Alan Zendell, May 12, 2018
It’s finally clear what the Russians were up to during the 2016 election. Facts that have come to light in the last couple of weeks make it clear that their primary objective was sowing discord among Americans. By exacerbating hot button issues like guns, jobs, religious differences, and crime, often posting incendiary articles on both sides of an issue, they seem to have achieved their objective.
What’s remarkable is the sheer number of items published, mostly on Facebook, hundreds of thousands of posts, skillfully conceived and orchestrated throughout the election campaign. The project was so well conceived and executed we had no idea we were being fleeced. And look at the result: our confidence in social media has (perhaps justifiably) been eroded, our mid-term elections are approaching with no guarantee that we’ll be any smarter or any more hack-proof than we were two years ago. And as a nation we are angrier and more divided than at any time since Vietnam, maybe since the Civil War.
The Russians didn’t create our divisions. They always existed, but Putin’s brilliant team of psychological warfare specialists working from Saint Petersburg picked at them like old scabs, and we bled. And Putin proved once again what a dangerous and unscrupulous adversary he is.
What we’ve learned also tells us a lot about the likelihood that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and the degree to which that may have influenced the outcome of the election. Despite the incompetent attempts to obtain dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians by DT Junior, I think it’s now clear that any collusion that may have occurred was instigated by the Russians. Surely there was some on the part of Trump’s surrogates, but it seems extremely unlikely that it represented a scheme conceived by the president. That would imply that he’s as politically savvy and smart as Putin, and he’s not.
The fact that of the hundreds of thousands of attempts to influence Americans on social media, a sizable percentage were pro-Clinton, tells us disruption was a more important goal than favoring one candidate over the other. Still the preponderance of Russian meddling favored Trump. When it was first suggested that Putin wanted Trump to win the election, several possible explanations flooded the media.
Did Putin have something on Trump that would give him leverage over him? Maybe, but sixteen months of Trump as president make it pretty clear that embarrassing Trump is a tall order. Whatever else he may be, he’s totally shameless, and a president who continually invents his own facts and lies openly is not easy to blackmail.
Many people promoted the idea that Putin thought Trump would be easy to manipulate. Trump proved early on that he was easily baited and his use of Twitter is if anything, undisciplined. There’s no doubt that Putin is a master of politics and international relations, and that he feels he has no equal among other world leaders. He probably does believe Trump can be had, but there’s no reason to believe he doesn’t feel the same way about Clinton. And given Trump’s volatile, nasty nature, the deliberate, cautious Putin might well have preferred dealing with the steady, predictable Clinton in some ways.
The truth is we don’t need to look any further than Putin’s main objective to understand why he wanted Trump to win. It fits perfectly with his overall objective – maximizing discord and divisiveness among Americans, because nothing could have been more divisive than Trump as president. With a dysfunctional Congress in Washington and a divided electorate, Putin knows he can choose his battles and pick us apart wherever we’re weak.
It’s not about Putin wanting to destroy us, it’s about economic and diplomatic dominance. With our trade relationships in question, our traditional alliances far less certain than they were two years ago, and our basic democratic institutions constantly under attack by Trump, Putin has achieved everything he wanted.
And all this time as Trump screams that there was no collusion and Mueller’s investigation is a witch hunt, the irony is that Trump is probably innocent, but he’s not innocent of all the other things he’s accused of. He’s being masterfully baited and he steps into every trap that’s set for him. His own words told us he is a sexual predator. His actions tell us he thinks he can quash anything he doesn’t like the way he did in business, and these things may ultimately emasculate his administration.
Will he be impeached or indicted? Probably not, but as he runs roughshod over every institution in Washington, he will find himself more and more isolated. It took several years to develop, but there came a day in 1974 when the leaders of Richard Nixon’s Republican party told him they could no longer support him, and he resigned. Could that happen to Trump? Most of the Republicans in Congress have no love for him. They tolerate him and support him purely out of expediency. Let’s see what happens as the mid-terms approach.