Conspicuously absent from President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address was any mention of how to protect this country’s elections from interference by foreign governments.
We’re not talking about whether members of the Trump camp broke laws; those questions are under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
We’re talking about successful Russian efforts to sow lies and division with the goal of undermining democracy in this country and Europe.
Russia’s digital saboteurs blanketed U.S. citizens in disinformation before the 2016 election. Almost as many people have seen inflammatory and divisive Facebook posts planted by Russian trolls as voted in 2016.
Voters go to the polls again in just nine months to elect a new Congress. CIA director Mike Pompeo recently said he has “every expectation” that Russia will try to subvert the midterm elections. In an interview with the BBC, Pompeo also predicted that a robust U.S. push-back will limit Russia’s impact on the midterms.
It would be easier to believe Pompeo’s assurances if Trump and congressional Republicans showed even a glimmer of interest in curbing Russia’s dirty tricks.
Instead, the Trump administration just this week refused to impose sanctions on Russia authorized by Congress to punish the 2016 meddling and prevent such interference in the future. And not a single Republican signed a report released Jan. 9 by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee detailing Kremlin-directed manipulation around the world and recommending steps to stop it.
While European nations are moving to counter Russian influence, the report says, the U.S. lags far behind.
Facebook told Congress last fall that Russian agents had published 80,000 inflammatory and divisive posts that may have been seen by 126 million people between June 2015 and August 2017. Russian agents uploaded more than 1,000 videos to Google’s YouTube service and published more than 131,000 messages on Twitter.
The Russian trolls excel at rubbing salt into open wounds with messaging aimed at inflaming grievances. Guns, gays, race and political correctness are among their favorite topics.
Meanwhile, the loosening of restrictions and reporting requirements on money donated for political purposes makes it harder to enforce the laws against using foreign money to influence U.S. elections. The FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker funneled money through the National Rifle Association to help Trump.
In the fall of 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell torpedoed a bipartisan warning about Russian efforts to influence Americans’ votes. But McConnell and other Republicans must understand that, though the Russian trolls helped Trump last time, they’re ultimately not trying to help either political party or serve any interests other than those of Vladimir Putin and his band of oligarchs.
The Republicans who control our government are doing remarkably little to thwart the Russian goal, which is to manufacture enough strife and distrust to render our democracy ungovernable.