Silence of the Bern

The indictments handed up on Friday allege that the Russian defendants supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. Quoting the indictment, Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti notes that Russian “specialists were instructed to post content that focused on ‘politics in the USA’ and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump—we support them.)’” The internal quote is derived from a message sent around February 10, 2016, the day after both Sanders and Trump won their respective parties’ New Hampshire primary.

Sanders issued a statement on the indictment on Friday. Debenedetti observes, however, that Sanders remained silent on the allegation that the Russians favored him over Hillary. In Sanders’s case, Russian support would have been overdetermined. The Russians might have loved his Marxism. They might have wanted to pay tribute to his 1988 honeymoon in Burlington sister city Yaroslavl, where he received a briefing on central planning, Soviet style. They might actually have supported Sanders’s desire to starve our armed forces.

Sanders doesn’t advertise it, of course, but his preferred policies line up perfectly with the interests of contemporary Russia. A loving 2015 Guardian profile by Paul Lewis can assist anyone who wants to fill this picture out. Sanders might have said that whatever paltry resources the Russians devoted to supporting him, they could never have offset Hillary Clinton’s takeover of the DNC. He must have thought it, but he doesn’t want to say anything to suggest that the Russians’ efforts might not have been all he and his friends otherwise crack them up to be.

I think the Russians supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and Trump in the Republican primaries because their candidacies “sowed confusion” (as the Russians sought in the words of the indictment) in ways that became obvious to us all. The same applies to Trump’s candidacy against Clinton in the presidential campaign. His candidacy was outrageous. In Sanders’s case during the primaries and in Trump’s case during the presidential campaign, the Russians’ efforts were not undertaken to achieve the apparently impossible. They were undertaken to weaken the presumed winners of contests whose outcomes seemed certain.


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