June 11, 2018

Russia is Exploiting Our Outrage and Tribalism Effectively

Vladimir Putin (2017-01-17)I hate to say anything that could be construed as positive about Vladimir Putin, but this apparent Russian strategy of undermining the U.S. from within by turning us against one another is brilliant. Our polarization, tribalism, and perpetual outrage are obvious vulnerabilities to exploit, and we do not seem capable of resisting their allure.

On one side, one can find conservatives who are so adamantly pro-Trump that they deny that Russia is doing anything, either because they admire Putin's nationalist approach or because they think admitting Russian activity would somehow de-legitimize Trump's presidency. Not surprisingly, they are not interested in doing anything about the Russian efforts they have decided to deny. On the other side, one can find liberals who believe that Russian interference was responsible for Trump's election and that Trump personally colluded with Russia to win office. Although some of them express concern about Russian efforts, they're too focused on ousting Trump to be overly concerned about Russia's broader strategy.

I think that both of these sides are making serious mistakes. The question of whether President Trump or others in his administration colluded with Russia is mildly interesting at best. All indications are that the Russian strategy extends well beyond one election. Even if it were to be proven that Trump colluded, the problem we are facing is much broader than Trump or than any one election. It appears that Russia aims to deepen our divides to the point where our system of government collapses from within because we lose confidence in it and are no longer willing to work with one another.

It strikes me as extremely unlikely that we'll ever see Trump impeached. But suppose I'm wrong and it happens. This doesn't change Russia's plan at all. They merely shift away from Trump as the center of much of their efforts and pick a different person or issue. It isn't like they don't have a nearly infinite number to choose from. We've made it far too easy for them.

It looks like Russia's goal is one of unraveling our democracy from within by undermining our confidence in the process and amplifying our divisions. What too many Americans still fail to realize is that Russia does not have to affect the outcome of our elections; they merely need to convince a significant portion of our population that they might have. Sadly, they seem to be succeeding. We appear to be not just willing but eager participants in their scheme.

What do we do about this? Perhaps we need a different sort of "resistance" movement, one aimed at uniting us, repairing our many divisions, and inspiring a new commitment to work together for the common good in spite of our disagreements.