it seems slightly insane to contemplate the possibility that a secret relationship between Trump and Russia dates back this far. But it can’t be dismissed completely. How do you even think about the small but real chance — 10 percent? 20 percent? — that the president of the United States has been covertly influenced or personally compromised by a hostile foreign power for decades? 

Chait spends 7903 words throwing everything he can muster to make his point. If he didn't intend his reader buy into the theory, what was he doing?  Like all conspiracy tales, when this one isn’t boring, it’s hilarious. It’s unlikely that was his intention. 

Here’s my view.   When Trump Jr. agreed to the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer, the campaign showed a willingness to "collude." Who wouldn't? The Clinton campaign funneled money to a former spy to acquire dirt from Russian sources.  They got the dossier: purchased fictitious dirt from Russian sources. All’s fair in opposition research. Clinton got juicer but false information. For me that's everything, but not for Chait.

Trump made a nonproductive business trip to Moscow in 1987.  He then began a campaign we still see: our allies should pay a larger share of the cost of their defense. This is presented as Trump doing Moscow's bidding by driving wedges in our alliances making us all less safe. This could only happen if the KGB types got something on Trump during that trip, or because they acquired financial leverage on him.  

It's important to note that since the 1950s, conservatives have argued that our allies get a free ride. Barry Goldwater made the point repeatedly. Goldwater was not soft on the Russians. 

The Russians have a talent for sexual extortion (the KGB even had a term for it: the “honey trap”).  It doesn't always work. In the 60s the KGB tried to blackmail Indonesian dictator Achmed Sukarno with sex films.  He was thrilled. He wanted copies to take home. Does anyone think "The Donald" of 1987 would have reacted differently? 

Trump was close to a financial cliff.  Here are the ways Chait thinks the Russians bailed him out.  From 2003 to 20017, people from the former Soviet Union made 86 all-cash purchases of Trump properties. The purchases totaled $109 million. This isn’t a bombshell. Trump's business is building and selling expensive condos. In 14 years, he sold six condos a year to people, not from Russia, but from throughout the former Soviet Union. The sales averaged $1.26 million. That's not all profit.  It costs money to buy land and construct condos. Chait doesn't understand what he's writing about.

The other bailout is $100 million in loans from Deutsche Bank.  Chait asserts these loans were made when Deutsche Bank was laundering Russian money. And? Loan officers make safe loans backed by collateral. They want their money back with interest.  That’s what happened. 

Chait makes a big deal of casual comments about getting money from Russia, allegedly made by Donald Jr.  If you believe people at that level casually discuss sources of money, you should bid on my Florida orange groves.

There is a long section on supposed new evidence buttressing the believably of the infamous dossier.  An “important new item” purports to prove that Trump's famous germ phobia wouldn’t prevent him from being with prostitutes who offer golden showers.  

Trump…visited a club in Las Vegas, that regularly performed 'simulatedsex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism,' including shows in which strippers simulated urinating. Isikoff and Corn do not establish what kind of performance was on display the night Trump visited. It may or may not have involved bodily fluids. But the notion that a display of exotic sex acts lies totally outside the range of behavior Trump would enjoy is quaint and unfounded.

Trump may have seen a show that may have included simulated urinating. Chait is unsure about the exact nature of the performance.  What does he think "simulated" means?  Does he not understand that pretend urine doesn’t scare germaphobes?

There is the case of the server in Trump tower that communicated with a bank in Russia.  Chait acknowledges that Vox savaged this report and that Intercept rightly called it wacky. Our guy’s new theory is that the server sent important demographic information to strategically place Russian ads.  

This is where the conspiracy story unravels.  Trump and Clinton spent a combined $81 million dollars on Facebook alone. Russia spent $46,000.  Russia may have spent $300,000 on Twitter.  

