You don't need to scoff that people are imagining something nefarious. We know the basics, from extensive investigative reporting and leaks:
- the Kremlin and its oligarchy have invested heavily in Trump for at least a decade, both above and below board;
- Trump, in that time, has constantly inserted himself into presidential politics;
- Russia meanwhile has been much more imperialistic and militarily aggressive, invading two neighbors outright, but they have been somewhat limited by the McCain and Obama Russia hawk camps, and it's been costing them billions;
- even before Trump announced, thousands of Russian propaganda Twitter accounts switched over to promoting Trump;
- Trump lives in the same building as Russian oligarchic criminals' massive headquarters, which he provides to them, and has been accused credibly with helping Russian oligarchs launder hundreds of millions of dollars;
- Trump's inner campaign team was filled with the US political world's most pro-Russia operatives and officials;
- on the same day that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador, Putin announced, uncharacteristically, that he would not react to Obama's sanctions, but wait for the new administration;
- Flynn, a disgraced nutcase who was paid $40k by Russians tied to the Kremlin to sit next to Putin at a gala to celebrate propaganda network RT, is made National Security Advisor by Trump, but lies about his contact with the Russian government to Pence, the only inner Trump team member who hasn't been part of the inside all along and has no ties to Russia.
In short, even leaving out so much, we know Trump has been working for the Kremlin and its oligarchs, and that he owes much of his prosperity and political life to them. They also clearly expect his election to serve them well, and not because of any policy positions he holds. They are a joint criminal enterprise whose businesses are mutually dependent and entangled.
How on earth is that not bad enough to matter?
I fear that the New York Review of Books, once again, is proving the spinelessness and imperialist apologism of its deeply outdated defense of Russia, just as it has in pieces over the years that warned against intervening against Milosevic and painted Georgia as an oppressor of Russian citizens.
I wrote a letter of complaint to the NYRB about this problem years ago, but was warned by a colleague that there was zero chance they would print it.
The NYRB has a skepticism of anti-Russian rhetoric that dates to the many decades when anti-communism was used by jingoistic American conservatives to profiteer at public expense. They were never communist, but they have long been aligned with the views of pro Russia outlets like the British Helsinki Group. It's a weird international network, with former USSR supporters (not actually really communists themselves) and far-right nationalists working with the non-existent communist but anti-US-imperialist left. Some of it is funded by Russian natural resource cash, some is just along for the ride out of inertia.
Of course American and British cold warriors are very much to blame for eroding all trust that opposition to Russian imperialism is really about human rights and such.