Only visceral hatred of Donald Trump combined with equally unreasoning suspicions about Russia, much of it inherited from the days of the Cold War, could account for the persistence of such an implausible argument. Yet an impressive array of media and political heavyweights have adopted that perspective.
As during the McCarthy era in the 1950s, challenging the dominant narrative entails the risk of severe damage to reputation and career. In September 2020, TheIntercept’s Glenn Greenwald disclosed in an interview with Megyn Kelly that he had been blacklisted at MSNBC, primarily because he’d disputed the network’s unbridled credulity about Russia’s alleged menace and President Trump’s collusion with it. When Kelly asked him how he knew he was banned, Greenwald responded: “I have tons of friends there. I used to go on all the time. I have producers who tried to book me and they get told, ‘No. He’s on the no‐book list.’”
Although an MSNBC spokesperson denied that there was any official ban, the last time Greenwald had appeared on a network program regarding any issue was in December 2016, just as the Russia collusion scandal was gaining traction. The timing was a striking coincidence. Greenwald insisted that he was told about being on the no‐book list by two different producers, and he charged that his situation was not unique: “[I]t’s not just me but several liberal‐left journalists — including Matt Taibbi and Jeremy Scahill — who used to regularly appear there and stopped once they expressed criticism of MSNBC’s Russiagate coverage and skepticism generally about the narrative.”
It would be bad enough if blows to careers were the extent of the damage that paranoia about Russia and Trump had caused. But that mentality is inhibiting any effort to improve relations with a significant international geostrategic player that possesses several thousand nuclear weapons.
The opposition to any conciliatory moves toward Russia has reached absurd and toxic levels. Critics even condemned the Trump administration’s April 2020 decision to issue a joint declaration with the Kremlin to mark the date when Soviet and U.S. forces linked up at the Elbe River during World War II, thereby cutting Nazi Germany into two segments. The larger purpose of the declaration was to highlight “nations overcoming their differences in pursuit of a greater cause.” The U.S. and Russian governments stressed that a similar standard should apply to efforts to combat the coronavirus. It should have been noncontroversial, but some condemned it as “playing into Putin’s hands.”
That theme has been even more prominent since Trump’s decision to move some U.S. troops out of Germany. Even some members of the president’s own party seem susceptible to the argument. During recent House Armed Services Committee hearings, Congressman Bradley Byrne invoked Russia. “From a layperson’s point of view, it looks like we’ve reduced our troop presence in Europe at a time that Russia is actually becoming more of a threat,” Byrne said. “It looks like we’re pulling back, and I think that bothers a lot of us.” Such arguments have been surprisingly common since the administration announced its plans in late spring. Allegations that Trump is “doing Putin’s bidding” continue to flow, even though some of the troops withdrawn from Germany are going to be redeployed farther east in Poland—a step the Kremlin will hardly regard as friendly.
George Beebe, vice president and director of programs at the Center for the National Interest, aptly describes the potential negative consequences of fomenting public fear of and hatred toward Russia. He points out that