FREDERICKSBURG, VA - In the Wikileaks trove published this week there was a June 2015 email from Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik to Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Kadzik informs Podesta that a senior Justice Department official is slated to appear that day before a congressional hearing and states the obvious by assuming that the issue of Clinton’s emails will also come up. He also informs Podesta that papers related to the investigation of the email affair that have been cleared for publication by Justice are slated to be put online by the State Department.
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It’s possible that the simple exchange between two acquaintances was technically improper under the circumstances, but it was nonetheless an innocuous message of soon-to-be public knowledge that did not give Clinton any legal advantage. That didn’t prevent CNN from breathlessly announcing the discovery of the email as “Breaking News” of enormous importance on Wednesday night, to the extent that it shoved President Obama’s speech in North Carolina to the sidelines. “It’s a very grave matter,” a sober and unsmiling analyst said, “which once again raises questions about Clinton’s honesty.”
Thus, a completely harmless email was added to the long list of crimes of the century supposedly committed by Clinton. Right-wing media outlets seized on the CNN report as if it was a Supreme Court decision at the very least, using it to buttress their claim that Clinton is an arch-criminal who deserves to sit in jail. In a campaign appearance in Florida, Trump latched on to the report, citing if as further proof that everyone is corrupt and all is lost unless he becomes president.
The email itself is insignificant, other than as a symbol: Of the media’s tendency to magnify any blip connected to Clinton to a humongous scandal; of their ongoing collaboration with Republican fabrications; of the way Clinton was transformed within a few short years from a widely respected secretary of state to a widely reviled symbol of Washington corruption; of the sinister role that lies and distortions buttressed by hate and incitement can play in an election campaign; and of one of the main reasons why, 96 hours before Election Day, America faces a clear and present threat that Trump will elected president.
Eighteen months have gone by since the controversial tycoon announced his intention to seek the presidency, but the prospect is just as inconceivable today as it was then. On the one hand we have a GOP candidate who is erratic, impulsive, impatient, ignorant, inexperienced, unable and unwilling to learn; who hates women, insults Hispanics, denigrates Muslims and defames African Americans; who has a long record of questionable business practices and alleged sexual assaults; who knows nothing about national security or international relations, maintains a suspiciously servile attitude towards Vladimir Putin, is prone to saying stupid things when he’s not being closely monitored, is opposed by an overwhelming majority of national security veterans from both parties and who is not, as many people suspect, completely there.
On the other hand, the Democratic candidate, even if she is flawed and stained, has many long years of experience in the Senate, the White House and the State Department, maintains reasonable, very slightly left of center positions, enjoys the respect of anyone who’s ever worked with her, in America and abroad, and who is diligent, thoughtful, methodical and hardworking, by all accounts. Never mind that she would be the first woman in history to serve as U.S. president and leader of the free world.
Nonetheless, Trump is on a roll. Republicans are lining up behind him, some of them even enthusiastically. More Americans trust his honesty than hers, as a survey published this week showed, despite the fact that his standard speech includes 10 times as many lies as hers and proving that someone must be pouring copious amounts of LSD into American waters. Trump is not winning yet, as many Israelis seem to believe now, but even if Clinton does eke out a victory in the end, Americans will have to explain to themselves how and why they ran directly to the edge of the abyss and seemed so intent on jumping.
Of course, we already had enough of learned explanations of Trump’s success, from his mastery of the public’s reality-show mentality, his ratings-rich showmanship on TV, the racism and resentment running through parts of American society, the collateral damage of globalization on entire classes of people and the proposition, propagated by supporters of Bernie Sanders, that there really is no difference between the charlatan from Trump Towers and the allegedly corrupt politician from Chappaqua on the Hudson. As if moderation, responsibility and good judgment are not important in evaluating a candidate’s qualifications to serve as president.
The media are principle accomplices in creating this false equivalence. Their lust for new items with which to feed the beast has caused them to forget about Trump’s incoherent policies, outrageous statements and ongoing reports of sexual aggression. But give them a new email detailing the kind of correspondence that one would expect politicians and functionaries to maintain when they think it’s totally private – and it’s breaking news and live shots and “new developments” and another blow to Clinton’s presidential aspirations. And polls showing Clinton in the lead are boring, but those pointing to a Trump upset are sensational, thus laying the groundwork for turning them into self-fulfilling prophecies.
Some of Clinton’s advisers are fuming at the media, but attacking them does not go over well with their liberal constituency. And even though one can mock leftists who complain just as loudly about the media as right-wingers, one needs to differentiate between news and views. It’s true that the overwhelming majority of editorials and op-eds published in the mainstream media favor Clinton, but it’s the news reports that shape public opinion.
In Israel, the long-standing nationalistic tone of news coverage in most supposedly left-leaning news outlets has long buttressed the right and kept it in power, despite the fact that politicians such as Benjamin Netanyahu continue to reap the benefits of inciting against their supposed bias. By the same token, the individual opinions offered by commentators on CNN, MSNBC and other television networks usually preach to the choir, but the ongoing hyperventilating coverage of Trump’s rallies and interviews are changing public perceptions and paving his way to the White House.
