Americans keep looking away from the election’s most alarming story

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the then Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump during his annual press conference in Moscow, on December 17, 2015.  singled him out as an absolute leader.  (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the then Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump during his annual press conference in Moscow, on December 17, 2015. singled him out as an absolute leader. (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)

By: Eric Chenoweth

In assessing Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Americans continue to look away from this election’s most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government actively interfered in our elections. Russian state propaganda gave little doubt that this was done to support President-elect Trump, who repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and excused the Russian president’s foreign aggression and domestic repression. Most significantly, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed that the Russian government directed the illegal hacking of private email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individuals. The emails were then released by WikiLeaks, which has benefited financially from a Russian state propaganda arm, used Russian operatives for security and made clear an intent to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

From the Russian perspective, the success of this operation can hardly be overstated. News stories on the DNC emails released in July served to disrupt the Democratic National Convention, instigate political infighting and suggest for some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – without any real proof – that the Democratic primary had been “rigged” against their candidate. On Oct. 7, WikiLeaks began near daily dumps from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, generating a month of largely negative reporting on Clinton, her campaign staff, her husband and their foundation. With some exceptions, there was little news in the email beyond political gossip and things the media had covered before, now revisited from a seemingly “hidden” viewpoint.

Russian (and former communist) propaganda has traditionally worked exactly this way: The more you “report” something negatively, the more the negative is true. Trump and supportive media outlets adopted the technique and reveled in information gained from the illegal Russian hacking (as well as many “fake news” stories that evidencesuggests were generated by Russian intelligence operations) to make exaggerated claims (“Hillary wants to open borders to 600 million people!”) or to accuse Clinton of illegality, corruption and, ironically, treasonous behavior.

Part of the Russian operation’s success is that we cannot measure the effect. Did the DNC emails depress the Sanders vote for Clinton? Did the Podesta emails turn off independents? Would voters have responded differently if major media had reported the email releases not as legitimate news but as an intelligence operation by a hostile foreign power aimed at undermining the integrity of U.S. elections? There are no clear answers. But there are certainties: The email operation increased negative stories about Clinton, fueled an immense propaganda attack and diminished coverage of actual issues. The large polling lead Clinton gained after the debates slipped significantly under this barrage of negativity – even before FBI Director James B. Comey’s bombshell.

Again, was there coordination with this foreign intervention? Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov,boasted that government representatives maintained multiple “contacts” during the campaign with Trump’s “immediate entourage.” (Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks issued a denial.) This is on top of reported U.S. government suspicions that a Trump adviser met with the intelligence operative directing the hacking. Where are the committee chairmen in Congress demanding an investigation? How is it that Republican Party leaders accept the intervention of a foreign power in the election of their party’s presidential candidate?

Putin is pursuing large strategic goals: recognition of the annexation of Crimea and international acceptance of foreign aggression to change state borders; Russian control of Ukraine; weakening or even dissolution of the European Union and NATO; restoration of Russia as a great power; and restored dominance over the former Soviet bloc and its environs. In pursuing these aims, Putin is engaged in a disciplined effort to influence democratic politics in the West, including financial and propaganda support for the narrow Brexit victory and for a network of far-right (and pro-Russian) nationalist political parties and groups throughout Europe. Now he has achieved what had to have been his most improbable goal: helping elect a sympathetic U.S. president who wants to form an alliance against terrorism. What will Trump give in exchange? He has already reaffirmed his intention to end support for pro-Western rebels in Syria, which effectively gives Russia a free hand to make President Bashar al-Assad its satrap. The greater danger is Trump’s attitude toward NATO as a “soft” alliance that, like the Western powers in 1939, won’t “die for Danzig.” It would mean the alliance’s end.

In his book “Putinism,” Soviet and Russian historian Walter Laqueur describes the varied ideological strains that animate the former KGB agent. The “Russian national idea” that has emerged is to defend Russia, Eurasia and the world from the anti- civilizational corruption of Western liberal democracy. Frighteningly, Putin’s worldview has resonance in the populist and nationalist fixations of Stephen K. Bannon, the president-elect’s senior counselor, whose stated mission is to “destroy” the “establishment” and end the domination of the “donor class.” Bannon’s “closing argument” ad for Trump, redolent of Russian propaganda, described the United States as a corrupt and failing state because of nefarious “global special interests.” It all points to grave danger for democracy and a world order that has kept the peace for 70 years. Is this what America voted for?

