This is part of a point-counterpoint column. See “I Could Be Wrong” here.
Ray may be right about American naïveté. Maybe one day we’ll look back and laugh about our shock that a foreign government tried to tilt the scales in a presidential election. Hopefully we’ll never become that jaded, but who knows?
Conflating issues leads to foggy thinking. Let’s try for a bit of clarity: (1) It’s not a big secret that national leaders have long made unadvertised deals with other countries. (2) Every nation rewards foreign support in some way. (3) Every major nation has spies, like it or not, who are skilled at detecting hidden information. Obviously their methods and findings are carefully guarded, i.e, “sealed”. (4) Pretending citizenship while distributing outright lies to voters is a completely different issue, not related or comparable to any of the above.
The world is too small and volatile for leadership in one country not to impact everyone on the planet. That goes double for a nation that is rich, powerful, a giant consumer, producer of ideas and technology, and model for democratic ideals. So yes, people outside our borders are interested in our elections. Interference is something entirely different.
That question was supposedly settled for good in the 1990s, when the Democratic National Committee was fined more than $100,000 for raising money in other countries. Contributions had to be returned, donors were fined, and 27 people faced criminal charges. The ruling was clear: No money from foreign governments, corporations, associations or individuals can be used in U.S. political campaigns. Period.
Now comes internet, the new currency that’s harder to track. CIA evidence indicates that Russian sources did, indeed, try to influence our presidential election by hacking into private files and pumping false information into our midst through cyberspace – possibly just to see if it could be done. That gets an A+ for cleverness (if that’s the word), even though no one can say if, or how much, voters were influenced. I don’t find that funny.
Maybe I take this too seriously. Maybe I’ve been influenced by seeing The Darkest Hour this weekend, the movie about Winston Churchill’s uphill battle to keep England from giving up when WWII seemed all but lost to Nazi Germany. He understood the cost of resisting; he also understood the cost of NOT resisting. In the end, the Brits stood with him, at a tremendous cost in lives and property. The less-powerful U.S. opted not to take sides, entering the war two years later when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Failure to investigate further or take action about illegal campaign practices seems not to be because we fear Russia, but because we dread the reaction of an insecure president who can’t tolerate the idea that a few of his votes might have come through trickery. That doesn’t strike me as funny either, but to borrow from Ray, I could be wrong.