It hasn't happened yet, but it will. No, I'm not talking about the interference of other nations in American elections. That has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. I'm talking about the arguments that such interference is unimportant. By now, it's clear that the Russian government engaged in a massive campaign to interfere in American elections and is continuing to do so for 2018. There is also substantial evidence that former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page was an active agent of the Russian government during the 2016 election campaign. This makes the case for collusion between the campaign and Russia very strong. Pretty soon, the argument will turn from "no collusion, no interference" to "who cares?" It's tempting to want to fall into the logical fatalism of believing that all politics sucks everyone is corrupt. But such negativity erodes the very foundation of our democracy and plays directly into the hands of those who would seek the downfall of American society. This week, we answer the question "Why does election interference and collusion matter?"
The first thing people often do when confronted with questions of election interference is compare election meddling to corporate and private lobbying or political contributions. But there is a world of difference between these two activities. First of all corporate and personal contributions are almost always monetary in nature. They provide funds to help candidates run ad campaigns or pay top level staffers. This is very different from covert hacking operations and selective communications leaks. If Bill Gates had used his corporate computer magic to hack the DNC and then selectively leaked this information, it would be just as much of a scandal and an illegitimate campaign maneuver than the actions the Russian government has taken. The other big difference is that major donors usually have to disclose contributions so people know who is funding whom. This allows the public to help connect the dots between instances of obvious political corruption and quid pro quo.
Ok, so election interference by shady corporations is bad, but who cares? Americans do these things all the time, right? So what if a campaign works with another country to run an election? Well American elections are just that, American. The entire legitimacy of an election hinges upon the fact that only the people who are directly involved in the democratic process can participate in it. How insane would it be if all of the campaign staff for the next election were foreign nationals from another country who have no ability to vote in American elections. What if the entire Trump re-election staff in 2020 was made up of Russians, or if Hillary's 2016 staff was composed of the entire Saudi royal family. Other nations have no business interfering in our elections just like we don't have any business interfering in theirs. This isn't to say that other nations have to remain silent on the election process. The United States can publicly say one thing or another about another countries politics, but secret meddling should not be acceptable.
And finally, the classic whataboutism that is infuriatingly pervasive in America today: Everybody colludes with other nations, so why does it matter? First of all, no, not everybody does it. When Al Gore's campaign received a leaked recording of his presidential campaign rival George Bush practicing for a debate, the campaign staff immediately turned the information over to the FBI rather than use it for political gain. Even if most campaigns did collude with other nations to interfere in their elections, it wouldn't suddenly make such behavior acceptable. After all, murderers don't get to walk free just because other people murder too. This is the inherent problem with such pervasive whataboutism. One side's hypocrisy does not forgive the other's. Yes, the United States has done terrible things in regards to political meddling in Iran and Latin America decades ago, but that doesn't justify interference on another different generation of citizens.
Elections are the foundation of our representative democracy. Anyone who reveres and respects the importance of the democratic process in this country should be appalled by the actions of Russia in the 2016 election and deeply concerned about the imminent threat of future election interference. This isn't a Democrat or Republican thing, this ought to be a unifying moment for the country. We were all attacked in 2016. Unlike previous attacks, this was specifically designed to divide us. Democrats were attacked with hacking and voter suppression operations, while Republicans were attacked with misinformation and a dramatic co-opting of their own party values. The fact that the Russians did this to support a Republican candidate does not invalidate the results of the election or negate the legitimate beliefs of Republican supporters. The next attack may not benefit your tribe or harm your political rivals. In all likelihood, the next attack might just seek to undermine our confidence in the entire democratic process by sabotaging voter registration rolls or changing a few votes here and there to trigger a massive and messy recount. The threat is real, and it matters.