On Jill Stein and Russia
The Green Party’s greatest opponent right now is Dr. Jill Stein. Not the Bernie Bros who didn’t see that their guy ignored the Green invite to accept their nomination for President. Not the increasingly vicious Hillary bots who are blaming the Green Party for Justice Kennedy’s retirement and the yet-unannounced overturning of Roe v. Wade. Not even the bootlicking moderates whose finger-wagging over a protest vote has been replaced towards fist-shaking at every Green for being an agent of the Kremlin. That rumor has one source, a photo depicting Stein at a gala with Mike Flynn and Vladimir Putin.
The main issue, to get straight to the point, is that this whole situation is a colossal distraction from the many candidates, activists, and thinkers who are moving the Green Party forward. The focus on this matter keeps discussions of the Green Party stuck on one person, at a fixed moment in time.
To her credit, Dr. Jill Stein has been a powerful voice in the Green Party. She brought attention to the continued exclusion of Greens, as well as Libertarians, Constitutionalists, and other “third” parties, from the Presidential debates. Stein has been a staunch critic of US expansion undeneoliberal rule. The Green Party is also indebted to Jill Stein for her promotion of the Green New Deal. This policy will revolutionize labor, energy, transportation, industry, agriculture, and infrastructure domestically, while shifting our foreign policy to one centered around peace.
However, Dr. Stein has made statements that warrant scrutiny surrounding her presence at a 2015 gala for the state-run a Russia Today network. Stein was at a table with Lt. General Michael Flynn, Russian President Vladimir Putin, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov, his Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov, his Deputy Chief of Staff Alexey Gromov, former Deputy Prime Minister of Czechia Cyril Svoboda, Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica and his wife Maja Mandić, and former Budestag member Willy Wimmer. As Putin holds a track record for human rights that is less than optimal, and Flynn is at the center of an FBI investigation, Stein’s presence at this table raises many questions.
Greens hold all leaders, especially our leaders, accountable, and this author is concerned by Stein’s remarks concerning the dinner and the election as a whole. I look to Stein’s 8/4/17 appearance on Democracy Now!, where she addressed the RT dinner, her controversial recount efforts in three battleground states, and voter turnout.
None of her remarks on these subjects are satisfactory. She answers the questions asked to her, but often she presents unsubstantiated facts and returns to the buzzword-laced talking point of “our broken political system” as a safe cover to wrap up an uncomfortable response.
Regarding the photo, Stein knew she was going to be seated at what she calls the “head table.” She told Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales that the purpose of her visit was to address Russia’s role in the bombing of Syria. Evidently, as she told DN, “I was hoping to deliver my message to Putin, but there was no interpreter.” She said, “the only person who spoke English within earshot of me” was German diplomat Willy Wimmer, who is in the picture on Stein’s right. Restating that “there was no interpreter and there were no introductions made,” Stein emphatically stated twice in a row, “nothing happened at that dinner.”
It is incredibly dubious that a “head table” of diplomats would suffer from the language barrier Stein claims existed. At this table is the Russian President, his top aides, a high-ranking US military official, and a Czech former head of state. American and British leaders are known for not being multilingual — go look up Obama speaking Hebrew or Newt Gingrich speaking Spanish, or to really turn back the clock, look up “Ich bin ein Berliner” — but this is simply not the case for European, Asian, and African leaders. (Perhaps because, in a world dominated by an English-speaking empire, one is expected to know the language of the occupier?)
Putin, for one, speaks English. His primary language is Russian, and because he lives in and leads Russia, most of his dealings are conducted in Russian. However, he can be seen speaking English in a number of videos available online.
Furthermore, this writer is a student of Emir Kusturica’s work, having studied cinema as an undergraduate. Kusturica regularly interviews and lectures in English, and quite well. His English is, no doubt, better than Dr. Stein’s Serbian.
I suggest that Stein’s claim of a language barrier, which she playfully counters by saying she and Wimmer had a great conversation in English, is wholly untrue.
