Russiagate is technically over, but we are still living with its consequences.
I don’t mean this only on the superficial level: yes, the Michael Flynn case may still take a few new turn and, sure, Trump may tweet about “Obamagate” for a few months more.
I mean it instead on a deeper, psychological level. Russiagate created a tectonic shift in the normie liberal’s psyche. It was an epistemic attack that fatally impaired their ability to differentiate truth from lies. And as the Black Lives Matter riots and looting continue to spread across America, starting in Minneapolis and spreading to nearly every major city it is fair to say that Russiagate’s attacks on truth played no small role in our paralyzed response.
Most people on the right are familiar with the Theodore Dalrymple’s often-quoted remark that the purpose of propaganda in communist societies “was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better.” He believed that people became more subservient the more they were forced to publicly assent to obvious lies. But with Russiagate we saw a new tactic. Obvious lies were branded as sophisticated opinion, and eager status-seekers lapped them up—not out of humiliation, but with the same kind of pride they might show from carrying an NPR tote bag or reading Ta-Nehisi Coates on the train: as signifiers that they are worldly, cosmopolitan people with respectable beliefs.
For me, the defining moment came early in the Mueller investigation, while I was sitting through an unrelated seminar at work. This is high-end, well-paid corporate work, full of people with impressive credentials and degrees. My colleague sitting next to me kept ignoring the presentation, and focused instead on studying a complicated flow chart from the Washington Post that he brought up on his laptop, connecting Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin through a series of connections with Russian oligarchs. The chart looked like the meme of Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia tracking Pepe Silvia.
Except there was one important difference between Charlie and my colleague. In It’s Always Sunny, the joke was that Charlie was low-status. Here, Putin flow charts are defined as high-status. That’s it.
The purpose of all this isn’t quite to humiliate, but it still worked as a grooming operation, to mold its target audience in new ways. Just as Dalrymple observed with reference to communist propaganda, Russiagate’s strength was its very absurdity. Any normal person should have been able to see immediately that claims that Vladimir Putin hacked an election, which was carried out mostly with paper ballots, by posting Facebook memes was ridiculous. The ruling class’s ability to brand these kinds of wacky theories as not only not ridiculous, but actually sophisticated was a powerful flex. It was an assertion of the raw power our rulers could exercise through control of a unified media apparatus. And for their target audience, it primed them to become even more credulous of new high-status conspiracy theories in the future. If they believed Russiagate, what else would they believe?
Now, with full-on race riots, fueled by antifa agitators, in most major cities, we have our answer. It turns out they will believe a lot. Liberal journalists and their normie audience immediately accepted the governor of Minnesota’s absurd claim that “white supremacists” were actually behind the looting in Minneapolis, despite the presence of extensive video footage showing that the rioters are black. Joy Reid of MSNBC even pitched the “white supremacist” angle as a simple matter of common sense:
This is a real shift that shouldn’t be understated. The Ferguson riots of 2014 were the last great happening that pitted the black underclass and their media enablers against normal law-abiding Americans. They shifted many people (including me) decisively to the right. Ferguson made clear for many members of the extremely-online millennial Right that rioters are the enemies of civilized life and that “limited government” can’t save us from them, and as such, marks one of the last the turning points for many of us between the Ron Paul libertarianism of the late 2000s and the rise of the new nationalist Right of the 2010s.
And yet, even during the Ferguson riots, there was no serious question about what was going on. It was clearly a case of blacks rioting. There was nothing shocking about the fact that blacks would burn down their neighborhood over a perceived injustice. They had done the same thing many times in the past: they did it in LA in 1992 and across the country after Martin Luther King was killed in 1968. The real debate proceeded beyond the obvious fact that black people were rioting and simply asked instead whether the riots were justified.
Now, the debate is barely allowed to reach this level. The very nature of who is rioting is up for debate. According to the center-left, the rioters are white supremacists and maybe even Russian agents. And what was once considered common sense—that black people riot for time to time—is dismissed out of hand by both the mainstream left and even right. (The latter claiming instead that the violence comes from white anarchists, which at least is partially true, but woefully incomplete). While this common sense is rejected, the idea that undercover Nazis funded by Russia are causing the riots to blame violence black people is considered very likely among the respectable set. It used to be a joke when Tariq Nasheed blamed the Chicago crime rate on white people in black face. Now, it is respectable opinion.
People on our side may be loath to relitigate Russiagate, which necessarily requires that we speak in defense of President Trump, who has done nothing but repeatedly disappoint us. Still, we shouldn’t assume that a three-year media-orchestrated constant mindfuck can simply disappear once the elites are done with it, without leaving any consequences. Russiagate has turned the center-left liberal—a reasonably intelligent, well-credentialed member of the professional class, with a home in the suburbs, two kids, and a dog—into a raving lunatic willing to believe theories on the same level of tap water turning the frogs gay. The real threat is that, as these members of the professional-managerial class age, and entire new generations grow up solely on force-fed memes and media narratives, people will forget what common sense even was. We might even learn to miss the Boomer. The Baby Boom generation, for all its faults, still lived in an America where they at least learned the inherited wisdom on things like race, sex, and culture. As that ancestral memory fades, we will be left at the mercy of media memes alone.