Dangerous Discourse: When Progressives Sound Like Demagogues

The Trump administration has already done enormous harm to the United States and the planet. Along the way, Trump has also caused many prominent progressives to degrade their own political discourse. It’s up to us to challenge the corrosive effects of routine hyperbole and outright demagoguery.

Consider the rhetoric from one of the most promising new House members, Democrat Jamie Raskin, at a rally near the Washington Monument over the weekend. Reading from a prepared text, Raskin warmed up by declaring that “Donald Trump is the hoax perpetrated on the Americans by the Russians.” Soon the congressman named such varied countries as Hungary, the Philippines, Syria and Venezuela, and immediately proclaimed: “All the despots, dictators and kleptocrats have found each other, and Vladimir Putin is the ringleader of the unfree world.”

Later, asked about factual errors in his speech, Raskin floundered during a filmed interview with The Real News. What is now boilerplate Democratic Party bombast about Russia has little to do with confirmed facts and much to do with partisan talking points.

The same day that Raskin spoke, the progressive former Labor Secretary Robert Reich featured at the top of his website an article he’d written with the headline “The Art of the Trump-Putin Deal.” The piece had striking similarities to what progressives have detested over the years when coming from right-wing commentators and witchhunters. The timeworn technique was dual track, in effect: I can’t prove it’s true, but let’s proceed as though it is.

The lead of Reich’s piece was clever. Way too clever: “Say you’re Vladimir Putin, and you did a deal with Trump last year. I’m not suggesting there was any such deal, mind you. But if you are Putin and you did do a deal, what did Trump agree to do?”

From there, Reich’s piece was off to the conjectural races.

Progressives routinely deplore such propaganda techniques from right-wingers, not only because the left is being targeted but also because we seek a political culture based on facts and fairness rather than innuendoes and smears. It’s painful now to see numerous progressives engaging in hollow propaganda.

Likewise, it’s sad to see so much eagerness to trust in the absolute credibility of institutions like the CIA and NSA – institutions that previously earned wise distrust. Over the last few decades, millions of Americans have gained keen awareness of the power of media manipulation and deception by the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Yet now, faced with an ascendant extreme right wing, some progressives have yielded to the temptation of blaming our political predicament more on a foreign “enemy” than on powerful corporate forces at home.

The over-the-top scapegoating of Russia serves many purposes for the military-industrial complex, Republican neocons and kindred “liberal interventionist” Democrats. Along the way, the blame-Russia-first rhetoric is of enormous help to the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party – a huge diversion lest its elitism and entwinement with corporate power come under greater scrutiny and stronger challenge from the grassroots.

In this context, the inducements and encouragements to buy into an extreme anti-Russia frenzy have become pervasive. A remarkable number of people claim certainty about hacking and even “collusion” – events that they cannot, at this time, truly be certain about. In part that’s because of deceptive claims endlessly repeated by Democratic politicians and news media. One example is the rote and highly misleading claim that “17 US intelligence agencies” reached the same conclusion about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee – a claim that journalist Robert Parry effectively debunked in an article last week.

During a recent appearance on CNN, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner offered a badly needed perspective on the subject of Russia’s alleged intrusion into the US election. People in Flint, Michigan “wouldn’t ask you about Russia and Jared Kushner,” she said. “They want to know how they’re gonna get some clean water and why 8,000 people are about to lose their homes.”

Turner noted that “we definitely have to deal with” allegations of Russian interference in the election, “it’s on the minds of American people, but if you want to know what people in Ohio – they want to know about jobs, they want to know about their children.” As for Russia, she said, “We are preoccupied with this, it’s not that this is not important, but every day Americans are being left behind because it’s Russia, Russia, Russia.”

Like corporate CEOs whose vision extends only to the next quarter or two, many Democratic politicians have been willing to inject their toxic discourse into the body politic on the theory that it will be politically profitable in the next election or two. But even on its own terms, the approach is apt to fail. Most Americans are far more worried about their economic futures than about the Kremlin. A party that makes itself more known as anti-Russian than pro-working-people has a problematic future.

Today, 15 years after George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” oratory set the stage for ongoing military carnage, politicians who traffic in unhinged rhetoric like “Putin is the ringleader of the unfree world” are helping to fuel the warfare state – and, in the process, increasing the chances of direct military conflict between the United States and Russia that could go nuclear and destroy us all. But such concerns can seem like abstractions compared to possibly winning some short-term political gains. That’s the difference between leadership and demagoguery.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

11 thoughts on “Dangerous Discourse: When Progressives Sound Like Demagogues”

  1. Correction, Mr. Raskin, Mr. Putin is the ringleader of the nations you f**ked, including your own. Reap the whirlwind, little Eichmann. It’s tooth for tooth time. Your days of plenty are numbered.

  2. “The Trump administration has already done enormous harm to the United States and the planet”

    But if that first sentence is true, all the hyperbole and outright demagoguery the article tries to criticize would be actually justified right? I mean the PLANET! And ENORMOUS HARM! All would be justified to stop it!

    The first step would be, if one desires to be consistent and rational, to denounce the foregone conclusion of Trump having “harmed” the US any more than other administrations have and especially the idea of harming a “planet”. And how does that work: put it out of its orbit? Not even life on this planet he could harm unless we’re going in the hyperbole that Trump has been tweeting his launch codes or something.

      1. Missing the point perhaps? If it’s actually indeed a fact, the one about having greatly harmed the US and the Planet, then there’s not much use criticizing all hyperbole and outright demagoguery meant to oppose such terrible, proven harmful president. Which is exactly what the author seemed to attempt anyway. It didn’t help his case. Actually it looked like irony.

        1. It appeals to left-wing readers. The core issue is the writer is in team Left, yet he doesn’t want to help the warmongering, which is real.

          Most of politics is theatre. It’s meant to entertain. You shouldn’t take political writing so seriously.

          Try to imagine everyone in the US is perpetually inebriated on various drugs. The goal is to guide them away from war.

          1. But your comment is still political and you would like others to take it seriously? Anyway I do agree but war generally starts there where political discourse has degraded beyond a certain point. That’s why it’s good to give attention to its decline left and right, at least if antiwar is something one is serious about. There’s no other way out here. Contradictions need to be exposed.

          2. I struggled to write an acceptable comment above, haha. Edited it a few times.

            That’s an excellent reply you write. I do attempt to commune with those in the opposing team(s). I’ve somewhat lost faith in man’s ability, or more importantly his desire, to reason.

            I haven’t yet fallen to using propaganda.

  3. That’s because they’re not progressives, they just pretend they are on state tv.

  4. But demagoguery is foundational to the dark arts of re-education and consciousness-raising, no? Lest we forget the Wearherman battle: “By any means necessary!”

  5. “‘We definitely have to deal with’ allegations of Russian interference in the election, ‘it’s on the minds of American people'”.

    So are angels and Batboy, Normon Solomon.

    Raskin, Reich…also “progressives”?

    The vilification of Putin and Russian in the West began on October 30, 2003, a few days after Putin arrested the criminal and oligarch Khodorkovsky and the father of Zionist neocons, Richard Perle, called for Russian’s exclusion from the G-8.

    Since then, Russian hatred has been de rigueur across the spectrum of authorized US political speech.

    All acceptable “progressives” included.

    Jamie Raskin…progressive.

    Good grief.

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