While I do not believe Russia manipulated the 2016 election — after all, its outcome was determined ultimately by the Electoral College, an eventuality that, had it played out in the Democrats’ favor, would have been heralded as a fail-safe against so many deplorables — I do believe RT was part of a propaganda campaign, targeted towards progressive and liberal US voters (the kind who would seek out foreign news) to provide a questionably motivated platform aimed at discrediting the Democratic Party.
Unfortunately, this coverage was not balanced by equal airtime dedicated to criticizing Trump, his Republican competitors, or the shock politics used by the GOP’s eventual nominee.
RT echoed the dissent of many American progressives by covering the failure of the Democrats to deliver on their myriad Utopian promises, of President Obama to unite a divided public, of Hillary Clinton’s shady past, her blunders as Secretary of State, and Bill Clinton’s damaging legacy of NAFTA and the birth of rampant global capitalism. These are all Green talking points.
The network also provided fertile ground for the Green Party. Jill Stein made many appearances on the network during the campaign, often critical of Clinton. RT even hosted a debate in May 2016 among Green Presidential candidates. From a Party perspective, for Stein, the Green nominee, to be at the RT gala ahead of the debates and convention for her own party casts her in a dark light that suggests collusion concerning preferential treatment from the network. From a Green Party perspective, one could argue our own rigged primary, or at least a tilted field.
Stein’s August 2017 appearance on Democracy Now! reaches its zenith of absurdity when she speaks of the Green electorate. Even with the gift of context — the question was in response to accusations of being a “spoiler candidate” — her words speak for themselves:
“Sixty-one percent of Greens would stay home if they didn’t have a Green to vote for, there were several exit polls that showed that, and conversations with Greens on the street will tell you that as well. Of the remaining Greens that would come out to vote, a substantial number of them would have voted for Donald Trump and not a Democrat in the first place, so, wishing pigs fly doesn’t make them fly.”
First of all, who is she calling pigs? It seems like she is using that word to refer to Green voters. I can forgive the gaffe — if so many white women can crush on a vulgar war hawk like Joe Biden for no discernible reason, I can let Stein’s flippant use of cliched language slide — but there are issues with the rest of that statement. I’m sorry, but what exit polls? Did several yield a 61% result, or is that an average based off of multiple polls?
Furthermore, are we really to believe that 3/5 of Greens would abstain from voting in the absence of a Green candidate, rather than favor a write-in, or perhaps a candidate from one of the many Socialist parties who run in major elections or the Working Families Party? Please. At least by throwing in that bit about “Greens on the street” (seriously?), she is technically providing anecdotal evidence, making it impossible to prove one way or the other if she is lying.
Second, let’s talk about what I put in boldface: “a substantial number of them would have voted for Donald Trump.” Um, no.
Donald Trump’s platform is antithetical to that of the Green Party, and for Dr. Stein to suggest Green voters would vote for his white nationalist “Make America Great Again” mandate is recklessly foolish and a gross distortion of what the Green Party believes. Beyond the fact that this man has unleashed the rabid dog of racism that has been barking and foaming in black America’s face since the MOVE Bombing, Trump as a candidate also promised alongside talks of a wall and political violence to treat our planet with a similar level of respect. As President, Trump has made good on his word by tapping representatives of our military/industrial complex, many of whom are enemies of the climate movement, to be in his Cabinet. Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, an entity that hid evidence for four decades that their practices are harmful to the environment, became our Secretary of State.
Remember Rick Perry, a man so stupid he couldn’t remember the names of all three departments he wanted to eliminate while running as a Baptist Taliban candidate for the Presidency in 2011? It was the Department of Energy he had blanked on, and he is now its Secretary.
Tea Party politician and oil-addicted stooge Ryan Zinke is Secretary of the Interior. In the time he has been in charge, a number of staff members have resigned largely due to their inability to get a meeting with him. Meanwhile, Whitefish Energy, an energy company with ties to Zinke in his native Montana (he hails from the same town as everyone’s favorite Aryan jackanape, Richard Spencer) attempted to take on the task of restoring Puerto Rico’s power grid. The Department of the Interior has been zeroing in on sacred Native land for resource extraction, including Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase National Monument as well as our own Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.
