[Opinion] Putin’s War on Democracy: It’s Working

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during the Business Russia forum in MoscowPhoto: Alexei Nikolsky, Reuters

The American public is outraged, as it should be, by the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Uncovering their efforts is direct proof of Russian meddling in American affairs, but this discovery should not be taken at face value. One should remember that there is a clear distinction between collusion with the Trump campaign and efforts to undermine faith in American democracy; collusion requires active cooperation, and there is no evidence thus far to support this conclusion.

Russian intelligence was of course trying to get Trump elected; President Vladimir Putin himself has said as much. Hillary Clinton would have refused to open any dialogue with Russia, thereby ruining any chance for a Russo-American détente. The only possible result of a Clinton offensive would be an escalation of a new cold war with Russia that is already spiraling out of control. So yes, it was in Russia’s best interests to try to sway the election, which they attempted via troll factories and internet spamming. Since the election, Facebook has decided to become an arbiter of content, which presents First Amendment conflicts of its own—but this is an argument for another time.

GettyImages-621958726-1280x720Photo: Jewel Samad, AFP

President Trump truly won. He secured 301 electoral college votes to Hillary’s 226. By any means that is not a landslide victory but nonetheless is a clear victory. However, whether or not Trump had won, the Russians would have succeeded in their prime objective: undermining faith in American democracy. Today, Democrats openly question if Trump’s victory was genuine, and Republicans further see Democrats as corrupt and focused on politics over results, thereby breeding more resentment and contributing to the growing polarization that has paralyzed our political process.

The public is believing less and less that America is a land of democracy, just as Putin wants. This writer is of strong belief that Putin’s agents were meant to be uncovered. Today’s VPNs and dark web tools allow hackers and other unscrupulous characters to act with impunity, and Russia’s agents are no exception. Putin’s officers attempt to manipulate the American people, and whether or not they are caught, Putin wins. When they continue undetected, they spread lies and foment division. When they are caught, they shatter faith in elections and trust in the government. For Putin, it’s a win-win situation.

trump-salutePhoto: Reuters

Now, I personally do not believe that subversive efforts by Russian agents significantly changed the course of the election. After the Democratic National Committee dishonestly quashed Bernie Sanders’ nomination, the Clinton campaign was viewed as illegitimate. This, in combination with progressives’ disgust with Clinton and citizens’ distrust of Clinton’s political maneuvering is what led to her loss. Had Sanders secured the nomination, I have little doubt that he would have emerged victorious over Trump—as many as one in eight Sanders voters, particularly in the all-important rust belt—ended up voting for Trump.

Clinton is why Trump was elected, not Russian meddling. Were people really swayed to a significant degree by troll factories and fallacious articles? Americans aren’t stupid and dim-witted. I have faith in the American people—the number of Russia’s trolls pale in comparison to the vast number of fake accounts spamming the internet with mail order brides and vitamin supplements.

Wristbands for voters are seen at a polling station during early voting in ChicagoPhoto: Jim Young, Reuters

Putin continues to outmaneuver the West because it allows him to. With every discovery of Russian activity, faith in democracy dwindles. Covert Russian infiltrators work to destroy the West from the inside out. When the media goes full throttle on every single action by Republicans without giving any to those Democrats, it makes conservatives further believe that the main media networks are “fake news” and that the coastal elites are out to get them—and there is some truth to this notion. At the same time, those who trust only these outlets are left with an extremely distorted perception of the world. Putin notes this hyper partisanship and takes absolute advantage of the situation. Indeed, the only way to stop Putin and restore faith in America’s democracy is to move toward media that is focused on truth, not sensationalization, and elect politicians that put country over party. This is the path that America must take if it hopes to fend off the likes of Putin, but the recent conduct of politicians and the media leaves little hope. Your voice is our only chance. Change the channel sometimes, try out new websites that challenge your beliefs, and, most importantly, remember to vote. Your country will thank you.

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