From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Traditional Scottish prayer

Two years after Russia interfered in the American presidential campaign, the nation has done little to protect itself against a renewed effort to influence voters in the coming congressional midterm elections, according to lawmakers and independent analysts.

Washington Post, August 1, 2018


oes anyone here have confidence that the American voting system is secure, stable, and designed to protect the voting rights of every eligible American voter?

There’s no good reason to believe that after more than two decades of Democratic spinelessness in the face of a consistent Republican assault on voting integrity. The Russians may be long-leggedy beasties, but it’s Republicans who have been going bump in the night for all these years, disenfranchising American voters unlikely to vote Republican.

How’s this for a proposition: the Democrats elected Donald Trump when they decided not to contest the election of 2000 and allow a partisan Supreme Court to decide the election without allowing a full count of the votes. That election floundered as a result of Florida governor Jeb Bush presiding over a state effort to purge and cage presumably non-Republican voters, especially non-white voters. The purge-and-cage effort made the election closer than it would otherwise have been and produced a fundamentally invalid vote result from a state-distorted electorate.

The Democrats rolled over then, fighting tactically rather than on principle, and here we are as a country, deep in denial about the integrity of our election system. Instead of addressing real and persistent Republican attacks on voting rights, we imagine nearly omnipotent Russian hacker ghoulies and ghosties somehow subverting a popular will that hasn’t been able to express itself fully in a long time. The reality of Russian efforts is at best uncertain, based on available evidence. But “Russian interference” remains an article of bipartisan faith, which serves as a convenient excuse for ignoring the real and present dangers American officials inflict on American voters year after year in state after state.

Possibly the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee and released damning emails to the public. And that’s bad because? The emails showed the DNC to be a corrupt enterprise. Whoever is responsible for the leak, its revelations should be seen as a public service. And it might have been seen as a public service had it led to actual change in the Democratic Party leadership, had it opened the party to the non-corporate voices it has suppressed at least since the Clinton presidency. The DNC emails made no cultural difference; the party is still at war with its progressive members, and that war puts the midterms at greater risk than they should be.

The mindlessness of “leadership” response to the Russian “threat” was neatly expressed, probably inadvertently, by Democratic senator Mark Warner of Virginia, co-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee on August 1:

Twenty-one months after the 2016 election, and only three months before the 2018 elections, Russian-backed operatives continue to infiltrate and manipulate social media to hijack the national conversation and set Americans against each other. They were doing it in 2016; they are still doing it today.

Even if Warner is precisely correct, so what? First of all, free speech in a globalized world gets tricky. Does that mean we want to clamp down on free speech the way more authoritarian countries do? One hopes not. But of course there are those who fervently hope to control free speech to the point of extinction.

So how many Russian operatives does it take to hijack a national conversation? And let’s assume, despite evidence to the contrary, that a national conversation is actually happening on social media, where there are millions and millions of voices clamoring to be heard and a much smaller number actually listening. And even with those who listen, there’s no way to determine what they actually hear. Does Mark Warner really believe in the alternative reality where Russian-backed operatives have more influence than right-wing operatives at Fox News and elsewhere have had for a generation across all media?

Why doesn’t Mark Warner address a real threat to democratic process and demand that his own party have free and fair primary elections? Oh right, that might be a threat to him and his fellow legislators. Or he might address voting in Virginia, where Republicans continue to poison the well by claiming imaginary voter fraud, as they have for years across the country with almost no evidence.

As for substance, the Russian-backed operatives seem mostly to work with political judo, leveraging common American memes to inflame one side or another, even if those sides are already inflamed. American politics have been inflamed for a long time, and the Russians didn’t do it. Republicans did most of it, with climate denial and racism and religious bigotry and voter suppression of all sorts and attacks on the environment and enriching the rich and where does the list of destructive attacks on decent values end?

The deep irony of our present moment was palpably expressed, most likely by accident, by Republican senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the other co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Known as a “moderate” Republican, Burr said on August 1, referring to the Russian ghoulies and ghosties:

This issue goes far beyond elections…. We’re fighting for the integrity of our society. And we need to enlist every single person.

Well, the current Republican control of government would not have happened in a society with any real integrity. It’s taken a lengthy, bipartisan effort to gets us into the morass of today. The Russians are surely grateful for the gift of chaos that they could never have achieved on their own, but can now take some advantage of. And the beautiful part of it is that the Russian nibbling gives those responsible for devouring American integrity a great excuse to ignore their own very real responsibility for knocking down an already fragile system. “The integrity of our society” has never been a reality, only an aspiration at best. The degradation of American society since 1980 has been deliberate and ruthless, to the point that “Make America Great Again” resonates rationally despite its masking of duplicitous purposes.

Richard Burr claiming to be “fighting for the integrity of our society” is ironic to the point of bald hypocrisy, given the record of North Carolina Republicans enacting racist voter suppression laws that even the US Supreme Court rejected. This was after the Supreme Court enabled racist voting legislation with its 2013 decision gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That element of the integrity of our society was not yet 50 years old when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion based on a masterpiece of doublethink and denial:

Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.

As it turned out, “current conditions” included a North Carolina legislature that promptly passed the racist voting legislation even the Supreme Court couldn’t stomach. When the Supreme Court struck down that racist law, the North Carolina legislature went back to work trying to achieve the same racist end by different racist means. Those are the current conditions of the integrity of our society. The Russians have little or nothing to do with any of it. Demonizing the Russians is a bipartisan diversion. The real existential threat to the integrity of our society has long held office.

Free Press History: