The fearmongering over Russian election “interference” might be the most destructive moral panic in American political life since the Red Scare. Then again, to be fair, those who prosecuted the post-war hunt for Communists had the decency to uncover a handful of infiltrators. We’ve yet to meet a single American who’s been brainwashed or had their vote snatched away by an SVR Twitterbot. Probably because no such person exists.
Nevertheless, millions of Americans believe that a handful of terrible memes — and I mean the most amateurish and puerile efforts imaginable — on social media were enough to overturn a presidential election in the most powerful nation on earth. Or, more likely, most pretend to believe it. As Donald Trump’s fortunes have turned somewhat in recent weeks, and socialist Bernie Sanders looks poised to take the Democratic Party nomination, the Russians are once again coming to snatch your vote.
There were lots of “wows” from journalists on Twitter last week when the New York Times reported that members of the House Intelligence Committee were warned by an aide to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire that Russia would be meddling in the 2020 campaign in order to get President Trump reelected. When Trump found out, the Times reported, he was furious that briefers had given Adam Schiff ammunition for political attacks.
First off, this isn’t an absurd concern. In his effort to undermine the public’s confidence in the elections for partisan purposes, Schiff has shown an ugly and cynical propensity to exaggerate and lie about Russian attempted meddling. He’s done more harm in undercutting American trust in “democracy” than Putin.
He’s not the only one.
“Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself,” Hillary Clinton, still struggling to come to terms with her devastating loss, said Friday. “He knows he can’t win without it. And we can’t let it happen.”
“We are now in a full-blown national security crisis,” tweeted former CIA Director John Brennan, one of the leading culprits perpetrating the Russia fraud. “By trying to prevent the flow of intelligence to Congress, Trump is abetting a Russian covert operation to keep him in office for Moscow’s interests, not America’s.”
As if often the case in Trump era, the initial thinly sourced story and subsequent freakout was quickly tempered by additional reporting. CNN’s Jake Tapper, for instance, reported that there was no intelligence showing that Russians would interfere for Trump, only that they likely had a “preference” for Trump because he was “a dealmaker.”
Here is Bloomberg’s Eli Lake:
In fact, Schiff — who was present at the briefing in question — knows that there is no formal intelligence finding that Russia is meddling on behalf of Trump. Administration and House Republican sources tell me that the intelligence official who was briefing the committee went “off script” when asked about Russia’s preference for Trump in the presidential election. No other representatives from the intelligence community at the briefing backed up her assertion, these sources say, nor did the briefers provide specific intelligence, such as intercepted emails or conversations, to support the claim.
The Washington Post also reported on Friday that Sanders had been briefed by U.S. officials warning that Russia was trying to help his presidential campaign. Democratic Party operatives took to the Sunday shows to blame Russia for supporting Sanders — all in an effort to get Trump reelected. Never mind that Bernie could easily have won the nomination in 2016. Never mind that Sanders has built an impressive national movement over the years. Never mind that the champions of the Democratic Party establishment are astonishingly weak. Never mind the party’s base has been dramatically moving Left for years. It’s gotta be Putin!
The Washington Post piece is thin on specifics, which should lead us to believe the story is a politically motivated leak meant to slow Sanders’s momentum. (Then again, Bernie was implying that the Russians were responsible for the toxic campaign behavior of his Bro-sheviks, so maybe he deserves it.)
There are few people who detest the candidacy and philosophy of Sanders more than I, yet I’m positive that the KGB can’t give him the Democratic Party nomination any more than they can install Donald Trump in the White House. Only voters can.
It’s likely that Russia, as it did in 2016, will engage in amateurish efforts to foment divisions among some American — as if we needed any help. If they actually “hack” an election — a word incessantly, and erroneously, used by journalists at the height of the Russia scare in 2017 — we’ll know.
But the Russian hysteria plays into a long-standing liberal conviction that feeble-minded conservatives vote against their own interests only because they’ve been hoodwinked. It might be the doing of a foreign power. It might be the plutocrats. It might be “special interests.” It might even be domestic tricksters, like the ones in the much-discussed recent McKay Coppins piece in The Atlantic, “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President” — a piece that offers over 8,000 chilling words describing traditional political operations as something dark, undemocratic, and new. Be prepared for a flood of similar pieces. Democrats never lose elections. Elections are only stolen from them. Nothing but Trump stepping down and admitting he’s a Putin asset will stop Democrats from questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Of course, if you can’t handle some memes or misleading ads, you probably shouldn’t be voting, anyway. You’re clearly not prepared for the civic responsibilities that come with an open debate, which is often messy and ugly, rather than hermetically sealed in a media-approved bubble.