It’s not completely clear if TV executives are doing this thoughtlessly or on purpose. It’s clear that Trump has already earned TV networks billions of dollars and will bring in many billions more if elected president. Unexciting Clinton, on the other hand, may manage American’s affairs with a firm hand, steady judgment and steely resolution, but ratings will hit the floor and take the current bonanza down with them.
Clinton is undoubtedly a problematic candidate with a whole Pandora’s Box in tow, but in recent weeks she finds herself contending not only with Trump and his vile invective, Republicans and their hateful rhetoric and rabid right-wing media outlets that spread and amplify their odious message, but also with supposedly liberal media, which have had a tense relationship with the Clintons for years; with Julian Assange and the daily dump of embarrassing Podesta emails on Wikileaks; with the sophisticated hackers operated by the Kremlin and, in recent days, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Since Friday’s letter to Congress sent by FBI Director James Comey and the blowback he sustained from Democrats, the FBI has stopped pretending that it’s just doing its job, responding with a spate of anti-Clinton leaks from internal investigations and a flow of curiously timed publications of past probes of Bill Clinton sought under the Freedom of Information Act.
Clinton may have made the biggest mistake in her life when she set up the illicit private server while serving as secretary of state, but the GOP has used that to portray her as a traitor like Benedict Arnold, a spy like Mata Hari, a political conniver like Richard Nixon and a Mafioso kingpin who would put Al Capone to shame. Four American diplomats were killed in Benghazi under her watch, but the Republicans have made that into the biggest military failure since Pearl Harbor, accusing Clinton of willfully causing the deaths of the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats.
Clinton may be too close for comfort with billionaires and may have received exorbitant speaking fees from Wall Street, but to hear Trump tell it she is nothing less than an agent of an international banking cabal plotting to take over the world, as first revealed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Just like the Trump-led fabrication of Obama’s Kenyan birthplace, Clinton has also fallen victim to a Big Lie that has transformed her from a flawed politician to a criminal and a monster. As Adolf Hitler wrote in one of the books that Trump, according to his first wife Ivana, kept by his bedside, the biggest lies work because ordinary people can’t believe that someone would dare to depart so dramatically from the truth.
The blood libels against Clinton and Obama stem from fundamental animosity towards their essence – Obama as an African American and Clinton as a woman – from an atmosphere of hate fanned by the right wing for many years, and from a genuine belief that telling the truth is incidental to the triumph of ideology. Trump may be foreign to the core conservative ideals of the Republican Party, but he is their complete disciple, as they are his, in terms of their modus operandi.
Possibly because they’re so used to it already, many Israelis cannot fathom the anxiety that is now gripping large parts of American society, and the overwhelming proportion of the country’s elites. Unlike Americans, who are shocked at the disintegration of any internal opposition to an authoritarian political leader, and are devastated by the shameless about-face of Trump’s former political rivals, such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who once called the GOP candidate an egomaniac and a con man, Israelis no longer harbor such naive illusions: Every day they can see politicians prostrating themselves before the prime minster and succumbing to his increasingly bizarre whims out of fear for their future progress and careers.
Likewise, Israelis would not be surprised by the lethal success of incitement and hate mongering, and how these are used to camouflage a dearth of concrete plans or solutions. In recent years, Israelis have seen how a country can ostensibly survive a sustained assault by its politicians against its intellectual and cultural elites, and how these in turn gradually lose their will to resist under the constant pressure.
America isn’t there yet, but it soon may be. Comey’s letter didn’t spark Trump’s ascent in the polls but it accelerated it. The letter invigorated Republicans, fueling and justifying their “lock her up” refrain that has served as the main GOP slogan throughout Trump’s campaign. Their main motivation is not personal support for Trump, who may have kept himself under wraps this week but not long enough for people to forget how unhinged he was before, but their shared rage and hostility towards Clinton in particular and the liberal left in general. More than anything else, it is their loathing that is driving Republicans to the polls,
The working assumption of most analysts until now had been that Clinton’s vastly superior ground game could compensate for the Republican motivation, but recent polls indicate that this may no longer be the case. The question now is whether the growing fear of a Trump presidency will jolt hitherto complacent Democratic constituencies, including millennials and African Americans, out of their lethargy and out to the polling booths next Tuesday. Rather than relying on positive support for their respective candidates, the main question now may be whether Democratic fear will overcome Republican loathing.
I suspect that like some TV network executives, some journalists yearn for the non-stop excitement that a Trump presidency would provide for their professions. But that should be tempered by a truly existential fear. A Clinton presidency might be a monotonous much more of the same, but a Trump victory will immediately plunge America into a deep internal crisis and the world into an extended period of instability. Trump promises to Make America Great Again, but America has never stopped being great, outside the warped minds of him and his enthusiasts. But it could happen. America would stop being great the moment it turned out that the country has chosen a president who is so obviously the most unfit and unqualified contender to ever seek the job.