The newest target of organized Russophobia is Attorney General Sessions. The former Senator is under pressure to recuse himself from any investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia because his own ties to Russia are now under question. At issue is the answer he gave to a question from Sen. Franken during his confirmation hearings. Sessions said that he did not have contact with the Russian government during the presidential campaign, but it was revealed recently that he did meet with Russian officials. The honesty of the answer appears to depend on the context of the question, which came up during discussion of Sessions' role in the Trump campaign. Sessions' defenders argue that he honestly denied meeting with Russians in his capacity as a Trump "surrogate," and that meetings with them in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee were not relevant to the question. Some Republicans aren't happy with this apparent hair-splitting and have joined in calling for a recusal, while Democratic leaders have pushed on to demand Sessions' resignation.
While some Democrats no doubt sincerely hate Vladimir Putin as an "authoritarian" bully and fear any possible influence he might exert on the Executive Branch, their Russophobic campaign probably also has a more cynical motivation. The idea, I suspect, is to turn the supposed xenophobia of Trump's supporters against him by underscoring as often as possible what a Russian tool his whole administration is. The problem with such a strategy is that not everyone feels the way they (and some neocon Republicans) do about Russia. A recent NBC poll shows that Putin himself remains unpopular in the U.S. as a whole, but that Republicans are far less fearful toward him and his country than Democrats are. While Democrats are three times more likely to see Russia as an enemy than as an ally, Republicans are split almost fifty-fifty on that point, a slim majority seeing Russia as an ally or friend. The GOP is split generationally on this subject, older folks with Cold War memories continuing to distrust Russia while younger people are increasingly more likely to see Russia as a friend or ally. We don't know how Democrats break down by generations, but it would be interesting to see whether the same trend exists, or whether younger Democrats are more Russophobic, thanks to Putin, than their elders. In any event, the Republican stats suggest that it won't do for Democrats simply to say that Trump and his people are the lackeys of furriners! For good or bad reasons, the Trump base doesn't feel threatened by Russia and either feels no compassion for those oppressed by Putin or feels that any oppression gong on is none of their business. And if they don't fear or hate Russia they won't care much whether Trump or his people met with Russians in 2016, and if Russia actively supported Trump they'll simply assume that great minds think alike. In short, unless someone finds evidence of gifts, payments or quid-pro-quo that compromise U.S. interests (rather than just reversing U.S. policy) there's a limit to the political capital to be gained by all this 21st century McCarthyism, and that limit probably has been reached already. The Sessions scandal looks a lot like smoke rather than fire, and the more smoke gets blown, the less patience nonpartisans will have with it. One of these days someone's going to ask a Democratic senator whether he or she at long last has left no sense of decency, and then what will happen? That someone will probably get accused of trivializing the McCarthy era, false moral equivalence, etc., but most people will draw different conclusions.