Kathleen Parker, the conservative Washington Post columnist, penned an article on January 6 with the eye-catching headline, “If Obama is a Muslim, is Trump a Russian spy?”
As the piece starts, it appears to urge caution to liberals who are wont to imply or explicitly state that Trump is a tool of the Russians. After a brief “history refresher” on the President-Elect’s longtime insistence that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, Parker posits:
Given this history [of peddling conspiracy theories] and recent evidence [of Russian meddling in the U.S. election process], isn’t it about time Trump be declared a Russian spy?
She answers her own question:
No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?
I endorse this kind of caution, and I share Parker’s frustration with the inequity of expectations between conservatives and liberals.
However, the further down the article one reads, the more muddled Parker’s point becomes. In one of the most incoherent passages of the article, she writes:
What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy — and a fool is just a fool.
Raising these leading questions and implying a conspiratorial connection on shoddy evidence is how conspiracy theories get started. So why is Parker doing just that?
Consider what we know: Our best intelligence indicates that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Trump, who has long expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin (once a KGB agent, always a KGB agent), has his doubts.
Consider further: Trump would rather make common cause with our fiercest geopolitical adversary (hat tip Mitt Romney) than take the word of our best people. Moreover, he has said he won’t receive daily security briefings and reportedly plans to reduce our security agencies.
Pray tell, whose side is this man on? When was the last time you had to ask that question about a president-elect?
At this point, Parker has thrown the caution she previously condoned to the wind and has opted to instead engage in paranoid reasoning. What then is the point of the article?
The answer in Parker’s conclusion is a baffling divergence from where she began:
In sum, when the president-elect persists in a state of denial, siding with the enemy against his own country’s best interests, one is forced to consider that Trump himself poses a threat to national security.
In Russia, they’d just call it treason.
How did we get here, to charges of treason, when the initial point was how important it is that we resist “crazy ideas”? It’s impossible to draw a line from Parker’s thesis to this perplexing conclusion.
The question of who hacked the DNC is an important one. But it will require more than evidence-free implications from the intelligence community for the public to embrace their conclusions. And this critical inquiry certainly deserves more than half-baked conspiracy theories from columnists like Parker.