Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, likes Lord Halifax’s famous dictum that a successful political party “is but a conspiracy against the rest of the nation”. He thinks it applies to both America’s major parties, Democratic and Republican.
He calls them “conspiratorial power groupings”. A good way to bust them up, he posited in a 2006 blog post, would be to hack their internal conversations. A party of “conspirators” who ceased to feel safe sharing information with each other would “immediately fall into an organisational stupor and would lose to the other (party)”.
This year Assange has been given, and has gleefully taken, the chance to test his hypothesis from his bolt hole in Ecuador’s London embassy (where his welcome seems to be wearing thin along with his Internet access). The Kremlin — of this US intelligence is almost certain — has been supplying Wikileaks with emails purloined from the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the personal account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, with which to sow fear and loathing.
From Assange’s standpoint the experiment has not been a signal success. The Democrats show no sign of stupor. They survived the DNC document dump that was supposed to blow up their convention in July by revealing — shock, horror — that the party establishment was biased in Clinton’s favour against the outsider Bernie Sanders. As for the Podesta emails Wikileaks started posting on its site last week, the mainstream media has thus far treated them with a collective meh. Next to non-Wiki-leaks confirming Donald Trump to be a sexist pig, they are thin gruel scandal-wise.
What I’ve read of the Podesta material — admittedly a tiny fraction of the 10-year, 50-60 000 item trove that’s been promised — is the stuff of any campaign. Staff and consultants discuss strategy, media relations and the handling of possible controversy, massage talking points, weigh possible running mates, share news clips and gossip, and, yes, doing a little bitching and moaning. Hardly the kind of thing that would move the average undecided voter either way.
Important exceptions, again in what I’ve seen, are the posts summarising or quoting Clinton’s highly remunerated remarks at events convened by Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank et al. One of the reasons they gave her big bucks was to hear her off-the-record insights into the leaders she had dealt with as secretary of state. She said nothing to suggest she was in Wall Street’s pocket. Rather she demonstrated considerable political adroitness. She did not tell the bankers they’d be able to go back to their old ways when she was elected. She warned them gently but firmly that they still had a lot to do to regain her and the public’s trust.
She comes across in these off-the-record encounters as a pragmatic, seasoned adult with a deep and hard-earned understanding of how progress is achieved in a system of complex checks and balances. Reform in America has, almost by definition, to be accomplished incrementally. Unlike her infantile opponent, she does not pretend otherwise, let alone present herself as a new Duce. Trump mocked her for drawing parallels between her own approach to politics and Abraham Lincoln’s. But Lincoln would not have ended slavery had he not found the words and inducements that would win over each of the holdouts whose votes he needed to accomplish his purpose. He liked to compare being president to steering a flatboat down the Mississippi. You have to navigate the bends and the sand bars. Steer straight towards your goal and you’ll quickly run aground. Clinton gets that.
Pretty obviously, the cyberthieves who have been feeding Wikileaks did not intend the Podesta emails to illustrate Clinton’s strengths. The Trump rump, convinced as it is that Clinton has horns and reeks of sulphur, will not share my reading either. Indeed, Trump is using the respectable media’s failure to rise to the latest Wikileaks bait as proof that the establishment deck is stacked against him and his “deplorable” following — and to construct a pretext for his coming defeat.
Trump will be a loser on November 8. Of that there is now almost no doubt. The question is: will he be a decent loser? Or will he continue to cry foul and whip up his followers’ pathological hatred of the new president, insinuating they were robbed by “the media” and by people of colour voting more than once. Whatever state actor gave the useful idiot Assange the fruit of its hacks hopes, I suspect, that that is exactly what Trump will do. Welcome to the new Cold War.