Foreign governments shouldn't do that, but this is political chump change. That Trump and the Kremlin established a computer system to coordinate tiny amounts of money is laughable. Unless Mueller comes up with something more, his report will be laughable as well, but we'll always have obstruction.

Here are the ways Chait knows that Trump is an agent:

1. Putin suggested Trump postpone the joint military exercise with South Korea.  Trump did. Many people suggested that, but only if Trump kept the sanctions on North Korea in place.  He did.

2. Trump watered down the Republican platform on lethal weapons for Ukraine. That didn’t happen. Trump reversed an Obama policy and provided lethal weapons to Ukraine. Actions really do speak louder than words.

3. Trump has not imposed new sanctions on Russia.  He did impose severe sanctions on Russian oligarchs, which hit the intended targets directly. 

4. Trump revealed Israeli intelligence about ISIS to the Russians.  Obama also shared intelligence with the Russians. The Russians hate ISIS as much as we do since they lost a commercial airplane to ISIS. The sharing of this ISIS information harmed no one. The Washington Post published a leak to injure Trump.  Their publicized leak caused real harm to Israeli intelligence.  

Trump believes he can strike a deal with Putin.  Many consider this to be naïve, but our President is full of surprises.  When possible, it’s a good idea to get along with countries possessing nuclear arsenals.  This is not conspiracy.

Was Obama conspiring when he sent Putin a message that he’d have more flexibility after the election?  Was Hillary conspiring when she gave her counterpart the reset button?  Why are the Russian conspiracy theorists not denouncing their former President and Secretary of State?  

The paranoia of the Russian conspiracy theorists is not triggered by Russia’s bad behavior.  It stems from Trump’s win.  They need a rationale for losing a winnable election. Let’s be patient with them till their paranoia eases.

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter published The Paranoid Style in American Politics.  Conspiracy theories and movements of suspicious discontent are recurring phenomena in American history. A current example is the Russian collusion theory. In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait combines all the real and imagined interactions between Russians and President Trump from 1986. He earns the silver medal in conspiracy theories. The gold medal belongs to Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society.  He claimed Present Eisenhower was a communist. 

It’s easy to doubt this article is that silly.  Here’s the title: "Will Trump be Meeting His Counterpart -- or His Handler?" The tab descriptor reads, "What if Trump has been a Russian agent since 1987?”  

Indeed, it seems slightly insane to contemplate the possibility that a secret relationship between Trump and Russia dates back this far. But it can’t be dismissed completely. How do you even think about the small but real chance — 10 percent? 20 percent? — that the president of the United States has been covertly influenced or personally compromised by a hostile foreign power for decades? 

Chait spends 7903 words throwing everything he can muster to make his point. If he didn't intend his reader buy into the theory, what was he doing?  Like all conspiracy tales, when this one isn’t boring, it’s hilarious. It’s unlikely that was his intention. 

Here’s my view.   When Trump Jr. agreed to the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer, the campaign showed a willingness to "collude." Who wouldn't? The Clinton campaign funneled money to a former spy to acquire dirt from Russian sources.  They got the dossier: purchased fictitious dirt from Russian sources. All’s fair in opposition research. Clinton got juicer but false information. For me that's everything, but not for Chait.

Trump made a nonproductive business trip to Moscow in 1987.  He then began a campaign we still see: our allies should pay a larger share of the cost of their defense. This is presented as Trump doing Moscow's bidding by driving wedges in our alliances making us all less safe. This could only happen if the KGB types got something on Trump during that trip, or because they acquired financial leverage on him.  

It's important to note that since the 1950s, conservatives have argued that our allies get a free ride. Barry Goldwater made the point repeatedly. Goldwater was not soft on the Russians. 

The Russians have a talent for sexual extortion (the KGB even had a term for it: the “honey trap”).  It doesn't always work. In the 60s the KGB tried to blackmail Indonesian dictator Achmed Sukarno with sex films.  He was thrilled. He wanted copies to take home. Does anyone think "The Donald" of 1987 would have reacted differently? 

