Electoral “Meddling”-Theirs and Ours: A Critical View

1) That the USSR actively attempted to manipulate U.S. politics is a matter of historical record. That there was an eminently rational basis for their doing so should also be equally obvious: a primary objective of U.S. foreign policy during the McCarthy period was to “bomb them (and other members of the ‘international communist conspiracy) into the stone age.”   Our elected officials posed, on that basis, an eminent threat to our species’ survival as well as paving the way for a half century of bloated defense budgets now bankrupting the economy. It follows that it’s unfortunate that Soviet efforts then to “undermine our democracy” were not more successful rather than the near total failure they evidently were-or so it could be argued.

2) It seems likely that these survived through the post Soviet period possibly given a boost by Putin, a former KGB officer, wielding unchallenged, dictatorial power. The investment in them has been relatively small-almost certainly dwarfed by parallel programs on our side to subvert their political system via the “intelligence” services (see 7 below). To take the most conspicuous example now being discussed, the Facebook ad buys were in the low six to seven figure range. The material circulated within social media was apparently produced by a St. Petersberg troll farm having a staff of around 90 employees.

3) That they were small does not imply that they could not have been decisive in a close election. Furthermore that they were incompetent-their postings containing grammatical errors, embarrassing mistranslations of Russian idioms and factual howlers-also does not mean they could not have been effective. That’s because of the target constituency to which they were directed, namely to a left replete with anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, chemtrail and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists. The pervasive guillibility, credulousness, and intellectual sloth therein would provide fertile soil for the seeds planted by trolls. This is particularly so as the pro Trump/anti-Clinton agenda being promoted was consonant with pre-existing left prejudices, the Bernie or Bust/Never Hillary tendency having already demonized Clinton while promoting a fantasy world of Trump as a peace candidate who would take on Wall Street. And so it was a reasonable to expect that a propaganda campaign targeting this constituency had a good chance of success.

4) Russian efforts to inflame hatred of Clinton complemented similar, if not identical efforts by the Trump campaign, particularly those of the shadowy Bannon/Mercer outfit Cambridge Analytica. The main intention of the latter was not to increase support for Trump but rather undermine the Clinton vote total through various voter suppression tactics. We know that CA specifically targeted African American communities where Clinton’s past association with welfare reform and denigrating black youth as “superpredators” could be used against her. Low turn out in key cities within the states which Clinton lost may have been a result of CA’s efforts along these lines. Within the broader left, the voter suppression mechanisms advanced by CA complemented existing tendencies by significant elements of the left to convince core constituencies that they were “under no obligation” to vote for Clinton. Again, depressed turnout and in some cases votes for third party candidates may have been indications of the success of CA’s methods.

5) There is absolutely no evidence of coordination among these separate campaigns. The sheer incompetence of the product churned out by Russian troll farms would have been an embarrassment to the seasoned professionals employed by Bannon and Mercer at Cambridge Analytica. Furthermore, the presence of Russian spooks among the left, while once a fact of life, is by now long since consigned to the dustbin of history. That said, the rhetoric deployed by the left during the campaign-wooden, stilted, hectoring, factually misinformed and logically bankrupt mirrored that which was emanating from St. Petersberg. That does not imply that it was produced by or in some way inspired by it. There is, however, some circumstantial basis for positing a distant albeit by no means necessary connection.

6) Related to the above is the matter of Democratic Party loyalists accusing the Republicans of treason based on their party having received financial assistance from a foreign power. Many of those making this charge celebrate candidates receiving massive donations from multinational corporations which are often as large and powerful as sovereign governments Furthermore, as Steve Coll pointed in his recent history of ExxonMobil, multinationals should be seen as having, to some extent, similar interests to those of states and having a foreign policy, as the appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State personifies. It’s hard to see how the charge of treason and the normal financing of political campaigns is by this point anything more than a distinction without a difference.

7) Finally, an important number to be aware of in connection with this discussion is 187. That’s how many were killed by the U.S. puppet Boris Yeltsin in his assault on the democratically elected Russian Duma during the so called constitutional crisis of 1993. That is the official estimate from the Russian armed forces.  Unofficial estimates put the number much higher-as many as 2000.  Those insufficiently impressed by accusations of Russian “meddling” in our elections likely have this and other similar atrocities in mind.  When they are dismissed with varying degrees of contempt, as they routinely are, those doing so would do well to evince some awareness of these numbers as well.


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