A tipping point was reached yesterday when Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta suggested the Donald Trump campaign had colluded with Russian hackers. Rather than complaining about the impact the Wikileaks document dump of his emails had affected the outcome, Podesta sought to claim, without a shred of proof, that Trump’s victory was the result of a plot in which a hostile foreign power and American partisans came together to steal the presidency.
In a week in which liberals have been complaining about the spread of “fake news,” what Podesta, a former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, did was to launch the biggest and most potentially toxic accusation of an already dirty election cycle. Long after the Electoral College puts an official bow on Trump’s triumph today, this particular piece of poison will still be circulating, fouling the waters of American democracy.
Podesta’s astonishing rant in his first post-election interview reminds us how far we’ve come since Hillary Clinton’s gracious concession speech on November 9th. In the nearly six weeks since then, Democrats have regressed from accepting the outcome of the election to trying to blame what happened on everything but their own failures. Amid the usual backbiting and excuses that are standard post-election fare for the losing side, the increasing focus on the hacking obscures the true narrative of the election.
Podesta attempted to promote the idea that the hacking of Democratic operatives was a specific response to the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape that revealed Trump’s boasts about sexually assaulting women. But this is a lie. The Wikileaks assault on the Democrats began months earlier with the biggest blows landing during the summer when revelations about Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s favoritism to the Clinton campaign over Bernie Sanders resulted in her ouster. The leaks were embarrassing, but few of them told us much about the candidate. It was people like Podesta, Wasserman-Schultz, and her successor, Donna Brazile, who were humiliated and exposed. Other than a couple of quotes from speeches that had gone unreported, there was nothing that was directly linked to Clinton.
That’s why the talk about the Russians deploying a “perfect weapon” against Clinton—the headline the New York Times put on their front page article about the Russia’s efforts—to allegedly tip the election to Trump is more than mere hyperbole; it’s a false narrative.
Assume the Russians were behind the hacking and even that Vladimir Putin personally directed these efforts; there is no reason to believe it altered the outcome, let alone that it was a result of collusion with the Trump camp.
The memories of Podesta, Clinton and other Democrats complaining about the Russians are suspiciously faulty. Up until FBI Director James Comey letter to Congress about re-opening the Clinton email investigation in late October, the news was dominated for weeks by the “Access Hollywood” tape, not the leaks of Podesta’s emails. All the hacking stories put together did not get the coverage given Trump’s shocking comments that branded him as a sexual predator. It was Comey who changed the dynamic of the contest, not Putin.
It is bad enough to argue that Trump must prove his innocence of what seems like treason rather than his accusers being obligated to back up their smears. What Podesta has done in a calculated manner is to label Trump an illegitimate president. Those who were appalled by Trump’s lack of civility and his willingness to call into question the democratic system if it didn’t elect him have now become the mirror image of the man they so despise.