For millions of Americans, the grim specter of Trump's remaining 46 months in power has been lessened, just a little, by the hope that All This Russia Stuff (TM) might lead to an impeachment.
It's fun to spend a few minutes every day in a fantasy world in which Donald Trump is hours away from impeachment, but a fantasy is all that is. There is no grand Putinspiracy to control the White House, and focusing on the idea that there might be means ignoring all the actual terrible, shady s**t Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are getting up to. For example, this story ...
... is just super fun. And while I've got zero trouble believing Donald Trump would pay Russian prostitutes to pee on a bed Barack Obama slept in, the idea that a video of such sexcapades is being used as kompromat (blackmail material) by the Russian government is worse than rock-f*****g stupid. It's, like, waiting-until-marriage-to-f**k-a-rock stupid.
Let's break it down: The idea here is that Trump's just a puppet of Putin because if he steps out of line at all, ol' Vlad will send his gross sex tape to Wikileaks or whoever.
First off ... does anyone think a sex tape would hurt Donald Trump at this point? Seriously, if video of him being pissed on by a bunch of Baltic hookers leaked tonight, do you really think THAT would be the end of his career? We caught the man bragging about sexually assaulting women to Billy goddamn Bush, and he was still elected president. A sex tape might actually win him some support.
Secondly, the "White House leak" cited in that article? It's actually just a Twitter account, @RoguePOTUSStaff.
The account is purportedly run by stealth rational people hiding inside the Trump administration. There's no evidence its real. And the pseudonymous tweeter doesn't even make any direct claims about "blackmail." They just claim that someone said the president's behavior was "suspicious" during a call with Putin.
And while we're all flipping out over whether or not the Kremlin has video of our president f*****g, we seem to be breezing past their ongoing efforts to influence global politics via clickbait. Russian propagandists are fighting it out in the digital battlefields of Finland, Germany, Ukraine, and right here in the U.S. The Russian government operates an internet "troll factory" in St. Petersburg. In 2007, the Kremlin's hackers took the entire nation of Estonia offline in the largest cyber attack in history.
But fighting Russian fake news would mean accepting some pretty fundamental changes in how we use the internet and social media, so f**k that. Let's just keep sharing vaguely conspiratorial news stories. Oooh, like this one!
Yes, this is surely evidence of something deeply unsettling. Michael Flynn, the president's former National Security Advisor, had to resign due to undisclosed conversations with this guy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from any investigations into the 2016 campaign for the same reason. It's impossible to imagine any meeting between Trump and Russia's ambassador that doesn't end with them divvying up a map of Europe.
Except we know how they "met" -- the Russian ambassador showed up with a bunch of other diplomats and quickly shook hands with Trump after he gave a speech. And while it's true that his spokeswoman denied any contact between the two, there's nothing illegal about that; it's just s****y and annoying. Meanwhile, the real issue is the fact that rapidly aged baby Jeff Sessions lied under oath about his meeting with the Russian ambassador. And with every red herring, this drops a little further out of the public's memory. In fact, five of President Trump's cabinet appointees have lied to Congress. The guy who now heads up the EPA even lied about using a private email server when he was Oklahoma's attorney general. Remember when that mattered?
But f**k it! We've got more titillating conspiracies about Russia! And this one's the Russia-est yet!
In some of these cases, like that of Sergey Krivov, the circumstances around the death are a little weird, but he was a security officer at the Russian consulate. That ties him about as closely to the Trump campaign as anyone reading this. It is true that Alex Oronov, who may have set up a secret meeting between Trump's lawyer and Russian officials, also just died ...
... but the circumstances are hardly "unexplained." His family said he died after a long illness, and also f**k you very much for turning our loved one's death into conspiracy fodder. Former KGB chief Oleg Erovinkin and Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin both died of heart attacks recently. That does seem suspicious! Or it would, if Russian men weren't three times as likely to suffer coronary heart disease as Americans. Putin does seem to have a bit of a hobby of killing journalists, so it's tempting to jump on every Russian death as part of a grand conspiracy. But it distracts us from the real cases of Putin's murdery policies. If a Russian who was once in the same room as Steve Bannon dies tonight, you can bet he'll be half the internet's front page news tomorrow. But you know who won't be? These folks:
I met them in the town hall of Avdiivka, a city in Ukraine, on the day that their front windows were blown in by a mortar. The old man had blood and hydrogen peroxide on his face. He shook the whole time he sat there, waiting for a piece of plastic to cover the holes in his home. The mortars that hit his neighborhood, and all the big guns firing on Avdiivka that day, were made in Russia and sent to Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's government.
Shortly after I visited in 2015, a ceasefire brought an end to the shooting. That ceasefire ended this February, roughly two weeks after Trump took office. The shooting started a day after President Trump talked to Vladimir Putin on the phone. People in Avdiivka are probably being shelled as you read this. And it probably had less to do with blackmail than the fact that President Trump had just promised Ukraine that he wouldn't lift sanctions on Russia.
So the truly scary reality isn't that Vladimir Putin's controlling Trump like an orange, puffin-jowled marionette; it's that an inexperienced, ill-tempered, and generally very ignorant man is going up against one of the smartest leaders on the world stage, and tens of thousands of human lives hang in the balance.
On the other hand, we got to hear Trump shout "You're a puppet!" at Hillary Clinton during one of the debates. So maybe it's all been worthwhile.
Correction: an earlier version of this article misidentified Oleg Erovinkin as Igor Sechin.
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