It's no secret that Putin is backing Trump. Nor is it a secret that Trump has expressed some admiration for Putin's autocratic strong-man style of government. What's interesting, though, is that making this particular connection will get you branded a McCarthyite from those sections of the regressive left who still hold a certain unshakeable affection for mother Russia. Jonathan Chait:
The cultivation of friendly candidates in elections in other countries, and efforts to intervene on their behalf, is a staple of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. Putin’s Russia has been proven or credibly alleged to have boosted friendly candidates in France, Germany, Austria, and, most successfully, in the election of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Something like this seems to be happening in the American presidential election now. Several weeks ago, Franklin Foer wrote in Slate about the web of suspicious financial ties connecting Trump and his leading Russia adviser to the Kremlin. The story attracted little attention — maybe it was too far-fetched, or maybe the daily stream of cable-news ticker-friendly public outrages spewed out by Trump, which required no inference, blotted out a much deeper one that lay half-buried. But recent events have propelled the story into the presidential campaign.
First, in Cleveland, Trump’s campaign, which had generally steered clear of platform disputes, threw around its weight to block a plank endorsing defensive military aide to Ukraine. Next, Trump shocked the foreign-policy Establishment by telling reporters that, contrary to decades of American policy, he might renege on America’s commitment to defend NATO allies in the event of a Russian invasion. And then, last weekend, emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been hacked by Russia appeared on WikiLeaks. The emails, which showed staffers pulling for Hillary Clinton despite the organization’s professed neutrality, created a rift between bitter supporters of Bernie Sanders and the party Establishment at a time when it was trying to tamp down discord in the service of concord. Clinton’s campaign manager is now stating openly that Russia is trying to help Trump.
And oddly enough, the drama is having a second-order effect that is more profound than the direct hit from the email story. It is prying open a deep, decades-old ideological wedge between liberals and the left at just the moment when the two wings were seeking to form a united front against Trump....
But the accusation that Trump’s relationship with Russia reeks of impropriety, in the media now by Clinton, has provoked a furious counterattack on the left. Even the indisputable notion that Russia is trying to help Trump (far from the more explosive charge that Trump is trying to help Russia) has been assailed on the left as “McCarthyism” by figures like Katrina vandenHeuvel, Glenn Greenwald, and many others.
The split runs along the same lines as the fissure between liberals and leftists dating from the origins of the Cold War. The Cold War began under the presidency of Harry Truman, a figure who was regarded by progressives of his era with emotions ranging from disappointment to outright disgust. That dismay propelled the third-party candidacy of Henry Wallace, who attracted a small but wildly enthusiastic following among idealists and the far left. Wallace lambasted Truman as a warmonger, a tool of Wall Street and big business, and a traitor to the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt (which, to the frustration of liberals, had stalled). Wallace depicted the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, and other Cold War policies as a plot to instigate World War III.
The hostility between Truman and the left of his era, I argued a couple of months ago, parallels the current dynamic between Clinton and the Bernie Sanders movement today. The Trump-Russia scandal has activated that same left-wing impulse. The American far left during Truman’s era, just like today, was not pro-Russia so much as it was anti-anti-Russia, and follows identical themes: Criticism of Russia’s domestic repression or aggressive foreign policy is merely a ploy to distract from and excuse America’s own failings, and provides dangerous support for American aggression, which could lead to war. So, just as the left of the '40s and '50s saw anti-Stalinism as an excuse for Jim Crow, a Glenn Greenwald today casts Russia’s human-rights record in an implausibly favorable light, and reflexively dismisses any contrary view as simple hypocrisy. When Russia menaces Ukraine, The Nation informs its audience that this is perfectly justifiable because Ukraine is not really a country at all.
Trump’s pro-Russia tilt has reenergized these Cold War tropes....
For whatever reason, Trump is the candidate who has given the most forthright expression to anti-anti-Russian beliefs of any candidate since circa 1948 Henry Wallace (just as he has given the most open expression of racist beliefs of any candidate since circa 1968 George Wallace). As the acrimony between Clinton-supporting liberals and their foes on the left spills out on the streets of Philadelphia, this historical irony is playing a minor role. The far left’s willingness to play into the opposing party’s hands displays not only its continued disgust with the Democratic Party’s nominee and Establishment, but a certain convergence of thought with the Republican nominee.