Trump was close to a financial cliff.  Here are the ways Chait thinks the Russians bailed him out.  From 2003 to 20017, people from the former Soviet Union made 86 all-cash purchases of Trump properties. The purchases totaled $109 million. This isn’t a bombshell. Trump's business is building and selling expensive condos. In 14 years, he sold six condos a year to people, not from Russia, but from throughout the former Soviet Union. The sales averaged $1.26 million. That's not all profit.  It costs money to buy land and construct condos. Chait doesn't understand what he's writing about.

The other bailout is $100 million in loans from Deutsche Bank.  Chait asserts these loans were made when Deutsche Bank was laundering Russian money. And? Loan officers make safe loans backed by collateral. They want their money back with interest.  That’s what happened. 

Chait makes a big deal of casual comments about getting money from Russia, allegedly made by Donald Jr.  If you believe people at that level casually discuss sources of money, you should bid on my Florida orange groves.

There is a long section on supposed new evidence buttressing the believably of the infamous dossier.  An “important new item” purports to prove that Trump's famous germ phobia wouldn’t prevent him from being with prostitutes who offer golden showers.  

Trump…visited a club in Las Vegas, that regularly performed 'simulatedsex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism,' including shows in which strippers simulated urinating. Isikoff and Corn do not establish what kind of performance was on display the night Trump visited. It may or may not have involved bodily fluids. But the notion that a display of exotic sex acts lies totally outside the range of behavior Trump would enjoy is quaint and unfounded.

Trump may have seen a show that may have included simulated urinating. Chait is unsure about the exact nature of the performance.  What does he think "simulated" means?  Does he not understand that pretend urine doesn’t scare germaphobes?

There is the case of the server in Trump tower that communicated with a bank in Russia.  Chait acknowledges that Vox savaged this report and that Intercept rightly called it wacky. Our guy’s new theory is that the server sent important demographic information to strategically place Russian ads.  

This is where the conspiracy story unravels.  Trump and Clinton spent a combined $81 million dollars on Facebook alone. Russia spent $46,000.  Russia may have spent $300,000 on Twitter.  

Foreign governments shouldn't do that, but this is political chump change. That Trump and the Kremlin established a computer system to coordinate tiny amounts of money is laughable. Unless Mueller comes up with something more, his report will be laughable as well, but we'll always have obstruction.

Here are the ways Chait knows that Trump is an agent:

1. Putin suggested Trump postpone the joint military exercise with South Korea.  Trump did. Many people suggested that, but only if Trump kept the sanctions on North Korea in place.  He did.

2. Trump watered down the Republican platform on lethal weapons for Ukraine. That didn’t happen. Trump reversed an Obama policy and provided lethal weapons to Ukraine. Actions really do speak louder than words.

3. Trump has not imposed new sanctions on Russia.  He did impose severe sanctions on Russian oligarchs, which hit the intended targets directly. 

4. Trump revealed Israeli intelligence about ISIS to the Russians.  Obama also shared intelligence with the Russians. The Russians hate ISIS as much as we do since they lost a commercial airplane to ISIS. The sharing of this ISIS information harmed no one. The Washington Post published a leak to injure Trump.  Their publicized leak caused real harm to Israeli intelligence.  

Trump believes he can strike a deal with Putin.  Many consider this to be naïve, but our President is full of surprises.  When possible, it’s a good idea to get along with countries possessing nuclear arsenals.  This is not conspiracy.

Was Obama conspiring when he sent Putin a message that he’d have more flexibility after the election?  Was Hillary conspiring when she gave her counterpart the reset button?  Why are the Russian conspiracy theorists not denouncing their former President and Secretary of State?  

The paranoia of the Russian conspiracy theorists is not triggered by Russia’s bad behavior.  It stems from Trump’s win.  They need a rationale for losing a winnable election. Let’s be patient with them till their paranoia eases.