I’ve seen a lot in recent days about Russian ads. Some people are under the impression that outside interference and “election meddling” through racially charged advertisement are major concerns. However, this is not the case. The racial issue is real; the Russia issue, not so much. Even if Russia did attempt to influence the American election (of that, I have little doubt), one should be more concerned with how and why the Russian advertisement campaign could be at all successful. On that matter, it is no small thing to notice that the ads might as well have been made in the USA. They certainly resonated with hundreds of thousands of people here. In fact, what the ads’ contents say about us matters much more than the intentions of the people who made them. The ads reveal that the most serious problem we face lies, not abroad, but in the hearts of everyday Americans who, whether black or white or whatever, fear their neighbors, and despise the “others” in their own communities.
It is my view that Russian meddling is a red-herring and an attempt by democrats and certain political interests to exploit nationalism and the national distrust of foreigners for the sake of their own brand. When politicians, be they democrat or republican, resort to using fear to exploit prejudices, then, besides being close to us and citizens, they appear in kind to be no different than the specter of the manipulative Russian government they so want us to fear. That is, there is no principled difference between preying on an American’s fear of Russia for political purposes and preying on a white American’s fear of black people or immigrants in order to elect a certain candidate.
And it is no argument when someone (usually a democrat) says, “But the Russians and foreign interests really are a threat, where minorities in the U.S. are not.” Again, the problem is not so much a matter of foreign influence, but rather, of those beliefs and prejudices that already permeate the American mindset, and which have made the alleged Russian interference possible.
There is a serious question as to whether enmity with the Russian government is warranted. It may be. But this issue should not distract us from whether the American people remain culpable for electing Trump. Yes. Culpable. Since, we must presume that, if the Russians could manipulate certain Americans’ hatred, that hatred must have already been present, even obviously so, for the world to see. Russia and the American people have mutually enabled each other. And yet it is like the American people have committed a crime of opportunity by electing Trump. Pointing our fingers at the Russians no more absolves us of responsibility than a burglar who points out that his victim left the door open.
Criminals? The American people? But what is the crime? Do we not have a right to elect our leaders? And is not the virtue of democracy that we always elect a democratic leader? Now, even if Trump is duly elected, even if he cannot be held in violation of the actual laws of our country (and those are big ifs), he is both morally reprehensible as well as actually dangerous to the world. For this the American people, and not primarily the Russians, are on the hook for whatever damages he causes – social, political, moral, environmental, etc. And even if the Russians are also responsible for helping to elect him, so that they must share the blame for the outcome, we cannot ignore the significance of the word ‘also.’ No mitigating facts can excuse the Americans who voted for Trump, or even the Americans who, without voting for him, have become complacent with the status quo that made his election possible.
Lastly, and in general, I feel obliged to point out that foreign interests always play a part in an election. Always. Trump shouldn’t be ousted or opposed because a foreign government supports him. He should be removed from office for the reasons that the foreign government supports him: i.e., because he’s morally debased, incompetent, ignorant, and a threat to his own people. Perhaps Trump even solicited Russian support, or knew about the secret media campaign. Perhaps we should consider whether Russians provided illegal campaign contributions. Certainly there are reasons to suspect something illicit took place. But such allegations fit into a larger, more troubling picture of a dangerous and corrupt politician. And, furthermore, none of these issues are as decisive as the fact that, whether under circumstances of manipulation or through their own volition, there are Americans who support a bigot and an imbecile for president because he is a bigot and an imbecile, and that they continue to support him as the world unravels around them.
Only in acknowledging this and removing Trump through a moral referendum can we Americans at all redeem ourselves. Our redemption will be all the more meaningful and profound if Trump is removed simply for being a terrible person whose brand is division and fear, rather than for a technicality of the law (campaign finance, emoluments, forthcoming perjury, etc).