Of all the stunning and disturbing things about Donald Trumps soon-to-be presidency, one of the most shocking is the question raised by his (non)reaction to Russian interference in the American election: Whose side is this guy on?Trump’s Reaction to Hacking
On Friday, leaders of the top U.S. intelligence agencies issued a scathing report wherein they unanimously concluded that the Russian government directed a series of cyber attacks and propaganda efforts to undermine Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton and bolster Trumps campaign. The election interference, according to the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA, was carried out on orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The impact of this interference is hard to measure, given that the goal was alienating voters away from Clinton and toward Trump – and not, for example, direct vote tampering. But the fact of the interference at all should be distressing for anyone who believes in the American system of free and fair elections (that is, everyone, and most especially those in positions of elected office who are charged with upholding our Constitution).
And yet the news that Russia was meddling in our political system has been met with bizarre denials from Trump, a lack of urgency from many Republicans, and a collective shrug from Trumps supporters. The report indicates that Russian hackers were behind the security breach of the Democratic National Committees emails and the email account of John Podesta, Clintons campaign chairman (Wikileaks, which published the emails, denies they came from Russia). Trumps response? The she was asking for it argument that the DNC shouldnt have been walking around in such a short skirt. Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place, he tweeted. The Republican National Committee had strong defense!
The report also indicates that RT, the Russian states English-language propaganda arm, engaged in an aggressive propaganda campaign to push a pro-Trump narrative and cast Clinton as dirty and corrupt. Trumps pick for national security advisor, Mike Flynn, has taken money from RT for a speaking engagement, and said RT is more or less the Russian equivalent of CNN (to be clear, it is not).
American intelligence is not perfect, and surely intelligence officials have shown themselves to have political agendas – see, for example, FBI director James Comeys stunt, where he broke with protocol and announced just before Election Day a new trove of emails from Clinton, only to come back a few days later and admit there was no evidence to change the conclusion he reached in July that Clinton should not face charges. Intelligence community claims, later proven false, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were used to justify a disastrous war in Iraq, the ramifications of which are still being felt around the globe. It is crucial to remain skeptical.
But not beyond all reason. At the very least, every single person in elected office should be demanding clear answers and a deep investigation into the role of the Russian government in attempting to influence the American political process – and our leaders should also be demanding consequences for bad actors. The president-elect should be leading the charge on this. He is not; instead, hes sending out affectionate Twitter missives to Putin.
A foreign county interfering, or attempting to interfere, in a U.S. election should not be a partisan issue. Free and fair elections are the very basis of our democracy; without them, the United States as it was imagined and has sought to be since its creation ceases to exist. No party or politician is more important than this most basic founding principle. And when anyone – Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, the victorious Trump voter – glazes over that fundamental truth because, hey, they won, they arent just being short-sighted or craven. They are putting the interests of a few individuals in the Republican Party ahead of the interests of the country. That is an alarming and scandalous violation. That Trump is so defensive of Russia and so seemingly unwilling to even admit theres a problem suggests, at best, a desire for power so overwhelming he will compromise American security and our most trusted institutions and norms to get it. At worst, it suggests hes beholden to Putin in some way – as do his fawning tweets about the Russian president, wherein he actually takes Putins side over that of the U.S. government, and his refusal to fully disclose his global financial interests, at least some of which are ostensibly in Russia.
In voicing his support and admiration for Putin, Trump also ignores the mans role in transitioning Russia further toward autocracy. Under Putin, the Kremlin has launched offensives on the media and civil society, labeling human rights organizations and groups critical of the government undesirables, jailing and sometimes assassinating opposition voices, and curtailing minority rights (especially LGBT rights). Its certainly good for any U.S. president to enter office with an open mind and to make diplomatic headway even with imperfect or oppressive regimes – if that headway is purposed to bring about peace, security, and human rights. Thats not whats happening between Trump and Putin; rather, it seems the two men see each other as birds of a feather. We know what Putins regime looks like in Russia. None of us should accept that kind of authoritarianism in the United States or believe it couldnt happen here.
This country, it should be said, is not innocent in the dirty game of election rigging,interfering in many political contests held outside of our borders. The American right-wing hostility to anything resembling Communism during the Cold War meant that for decades, the U.S. and Russia were involved in proxy battles all over the globe, with the U.S. using money, influence, media propaganda, spy tactics, and sometimes violence to stop the rise of left-wing governments, particularly in the developing world. That Russias post-communist far-right authoritarian administration has now sought to help usher an American conservative strongman with authoritarian tendencies into the White House may be one of the greater ironies of the past century. But we did it too is not a very good reason to ignore a hostile act from a foreign power. We did it too, and it was wrong (and many on the left objected and demanded investigations). It is just as wrong now for Russia to try to undermine our democratic norms – and as Americans, we have an obligation to defend our systems and institutions vociferously and uncompromisingly.
This is not, in other words, about whether or not you like Donald Trump. Its not about whether or not you like Hillary Clinton. Its about two questions. The first: Who decides American elections? The answer should be voters, without interference from foreign propaganda or online theft. And the second: What matters to you more the desire to see your party and its figurehead in power, or the desire to see your country continue to live out its promises of sovereignty and democracy? The answer should be obvious. But to many, including elected officials, it seems power matters more than fidelity to ones country. And down that path lies darkness
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