A return to political normalcy? An end to the conspiracies? A moderate President who is rational, critical and deliberate? A social environment that returns to a path of progression?
I’m afraid you might be disappointed because the forces that shaped current American politics have not subsided.
Today, as 2018 approaches, it is becoming quite clear that Russia succeeded in destabilizing American democracy. It aided the election of a Washington ‘outsider’ by dividing the nation. One cannot reasonably expect Russia to hang up its boots and call it a day. Indeed, the apparent success of its 2016 strategy probably means Russia will double-down on its efforts to steer the 2018 and 2020 elections.
Russia’s mission is not to favor one party over another. Sure, Putin would benefit from a Russia-friendly US government. But Putin’s ultimate mission is to remove the teeth from the tiger that has dominated global power, trade and finance since World War II. By knocking the world’s superpower – and by corollary the institutions meant to defend western democratic ideals – down a peg, Russia’s standing in the world rises by default.
To accomplish this mission, Russia’s plan is to breed distrust within American politics by undermining the credibility of its leaders and institutions. During the 2016 election and throughout 2017, American institutions – the free press, judicial branch, law enforcement, voting system – have been flooded with accusations of bias and conspiracy. Lies and contradictions have been spread across the Internet. Trolls actively derail fair debate on social media, antagonizing both the left and the right. Home-grown extremist groups are coming out of the woodwork. Hate is emboldened.
Animosity between genders, races and ideologies has always quietly existed in the background of American society. With rising internal discord, partly due to widening wealth inequality, distrust between factions in America was already deepening. Russia and its agents tapped into this vein of distrust, injecting a poison that further undermined the credibility of American democracy and its related institutions.
What comes next will be worse.
If the allegations of collusion are true, the existing administration will undoubtedly do nothing to stop additional Russian meddling in the 2020 election, in the hope that it again benefits. Seeing a wave a blue approaching as Democrats gear up for the big fight, the GOP probably feels like it needs all the help it can get.
Here’s the plot twist: Russia will probably push for a democratic win and purposely leave an easily discovered trail of clues implicating collusion and meddling.
Can you imagine? November 3, 2020. Kanye West (because why not?) is elected in a landslide victory for the DNC. In a turn of events similar to the 2016 election, Republicans are quick to identify clear signs of Russian interference, and set up a congressional investigation. With a public already warmed up to the idea that outside forces can influence election results, the incumbent President refuses to concede, pending results of the congressional investigation. Here’s what happens next:
- The investigation drags on for years, allowing the current administration to extend its reach of power.
- The investigation concludes that there was indeed interference, and that the election results are null and void.
- The sitting administration suspends future elections until reforms are enacted to eliminate further outside influence.
The problem is that outside influence is so pervasive, yet impossible to measure and define – how does one determine whether a tweet by an individual critical of a candidate’s behavior counts as interference? How does one determine if an editorial in the New York Times about American income disparity was written with support from an foreign government? What about a comment on a Facebook post? Russian interference isn’t as clear-cut as catching a foreign agent handing over a manila envelope to a reporter in an underground parking garage.
Democratic elections in a society with free speech and a free press can never be 100% free from interference.
This could mean that any election ‘reforms’ would involve curtailing free speech and the free press. Moreover, because interference is so ambiguous it can never be definitively eliminated, therefore the suspension of future elections could become indefinite. Alternatively, reforms could be so draconian that even if elections aren’t suspended indefinitely, they’d likely be a sham.
Back to that blue wave. Don’t for a second think that any of this will go unnoticed. This will only widen the gap and agitate the growing hatred between red and blue. There will likely be mass protests. America may witness its own version of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, during which the Chinese government used its military to reportedly murder 10,000 of its own citizens protesting in the name of democracy.
Worse yet, Americans could take up arms against each other. Russia wins as it watches its arch rival implode on itself.
Of course, this is just one of a few possible futures. There exists a parallel universe in which the current administration is brought to trial in 2018. But what remains? Mike Pence? Paul Ryan? The stench runs deep. And those who may not have been directly involved with obstruction of justice or collusion are watching from the sidelines learning from others’ missteps.
Power is seductive and the bad wants to push out the good. Good people will play by the rules, play fair, hold punches. For this reason, they lose.