And the winner is …

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly and loudly asserted that “the election is rigged.”  Many of us scoffed at the time, but it turns out he was absolutely right.  Consider what we now know to be facts.  Hillary Clinton received over 2.8 million more votes than Trump.  Some of us still cling to the quaint notion that in a democracy, the candidate selected by the most voters should win the election.  Mr. Trump has repeatedly referred to the outcome of the election as a “landslide.”  Well, 2.8 million may or may not fit the definition of a landslide, but it is a pretty impressive number by any measure.

Trump’s victory is, of course, the product of the existence of an Electoral College that distorts, and in this case frustrates, the national will.

But the allegations of rigging have a serious and sinister truth to them that goes well beyond the vagaries of that antique institution.  The U.S. intelligence community, led by the CIA, has concluded definitively that Russian cyber spies led by military intelligence and the successor to the KGB hacked into the Democratic presidential campaign and distributed the stolen files publicly with the intent of damaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign and bolstering that of Donald Trump.  In the words of a senior intelligence official: “It is the assessment of the Intelligence Community that Russia’s goal here was … to help Trump get elected.  That’s the consensus view.”  We’ve also learned in the last few days that Russian hackers also penetrated the Republican campaign, but chose not release what they found.  Russian intelligence used Julian Assange of WikiLeaks notoriety as their vehicle to disseminate the stolen Democratic Party materials.  Assange’s visceral dislike of the U.S. and of Clinton, in particular, is well-established.  U.S. knowledge about the Russian intelligence operation is detailed enough that we know it was ordered by the highest levels in the Kremlin and we know which specific individuals managed and directed it.

If all this were not enough, we saw in the last election a massive online social media campaign that portrayed Hillary Clinton personally as a master criminal specializing in child pornography.  In the last few days we had an idiot shoot up a neighborhood pizza restaurant as part of his “self-investigation” of an alleged Clinton-directed pedophilia ring.  In the process of looking for a dungeon with imprisoned children, he terrorized several families who were there with their kids for pizza and Ping-Pong.  As this online campaign of “fake news” (i.e. lies) was reaching a crescendo, Mr. Trump was calling on his supporters to help him stop Clinton’s “criminal schemes.”  Along the way Trump publicly urged Russian hackers to go after Mrs. Clinton’s email accounts.

The prominence of allegations of pedophilia and other forms of sexual depravity as an instrument of attack is noteworthy because it has long been a favored weapon of Russian intelligence agents tasked with destroying political opponents of the Kremlin.  And it’s a booming business on the “dark web” where Russian hackers advertise their skills at destroying the reputation of anyone you choose — for a price.  A recent ad by a Russian hacker read: “I’ll do anything for money … [such as] … destroy your opponents business or private persons you don’t like.  I can ruin them financially and or get them arrested, whatever you like.  If you want someone to get known as a child porn user, no problem.”

One might reasonably expect that the President-elect, when confronted with all this, would take steps to distance himself from Russian manipulations and to join in a bipartisan effort to reveal the truth.  Not Mr. Trump.  He has repeatedly announced that “doesn’t believe” the CIA’s conclusions and will not attend intelligence briefings where the evidence for those conclusions can be laid out.  It is as pure a case of “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts” as you will ever see.  Trump has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin — while saying nothing comparable about the leaders of our NATO allies.  Even more ominously, he has put unabashed Putin-admirers in some of the most senior and sensitive posts in the new administration, including retired general Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor.  Flynn has taken trips to Moscow as paid guest of the Kremlin and has provided commentary for the Russian state propaganda arm, RT Television.  Flynn and his son were active distributors of the online lies about Clinton’s supposed child pornography enterprise.  As this is written, Trump’s reported choice as Secretary of State is the head of Exxon-Mobil, Rex Tillerson.  Tillerson has years of experience working with the Russian government, including Putin.  That experience makes perfect sense for a major petroleum company, but Exxon’s interests in Russia are not at all the same as those of the United States.

It is a huge understatement to say that what we have witnessed over recent weeks and months is unprecedented and deeply alarming.  We know that a majority of American voters have seen their expressed will effectively frustrated.  On the other hand, Vladimir Putin got exactly the President he wanted.

It’s too late to undo the damage.  The task now is to look ahead. As Senator Angus King states, Russian electoral subversion will surely happen again. “It could happen in the midterms.  It could be in the next Presidential election.”  The first step is to understand exactly what happened in the last election.

Marvin Ott

Marvin Ott

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Marvin Ott is a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution. He is a summer resident of Cranberry Isles.
Marvin Ott

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