Pictured: An aerial view of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Image source: US State Department/Flickr)
Before the advent of online news, residents of the UK had to rely on the British press to report on the minutiae of the American political system -- something that didn't happen all that often. In politics what went on in the USA, stayed in the USA, most of it at least. Beyond a major political upheaval, or the swearing in of a new president, news reportage was more concerned with the cut and thrust of our own routine domestic politics.
Only the bickering between the Democrats and Republicans rang a familiar note, mirroring as it did, our British Punch and Judy stereotype, with the stuffy old Tories on one side, and the loony-left Labour on the other.
By 2008, along with the advent of social media, and a growing awareness of international affairs, it became increasingly impossible not to notice the apparently out of proportion intensity driving the Democrat-Republican voter divide. Heralded in by the arrival of the US's first president "of colour", Barack Obama, and coinciding with the rising usage of Twitter and Facebook, the "Left" seemed to jump at the chance of embracing the one-dimensional limitations of an "echo chamber". The "echo-chamber" served not only to widen the chasm between left and right, but -- even to the outsider -- noticeably amplified the animosity between the two sides. Compared to the almost polite political rivalry between voters and parties in Britain, the political division in the US began looking distinctly engineered.
My American friends, in an effort to help me try and understand their conclusions, sent a raft of articles from the US mainstream media, which, in their bias, displayed the same lack of integrity as my friends'. Even in the extended echo-chamber of social media, there appeared to be a seemingly pathological fear of anything even remotely resembling a balanced view.
Then, along came the 2016 election and the arrival of presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. Whilst the UK was not looking, war seemed to have broken out. If I was not prepared forthrightly to dismiss Trump as the white supremacist he so obviously and professedly was, it was clear that if I was not careful, I would be tarred by the same brush.
My friends assured me there were terrible, terrible things that would become apparent in the ensuing months. The problem was, they never once articulated any of them. Their suspicions all appeared to be hysterical unfounded inferences.
The evident reluctance by left-wing media outlets to condemn a -- by now -- extremely guilty-looking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now seemed unfair. Much of the media seemed all too happy to turn a blind eye to the Benghazi affair, her "unusual" email practices and other seemingly incriminating pranks. The media also seemed to ignore the treasure-trove of information on the suspect machinations of the DNC and its incumbents and other dubious goings on, including truncated FBI investigations, the "controversial" resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the sudden departure from CNN of Donna Brazile after having fed questions to Clinton prior to the televised presidential debates, and so on.
The potential skulduggery seemed never ending. How come my friends had never mentioned any of this? Surely, they knew? The echo chamber, it appeared, was hermetically sealed. Even then US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her "secret" meeting with former President Bill Clinton aboard the Justice Department's jet just before she was due to deliver her verdict on his wife, failed to raise an eyebrow. How was that possible?
One would never have known the depths of the corruption taking place right under everyone's noses, or indeed, the lengths to which their top brass representatives were willing to go to manipulate an election. It was not just a couple of dodgy individuals, working overtime for their own self-enrichment; there was a whole bunch of them at it. Worse, it seemed they had been doing it for a very long time -- and all of it under the auspices of their beloved president.
A hardened, contemptible cynic might even have thought that the 2016 presidential election result was meant to have been a foregone conclusion, with no suspicious activity ever exposed.
It was hard by now not to be intrigued by this murky, cloak and dagger world of deceit. The farther down the rabbit hole one looked in this saga, the harder it became not to surmise that, for all their faults, the Republican party, and in particular, Mr. Trump, were the "good guys." One half of the country was deliberately being pitted, with fake information, against the other. This division seems to be one that the mainstream media have, ever since, been trying to blame on Donald Trump, despite it clearly being a war that they themselves had cooked up.
As the story grows, and more of the players become exposed -- Andrew McCabe, James Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, John Brennan, James Clapper, Rod Rosenstein, Andrew Weissmann, Sally Yates, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and even President Obama -- the list goes on and on -- my interest in US politics has soared to levels I never thought possible, and for all the wrong reasons. The only thing that has not changed is the Democrats' storybook view that President Trump and the Russians were somehow trying to rig the election, when it was, in fact, they themselves who were doing that.
When then President Obama was asked about the possibility of rigging the 2016 elections, he told then-candidate Trump to "stop whining":
"There is no serious person out there who would suggest that you could even rig America's elections, in part because they are so decentralized. There is no evidence that that has happened in the past, or that there are instances that that could happen this time."
It then turned out that Secretary Clinton and the DNC had also been rigging the Democrats' presidential primaries and nomination process against Senator Bernie Sanders, as well.
After all that has emerged over the past couple of years, during investigation after investigation, it seems impossible that these officials could honestly be sincere. For now, I am not holding my breath that my friends on the left might one day wake up and do some research of their own; but as an impartial observer with no dog in this fight, I know which side I would rather back.
Andrew Ash is based in the United Kingdom.