Chenoweth is the co-director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.


  • HebAlba

    “Eleven Years On: How MSM ‘The Washington Post’ Helped Give Us the Iraq War
    In the months before the war, The Washington Post ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war.” Same with Syria..

    • 5thDrawer

      Yes indeed … promoting half a story and hiding the rest, and/or the simple facts, is a form of propaganda.
      The story after it – from 1992 – is also a very good read – and about ‘word-creation’ as well.
      I always felt that things, in general, began to go ‘down’ in ’94 … Steve Tesich ‘saw’ in ’92 … and a word-group he used in an article was defined in the Oxford just this year. 😉

      “Last month Oxford Dictionaries designated “post-truth” its 2016 Word of the Year. It defined the word as referring to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” According to Oxford, it was first used in a January 1992 article in this magazine by the Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich.”

  • I’m hearing the hacks came from US based people familiar with Clinton trying to save the country from her Presidency and not the Russians. Why not report that?

    • MekensehParty

      because it’s based on “hearing” and not facts
      next time you “hear” someone saying: you should jump from a window, make sure you don’t do that.

      • 5thDrawer

        But Mek .. they see Parcours People do it all the time on YouTube … it might be ok to jump. ;-)))

  • XC Skater

    Indeed Joe D.
    Not the Russians. Guess who.

  • man-o-war


  • HebAlba

    Aleppo Syria, before the invasion of the US Turkey Saudi backed terrorist rats.

    • 5thDrawer

      Lovely, wasn’t it.

  • HebAlba

    “MekensehParty . Joe D. • 3 days ago
    because it’s based on “hearing” and not facts
    next time you “hear” someone saying: you should jump from a window, make sure you don’t do that.”
    Do that ASAP.

  • Hannibal

    Trump did not need Putin to win the election… He just appealed to a white majority that has been marginalized for the past 8 years. While liberals hoarding money shipping jobs abroad, not to compete, but to increase their blasphemously profit margins a la Apple, conservatives would, and rightly so, insist on keeping jobs in the U.S. Read today’s news regarding the Carrier HVAC company.
    On another hand, as for foreign policy, Obama and Clinton kept creating vacuums in countries like Libya where people never learned to govern themselves to destroy the current status quo which despite being dictatorships had relatively stable countries without further planning the transition. As a result, countries like Iraq, Syria, and Libya are no more. Luckily, the Egyptians woke up soon enough to stop “their spring”. Any president who helps end the cancer of ISIS is my president.

    • 5thDrawer

      Quite true Hannibal … revolting people just create the anarchy that some revel in.
      In places that never tried a real democracy, it’s difficult for ‘the people’ to figure out that an election-time is the point at which they CAN control WHO is going to be ‘leading’ them for the next few years ,,, beyond whatever input they may wish to make DURING the terms of office. Which is the point about freedom of speech as well. The people ARE ALLOWED to have something to say to the ‘local rep.’ all during the term of office … or write to an editor their own (perhaps weird) opinion (within bounds of societal norms).
      (And even if it’s only silly bitching about the gay neighbour’s Rotweiller contained in it’s lovely garden.)
      NO Experience or Education along those lines, simply leaves them bewildered when ‘the reins’ are handed to them, while never having attempted to really run more than their cattle in a lifetime.
      Must say, also, that there’s no use bitching about what was put into office, if they don’t ‘catch on’ to the concepts of all the implications inherent in it … knowing something about various subjects, accepting what a majority of fellow citizens choose, and of course, actually going out on election day to cast a vote upon the waters. The last being the ‘BASIC’ idea.
      (being able to read, write and do some arithmetic, can certainly help in a quest, of course)
      Beyond that … because there’s always ‘beyonds’ and ‘new’ challenges of ‘future’ …
      Allowing the politicians to do whatever stupid thing after that day, is NOT a reason to pick up a gun. One is supposed to still have a voice … even if no-one listens to it for a few years. Should be happy for that.
      And if they don’t get the concept, and go to learn something fast, we can put it simply when seeing what election results bring them. ‘You just dug your own grave’ comes to mind. ;-))