The recently-revealed indictments against Russian operatives for interfering in the 2016 elections prove we face an imminent threat that demands a firm, immediate, bipartisan response. It’s the only way to protect future elections, including the 2018 midterms.
Instead, we have a president who responded by claiming the indictments were a vindication for he and his presidential campaign. We have Americans rushing into their political and ideological corners – just the kind of reaction that make us susceptible to further attacks. Those Russian operatives didn’t use bombs and guns and tanks to undermine our democracy; they tapped into our social divisions and amplified them with our technology, including Twitter and Facebook. Given how too many of us are responding, they have every reason to keep doing so and expecting it to become more effective as we ignore facts we don’t like and mistakenly believe our political opponents are the real enemy.
According to what we know from the team of investigators employed by special counsel Robert Mueller, Russian operatives began planning to interfere in 2016 several months before that election cycle began. They wanted to sow seeds of doubt and chaos and wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton, whom they assumed would win the election. That included amplifying racial, religious and other fault lines. During that process, at times they helped third-party movements and Bernie Sanders. Ultimately, they decided to boost the prospects of Donald Trump. That’s not a partisan reading of what happened – it’s what happened, according to our intelligence officials and the Mueller team. It should be noted that after Trump won, the Russian operation began pushing anti-Trump memes.
To not have to face these facts, many Americans have turned to other explanations and deflections. They want the focus on the U.S.’s well-documented history of interfering in other countries elections, including helping depose democratically-elected regimes we didn’t like. They insist we must focus on flawed FBI agents who said unflattering things about Trump and investigate whether those views have affected the Russia probe. Others want to jump directly to impeachment even before Mueller determines what role, if any, the Trump campaign played in any of this.
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A more appropriate response: Congress should pursue and pass bills that strengthen cybersecurity and force social media companies to reveal who is buying ads on their platforms. The president should administer the sanctions on Russia that Congress mandated and he has since dismissed. Americans should let Mueller answer significant questions about what the Trump campaign did in 2016 before concluding that it and Trump are guilty of colluding with Russian operatives.
What we do know is that a hostile foreign power interfered in the 2016 election. The president, most of all, needs to acknowledge that, and he and Congress must focus on finding ways to ensure Russia can’t do the same in 2018 and beyond. The preservation of our democracy depends upon that response.