Last October, two weeks out from the election, I noticed there were horrible racist comments being posted on this site that were coming from Russia. I posted about it here, and laughed it off as a silly attempt to sell junk jewelry.
Stupid me. We now know it was a lot bigger than that. Even in my small corner of the internet, the Russians were busy hacking the election. The Associated Press just published the results of their own investigation of Russian hacking of the Democratic Party.
There’s a lot we still don’t know about the Russian tampering and the degree to which Americans worked with them, but the broad outlines of the attack on our election are no longer controvertible:
- There was a large-scale effort by hackers probably working for the Russian government to hack confidential information from the Democratic Party and from important party figures. Hundreds of them.
- This information was released in a way to maximize the damage to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well as Democratic candidates for Senate and Congress around the country.
- Russians probably aligned with their government also operated, and continue to operate, thousands of social media accounts designed to look American, for the purpose of surreptitiously sowing misinformation and discord into American political debate, to the benefit of Donald Trump’s campaign.
- Russian money was spent to influence US elections in violation of US law. Facebook, and perhaps other websites, took this money in violation of US law.
- Russian hackers also attempted to gain access to American election systems and electronic voting systems. Whether they had any success with this is not clear, but they definitely attempted it, and when asked about it, American election officials are strangely reticent. There is at least one case of the wiping of server logs for no good reason.
All of this is pretty horrifying, even if you restrict yourself to what we know for certain. It sounds like a science fiction novel. In fact, I was sketching out an outline for a novel that looked something like this, but I’ve had to abandon it now. (Thanks a lot, Vladimir!)
But far more horrifying is this:
- The Republicans who control our government are showing no interest in doing anything about any of this.
Now, I’m so old I remember the Cold War days when you could count on a Republican to blame anything from bad weather to the New York Yankees on Russian meddling. I can remember how conservative Republicans would whip up this huge historical conspiracy argument about how the Russian state has represented authoritarianism and repression for a thousand years, and has been at war with Western values of freedom, enlightenment, and self-government all this time, and that the Cold War was just the latest phase of a Thousand Year Clash of Civilizations.
You know. The kind of stuff they say about Muslims now.
So you’ll forgive me if I have trouble wrapping my head around this. Because the same political movement, and in many cases the very same people, are watching all this happen without saying a word. And if you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, that’s just because they’re benefiting from it and don’t want to spoil a good thing,” well, then allow me to remind you that a) our incumbent President is a corrupt, incompetent stumblebum, b) he got into office even though his opponent got 3,000,000 more votes than he did, and c) Russian meddling in our election is certainly responsible, given how narrowly he squeaked by. This should outrage any American, even the ones who voted for the stumblebum.
A hostile foreign power imposing a President on us against the wishes of the American people is a existential crisis for American democracy. Don’t think just because Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wrote some clever words down on big brown pieces of paper 250 years ago, they’ve got it covered and you have nothing to worry about. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are not going to save American democracy. The people who actually can save American democracy, the Republicans who run our government, aren’t lifting a finger, because they are benefiting from it personally.
It’s hard to see this as anything other than the final collapse of the American experiment.
That being said, I voted today, even though it’s a stupid, off-year election. And you should, too. Because if you don’t care either, then you are also part of the problem. In fact, I feel pretty sure that if Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were part of this discussion, they would say, “Hey, this is your responsibility, not ours.”
If nothing else, imagine yourself forty years from now, telling your grandchildren about the days when we actually had elections that mattered. Then think about how stupid you’re going to feel, when they ask you “Did you vote when you had the chance?” and you have to tell them, “No, I didn’t think it was worth the trouble.”