In less than one month, voter will return to the ballot box in state primaries. As they enter polls in gymnasiums and firehouses, in community centers and churches all over this great land, voters may have a sinking feeling that it doesn’t matter how they vote because the Russians are the ones who are choosing our candidates. Unless we force our government quickly to protect us, I fear that feeling will be correct. One year ago 17 different United States intelligence agencies — people who usually don’t agree on much of anything — agreed that Russia had meddled with our 2016 presidential election. Their joint report spelled out how Putin personally ordered cyber break-ins and manipulations, and even hacked into our voting machines.
Last week Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who, since May, has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, filed an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian organizations who were very active in agitating for a specific outcome in the presidential election. The 37-page indictment reads like a spy novel with Russians posing as Americans to scout out our politics, setting up fake identities and shell companies to pay for demonstrations and rallies, and websites and bots that promoted then-candidates Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.
Although all intelligence agencies agree that the Russians did this to help President Trump, in one way they didn’t care if he got elected. The number one goal was to sow confusion and conflict, to inflame the worst of our politics, promote the most hateful of messages and force us to distrust each other.
The Mueller indictment stated that by the end of the election the Russians were spending more than $1 million a month in support of their efforts. It was money they must think was well spent, because look at the mess we’re in. We’ve always been a country of strong voices, strong opinions and a strong desire to keep talking and negotiating until we reach common ground. The country we see around us today is full of suspicion and fear, all of us thinking the worst of each other, and even wishing each other ill. No one wants to talk to the people they disagree with, and people laugh at the idea of compromise.