When Rachel Maddow finished a 26-minute monologue that spanned two segments on her MSNBC program last Thursday night, her grave tones indicated that she thought she’d just delivered a whale of a story. But actually it was more like minnow — and a specious one at that.
Convoluted and labored, Maddow’s narrative tried to make major hay out of a report from Moscow that a high-ranking Russian intelligence official had been dragged out of a meeting, arrested and charged with treason. Weirdly, Maddow kept presenting that barebones story as verification that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had directly ordered the hacking and release of Democratic campaign emails in order to get Donald Trump elected president.
It was a free-associating performance worthy of Glenn Beck at a whiteboard. Maddow swirled together an array of facts, possible facts, dubious assertions and pure speculation to arrive at conclusions that were based on little more than her zeal to portray Trump as a tool of the Kremlin. Even when sober, Joe McCarthy never did it better.
We might dismiss her performance as just another bit of stagecraft on “MSDNC,” but Maddow was in sync with widespread fear-mongering by pundits and Democratic Party loyalists who think they’re picking some low-hanging fruit to throw at Trump. But what they’re doing is poisonous — and extremely dangerous.
The standard memes demanding hostility toward Putin virtually never address some crucial questions. Such as: What are the plausible results of escalating a new Cold War? Is it wise to push the U.S. government into evermore assertive brinkmanship with Russia? Wouldn’t the degree of success in that endeavor increase the degree of danger that the antagonisms will spiral into a military confrontation and, from there, into a nuclear holocaust?
Such questions don’t seem to bother the likes of Maddow, who has largely built her TV career on mocking, impugning and denouncing Republicans. Fair enough, except when it isn’t — and when it latches onto a Democratic party line of attack: no matter how bogus the reasoning or how dire the potential consequences for humans and all other life on this planet.
Sliding through a kind of time warp, Maddow’s performance on the night of January 26 was akin to what the most extreme Republicans have reveled in doing to incumbent Democrats in past decades — baiting them as accomplices of the Kremlin and warning against actual détente between the two countries.
To be clear: Donald Trump has already shown himself to be a horrendous president in countless ways that matter, from his Cabinet appointments to his numerous corrosive statements to his executive orders on subjects ranging from family planning for women overseas to immigration at home. Why spin into agenda-driven conjecture and illogic when there are so many empirical reasons to directly challenge Trump?
But for countless U.S. reporters and pundits as well as Democrats in Congress, the temptation to attack Trump as a servant of Putin is irresistible.