Thursday, October 6, 2016

Distrust and Discord: How Putin and Trump Have Teamed Up to Undermine the Political System

Attempts to Tamper?

Recently, U.S. officials announced they have “high confidence” that Russia is behind what they describe as a major influence operation in this year's election. They could not go into specifics and admitted that their evidence probably would not yet stand up in any court. 

The breaches include hacking into the email servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Presumably, this was in search of damaging information which might be used to cripple the Clinton campaign.
But there were other concerns too.

In mid-August, the FBI alerted all 50 states to dangers that their election systems might be vulnerable to attack. Authorities have also delivered evidence of a “significant” number of new intrusions into their systems. Experts at the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security “are still trying to understand" who is behind it and what's actually going on.

Admittedly, neither the United States or Russia are innocent when it comes to meddling in the elections of other nations. In the past, the CIA made a more or less regular practice of it in countries. The very first CIA covert action was a manipulation the 1948 Italian elections
More recently Russia has reportedly interfered in the elections of major U.S. allies that have imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Attempting to manipulate the elections in the US is- as far as we know- a first.

Former director of the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA), Michael Hayden rather hypocritically expressed his concern:
“they’re clearly taking their game to another level. It would be weaponizing information. You don’t want a foreign power affecting elections.
Candidate Trump has made the situation that much worse by casually asking hackers in Russia to break into and find Clinton emails. When confronted at the debate that his loose talk might have been connected to the DNC break-in, Trump attempted to claim the silliest way possible

All this raises the fundamental question: what would Putin- or any world leader- have to gain from interfering with the American elections?

Beyond Manchuria

Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that Trump could be, in fact, a form of Manchurian candidate, that is, a covert agent installed at the highest level of government, pulling all the strings that the Russian government asks. 
Trump's secrecy about his business deals and financial arrangements compound fears that he might well be beholden to special interests outside the US. 
Other than suspicions, there's no hard evidence that that might be the case. And anyway, Trump is hardly what anybody would call a stable trustworthy partner for any enterprise.

There's another point to consider beyond any well-orchestrated conspiracy. Massimo Calabresi, a senior correspondent for Time Magazine, offers another motive:
To understand why Putin would want to undercut the legitimacy of the U.S. election, it helps to step back from the long and ugly presidential campaign and remember why we’re voting in the first place. Elections are the ultimate source of authority in our democracy. Because Republicans and Democrats have agreed for decades that spreading democracy is good for everyone, America has pushed for free and fair elections around the world.
By discrediting the validity of an American election, it would deal a blow to the establishment of liberal democracies around the world. This would be seen as a boon to all quasi-authoritarian leaders any place on the planet. The spread of liberal democracies is perhaps Putin's greatest fear. 
So, in terms of a strategy, it makes sense.

Trump's Baseless Allegation

Whether Trump realizes or not, he is a partner with Vladimir Putin. In particular, Trump's comments during the campaign have only made Putin's task to discredit the election that much easier. 
Trump appeared on Fox News Sean Hannity's show said:
“I’m telling you, November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged. And I hope the Republicans are watching closely or it’s going to be taken away from us.”
It wasn't the only time he made this claim. At a recent rally in Altoona, he told his supporters:
The only way we can lose . . . is if cheating goes on.”
As one Vanity Fair writer noted, more than any of Trump’s other outlandish claims—more than any of his other inaccuracies and falsehoods—this one is dangerous.
It’s dangerous because it undermines faith in the integrity of democracy itself.
That happens to be the same thing the TIME writer said was Putin's motive for tampering with the election results.

But Trump hasn't stopped there. 
He has repeatedly suggested that Republican volunteers monitor polling stations. As his critics have pointed out, encouraging his fans to watch (and possibly to intimidate voters) would be a direct violation of long-standing election laws. In other words, it is illegal.
In that regard, Trump seems to be attempting to undermine the validity of the elections in two distinct ways. Voters on the Right can claim they were victims of voter fraud plotted by "crooked" Hillary while voters on the Left can claim that minority voters in key districts may have been intimidated by angry Trump supporters.  

Legitimacy and Fundamental Faiths

Even the home of the conservative propaganda, Fox News, seemed stunned when Trump told his supporters that the election was rigged. 
Ironic since Fox News gave Trump the proper platform to make such an ignoble allegation. At the same time, Sean Hannity- who has cast off all traces of "fair and balanced" coverage in favor of openly supporting Trump, was there to give the GOP nominee an aura of credibility.
In any event, Fox News contributor, Julie Roginsky, seemed to be appalled in an op-ed piece:
Never in modern history has the loser of a presidential election challenged the legitimacy of our national elections. Even in these times of unprecedented partisan rancor, candidates have put partisanship aside in the interest of patriotism and national unity. What has separated the United States from third-world nations is our fundamental faith in our institutions and the belief that our laws supersede political strife.
Trump broke that barrier, accomplishing something Putin could have only dreamt of. He has sown the seeds of doubt in the hearts of his supporters and to make the outcome in November meaningless and contestable.  

As Roginsky points out that by promoting the idea that the election will be stolen from him, the GOP nominee has damaged the political system in three ways.
First, he will have delegitimized the office of the president of the United States and the commander in chief of our armed forces in the eyes of his supporters.
Second, he will have convinced many of his supporters that the United States is no better than the dictatorships for which his chief strategist, Paul Manafort, has worked for many decades.
Stop there for a second. 
It is worth pointing out that Manafort's lobbying efforts on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych were the thing that finally forced him to resign as Trump's  the campaign chairman and chief strategist, who provided, according to Trump's staff. "the big-picture, long-range campaign vision"

Finally, Trump's allegations of an unfair election fits into Putin's game plan in exactly the way the TIME article suggests.
Third, he has armed America’s enemies with a talking point that will be used against us whenever we decry rigged elections abroad: even the leader of one of our two major political parties believes that the American electoral system is no better than that of despotic regimes the world over.
Is this a sign that Putin and Trump are already working as a team against American interests? Certainly, the Russian leader would not have been disappointed by Trump's suggestion that the election will be illegitimate.  

Undermining our Faith in Democracy

Like Trump, Putin has himself publicly expressed his doubts about the validity of U.S. presidential elections  On June17, Putin said of the Electoral College
“You call that democracy?” 
In fact, while the Electoral College may not be perfect, there are a few facts that Putin may not be aware of. 
Faithless electors- voters in the Electoral College who do not vote according to the popular vote of their respective state-  have not changed the outcome of any presidential election to date. In fact, 24 states have laws to punish faithless electors. 
Even in one of the most contested elections (2000) when one elector actually abstained, it didn't change the outcome of the vote. George W. Bush received a majority (271) of the electoral votes. 
So, yes, for better or worse, we call this democracy.

Coincidentally, Hillary Clinton's lead in the Electoral College count makes her a  best-bet favorite to win in November.  

To say the least, Donald Trump is clearly unable to admit defeat (even before the moment it arrives). He appears willing to put his King-Kong sized ego before his love of his country and in doing so, trash the entire political system. 
And that's exactly what makes him the kind of easy-manipulated fool any anti-American autocratic would love.