Scott Pruitt, who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, is now head of the agency. It goes on and on, but one other example of note is Princeton physics professor Dr. William Happer.
A climate change denier, Happer provoked controversy when he said the climate movement is a “cult, like Hare Krishna,” of “glassy-eyed” people who “chant.” Besides directly insulting the tradition of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Happer also blasphemed the practice of chanting, an act that is outlined in the Bible, Koran, and Bhagavad Gita. He is also standing in disagreement with a majority of the scientific community. I have called and spoken with Dr. Happer, and he offered a meaningful and heartfelt apology for denigrating my religion.
All this without even touching on the Imperial Wizard he appointed for Attorney General.
Beyond Trump’s racism, his stated intention of ramping up the extraction industry, following through on his word and enlisting like-minded individuals to join his administration is the fact that this man is a misogynist who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who just recently admitted he is not a feminist.
For Jill Stein to assert Greens would support a clear-intended foe of civil rights and the environment was, to state it plainly, stupid. If that wasn’t enough, Stein went on to double down on her comments.
When Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman asked about Stein’s recount efforts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, Stein again when it was pointed out that those same states are where Stein received a number of votes greater than the margin of victory Trump had over Clinton. Again, Stein speaks for herself:
“You can’t just switch Green votes to Democrat votes! If you actually do the numbers, where in sixty-one percent of Greens don’t vote at all, only thirty-nine percent will vote, and of them, over a third will be voting for Donald Trump.”
Revisiting this interview six months later, her statements still make me cringe. Speaking on Donald Trump, Stein’s poorly-tuned forecasting skills were on full display when she called him a “lame duck” President (technically inaccurate, as the election to appoint his successor will not occur for another 1009 days as of 1/28/18) and that he was “on his way out.” We can continue to wish for Trump to be on his way out, and we will continue to resist until our wish becomes reality, but the Green Party needs to be done with Jill Stein.
From the outset, Stein’s recount effort in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania looks like a noble cause, one consistent with the Green Party’s oft-repeated push for fair elections. However, Stein’s move was criticized by Maryland Green leader Margaret Flowers and Stein’s own Vice Presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka.
The recount is the focus of an excellent analysis by The Root. They found the recount was poised to do more harm than good, providing an “I told you so” moment for proponents of stricter voter ID laws in those states. This would in turn set precedent for other battleground states to follow suit. (The Michigan recount did reveal 37% of voting machines in Detroit, where Clinton won 95% of the votes, counted more ballots than voters on record.) The Wisconsin recount yielded a gain of 131 votes for Trump. In Pennsylvania, the judge dismissing the case warned that the timing of the recount could have jeopardized any of the commonwealth’s votes from being counted.
Another issue and potential scandal rests in the fact that the recounts raised a sum that was double what Stein raised during the campaign. Where has that money gone? That is an investigation for someone with more time, resources, and talent.
Finally, the conclusion reached by The Root in their article is also mine: the conversation surrounding Jill Stein and her role in what is being called “Russiagate” and the recount efforts after the 2016 election is a major distraction from the rest of the Green Party, its platform, and its future. There were thirty Green candidates who won in local elections across the United States in 2016: 16 in California, five in Michigan, three in Minnesota and Wisconsin each, one each in Florida, Maine, and Stein’s home state of Massachusetts.
Stein lacks the grace to promote these big steps forward, use the post-election period as a chance to welcome newcomers fleeing from both of the corporate parties, nor does she take the time to herald the 44 electoral victories Greens had in 2017.
As we look to the future, the Green Party is growing across the United States, making membership gains in Utah, Ohio, Maine, and California, where Congressional candidate Kenneth Mejia is facing a Democrat in a two-person race, the establishing of a youth caucus in the Beehive State, they’re running an anarchist for Governor in Oregon, the Indiana Green Party is getting closer to making history by getting on the ballot in one of the states that is most hostile towards “third” party voices with a badass nominee for Secretary of State, and candidates in the running all across the country. On these, Stein remains silent.
That isn’t leadership. Let’s be done with Jill Stein. Let’s move past a Russian gala dinner from 2015 and start planning for some victory parties in 2018.