Charles Vignola: GOP’s Russian turnabout

In this Jan. 11 file photo Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Russian prosecutors in Moscow, Russia. President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have deferred questions about their plans for future contacts with Trump until he takes office on Friday. (Associated Press)

It’s been tradition for the Republican Party to push back against Russia and the threat this anti-western, anti-democratic country has historically posed against American values and interests. But under our new president-elect, it appears that era has come to an odd, screeching halt.

This is nothing short of a seismic change for the party infamous for denouncing Russian sympathizers during the 1950s and cheering on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s most disgraceful antics. It was a time when being even remotely sympathetic to Russia was considered outright treasonous.

This anti-Russian zeal didn’t dissipate over time, but gathered strength during the Reagan ‘80s, when the Gipper branded Russia “The Evil Empire” and made jokes about bombing Russia with nukes.

Cut to the 2010s and Russia is reviled as ever: Mitt Romney warns us about the dangers it poses, and bloodthirsty dictator Vladimir Putin proves him right by invading Ukraine, annexing Crimea, murdering and jailing dissidents and rigging his own elections to stay in power.

Yet despite Putin’s absolute control over the Russian economy, it tanks hard, which drives him to ramp up nationalism and anti-western sentiment to keep his subjects riled and distracted.

Next, Putin plots to undermine the sovereignty of former Soviet republics by hacking into their systems, sowing chaos and influencing their internal politics to advance Russia’s interests.

As his coup de grace, Putin decides to screw with America’s electoral process by hacking the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, using middle men to provide these stolen documents to international criminal Julian Assange.

Assange’s organization Wikileaks proceeds to leak those emails for weeks leading up to the 2016 election, doing relentless damage to Putin’s arch enemy Hillary Clinton through this digital Watergate.

So how does tough-guy President-elect Trump, the “Law and Order” candidate, respond to this alarming news that Russia was hacking American citizens and engaging in cyber-espionage designed to influence the outcome of our election, cast doubt on America’s institutions, undermine our sovereignty and weaken western democracies?

Surprise: Trump praises the ruthless Russian dictator, siding with Putin over America’s own intelligence agencies!

And for good measure, Trump gives the benefit of the doubt to outlaw Julian Assange that he didn’t get his stolen data from the Russians – because the man Republicans vilified for endangering American lives during the Bush years has somehow earned Trump’s trust.

Now, why does Trump reject the assessments of the entire intelligence community about Russia’s hacking of the U.S. election? One answer is obvious: If he acknowledges those hacks helped tilt the election in his favor, it’d risk tainting his victory and cast a shadow of illegitimacy over his presidency. And losing the popular vote by 3 million votes doesn’t help.

It’s poetic justice that the guy who tried to undermine Barack Obama’s legitimacy by peddling a wacky conspiracy theory claiming the first black president was “really” born in Africa will have his own presidency tarnished by a real scandal of Russia manipulating our election. Ironically, the one genuine conspiracy theory is the one Trump doesn’t believe.

There may be other reasons for Trump’s inexplicable embrace of a murderous and corrupt Russian dictator: His first campaign manager Paul Manafort had shady ties to the Kremlin, and Trump’s kids are on the record as saying they have lots of business in Russia, most of which we have no idea about since Trump has refused to share his tax returns with the public.

But what’s shocking is how quickly rank-and-file conservatives and Trump supporters have fallen in line to defend Trump’s unsettling “bromance” with authoritarian despot Putin.

Talk to virtually any Trump fan and he or she will actually excuse Putin’s crimes and parrot Trump’s disrespect of our intelligence agents.

“Well, we’ve hacked other countries,” they’ll say. Sorry, buddy, but exactly who’s side are you on here? Aren’t you the party that mocked Obama as the “blame America first” president? Have you suddenly decided that blaming America is a wise strategy?

“Well, we didn’t do anything when China stole information from the U.S. government!” False equivalence: China didn’t hack our election and sabotage one candidate over the other to get the results it wanted.

“Well, liberals didn’t complain when Julian Assange exposed government secrets!” First off, that’s a straw man. Second, “two wrongs make a right” is a losing argument.

Third, those NSA leaks revealed illegal activities that the government perpetrated on the American people. The DNC leaks didn’t expose illegal activities, but offered enough gossip and innuendo to damage Clinton – which was exactly their purpose.

“Well, it’s the Democrats’ fault for not taking internet security seriously enough, so they deserved to be hacked!” Blaming the victim isn’t an excuse for the crime.

We’re living in a strange new world where law-and-order Republicans are ignoring law and order so long as it suits their immediate pursuit of power, and Democrats are now the ones defending America’s intelligence agencies from attack by our own president.

Trump vowed to shake things up. He wasn’t kidding.

 Charlie Vignola lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.

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