The backstory

The 2016 election is over, Trump has won and over half our nation is in shock. This state then expands to include anger when our Intelligence community, less than two months’ later (1), makes public its firm conclusion that Russia used various means to meddle in our election; their goal to seat Trump in the White House.

The new president’s response to this revelation? It’s a “hoax…”fake news”… a “made-up story”. Since then, in the more than a year that has elapsed, not once has 45 changed that position. Not once has he come forward, accepted the considered judgment of the entire Intel community, and finally condemned Russia.  To the contrary, he has continued heaping lavish praise on Vladimir Putin, and refused to enforce new and tougher sanctions against Russia that had been initiated by Congress (2).

His reason for this latter inaction is stunning:  It was Trump’s opinion that the sanctions originally put in place by then-President Obama were proving effective in deterring further Russian meddling. Hence, another round of sanctions was not needed. Note that this claim of the effectiveness of previous sanctions was offered without a shred of supportive evidence. In fact, what will be offered next is proof that we need much more than another round of strictures.

The here and now

Earlier today, the Senate Intelligence Committee conducted a hearing with the goal of determining the extent to which Russia remains a threat to interfere in our 2018 midterm election (3). What follows are some of the key “take-aways” from what committee members heard and/or had previously learned:

+ The entire Intelligence community predicts with a “high degree of confidence” that Russia will “escalate” their meddling using “bolder and more disruptive….” tactics.

+ CIA Director Mike Pompeo said he had “every expectation” that Russian meddling would be sustained (January 1, 2018).

+ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson” asserted that the Russians were “already” engaged in follow-up activity (February 7, 2018).

+Social media platforms like Facebook are reporting a surge in messaging that has been aimed at reinforcing a narrative that Trump has been the target of an unscrupulous FBI plot to remove him from office. (4)

Everyone of those bullet points flies in the face of Trump’s baseless judgment that existing sanctions have been effective such that new, harsher ones aren’t needed.

This staggering state of affairs was best summed up today in the committee hearing by Senator Angus King (I-Maine):  “We cannot confront the threat (of Russian meddling) with a whole government response when the leader (DJT) continues to deny it exists….We are fighting a global battle with our hands tied behind our backs”.

It’s going to get worse

Experts are predicting that the coming midterm is one in which Democrats are likely to gain seats in both houses of Congress. There have even been references to a “blue wave”. This is dangerous because it serves to generate what may be unrealistic expectations about the election’s outcome. Consider these matters of fact:

+ Trump’s defenders know what is at stake if the Dem’s gain a majority in the House. Impeachment of 45 will clearly be on the table. Knowing that will mobilize his supporters and get them to the polls in droves.

+ Russian meddling, especially through the use of social media as a vehicle for sowing discontent and distrust among segments of the electorate.

+ What was once a double-digit lead for Dem’s in generic ballot polling has now dipped down into the single digits.

+ Left-leaning voters are notorious for not turning out for midterm elections.

And suppose with expectations high, the “blue wave” doesn’t materialize. What then? The likely answer is more discord, more divisiveness and distrust. If that case, we will be confronted with this question that is not new to our politics; i.e. “Can the center hold?” If not, then our democracy is in serious danger of coming apart at the seams.

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  1. The Intelligence Community’s report was made public on January 6, 2017.
  2. The original sanctions imposed by then-president Obama included economic ones.
  3. The House also has an Intelligence Committee. Unfortunately, under the influence of Devin Nunes (R-CA) its’ only accomplishment has been to create a false narrative about a FBI plot to unseat 45.
  4. Russian “bots” as they have been called, are suspected of using social media to push for the release of Nunes’ false narrative (see #3 immediately above).

 

 

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