Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 22, 2020
Making sense of renewed talk and disclosure of Russian interference into the elections, and the labyrinth of interwoven actions, is proving complicated. Among other things, it feels like we just got over being neck-deep in all-things-Russia.
Let’s face it: This is a mess. Whatever campaign the Russians are running is disguised, hard to see immediately because it involves using and building on social media posts by Americans themselves.
What is clear so far is everyone outside of Donald Trump and his closest loyalists, including all the U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI, think Russian interference and efforts toward American division are near the top of list of public international evils.
By contrast, Trump thinks the bad thing is that the nation’s intelligence agencies have been willing to follow the law and inform the appropriate Congressional committees about Russian interference that is said to be specifically on behalf of Trump’s reelection. What has apparently concerned a petulant Trump the most is that the Congressional audience included Democrats, and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, as chair of the House Intelligence Committee specifically, because Democrats might weaponize the disclosures against his reelection campaign.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Trump cannot distinguish government from partisan political gain.
Indeed, Trump has failed to demand that Russians knock it off, though his campaign issued an anodyne statement that indicated disapproval.
So, what did Trump do? He fired Joseph Maguire, a former SEAL and his national director of intelligence, and his top deputy for allowing his security staff to share updates about interference altogether. In his place, the president has temporarily named Richard Grennell, the controversial U.S. ambassador to Germany and political loyalist with absolutely no experience in Intelligence work, to hold the job while he looks for a more permanent candidate.
Geesh. Perhaps someone should remind Trump that this is about protecting my vote and not about his personal gloss.
The Russians also apparently are pulling for Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic candidate and working quietly to help sow dissension among Democrats — as if they needed outside help in dissension. In response, Bernie forthrightly stepped to the microphones to tell Vladimir Putin to stop it.
As it happens, his Democratic opponents have been attacking Bernie for allowing some of his most fervent followers to become overly aggressive in attack mode; I’m sure we can expect the Sanders campaign will finger Russians for the abuses.
On top of all this, Republican congressmen who were briefed apparently decided to challenge any intelligence that pointed to help for Trump, whom they view as being tougher on Russians than any Democrat.
Meanwhile other Democratic candidates, including Joe Biden, jumped on this to promote his own candidacy as more anti-Russia.
And Trump made clear that a main job for Grennell or any permanent replacement will be to rid the White House and the national security staff of anyone who does not swear personal loyalty to Donald Trump.
It’s a lot all at once, but the basics of feeling manipulated by enemies real and imagined are all present for this re-staging of 2016 shenanigans. Since then, of course, Trump has refused to blame Russia for interference, instead blamed Ukraine in a downwardly spiraling conspiracy theory that ended with his impeachment and acquittal in the Senate, and inadequate attention on fixing the issues at the heart of election fraud. Trump’s attention always has been on preserving the legitimacy of his own election win, despite drawing 3 million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton, and his need for validation since.
Russia — and any other countries who want to play in our elections — obviously can do so, particularly in ways that are at least partly hidden in American computer servers this time rather than servers with identifiable Russian IP addresses. The role of American social media companies like Facebook and Twitter in wittingly or unwittingly allowing Russian or other countries to build on posts with electoral disinformation remains problematic for a Congress that cannot act in a bipartisan manner.
Plus, the plain old misfire of poorly organized election efforts, like the screwed up voting count in the Iowa caucuses, adds to the belief that manipulation is playing its hand in American elections.
We’re ready to believe the worst, of course — so long as none of the resulting scandal touches our favorite candidate.
There is no doubt that if the race comes down to Trump-Sanders, Russia will feel it wins in international arenas, since both declare themselves averse to international conflict in the Middle East and Europe. But Russia’s real aim likely is just stirring the divisive pot within the United States, and they are aided in that attempt by Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his constitutional duties to protect against such international electoral influence-peddling.
Russia’s intentions aside, Trump is showing us once again that he should not be in office.
The arc of the renewed electoral crisis is showing that Russia can rest easy: Both the Trump administration’s bullyish and outwardly partisan behaviors toward governing and the perceived deep differences among Democrats are helping to assure any outsiders that we have more than enough division to go around.