An April 20 Podcast, Episode 190 at DecodeDC, contains an interview of former FBI agent Clint Watts discussing the Russian disinformation campaign during the 2016 election. At least since 2015, Russian operatives have discovered, developed, and enhanced methods for disseminating “Russian spin”, largely targeting populations that have become alienated from the mainstream government. Russian operatives, using social media, cultivate relationships with target groups, then actively feed their targets misinformation, or at least spun information, with the goal of advancing Russian state interests. In particular, this information during the 2016 campaign was embraced by the alt Right and by Donald Trump himself, amplifying its effectiveness and undermining the access of the public to verifiable and honest news. Watts discusses this new and ugly phenomenon in depth and goes on to suggest potential remedies. The podcast is about a half hour long, a must listen that you need to fit into your day.
The broader theme is that our Democratic process is failing: in the 2016 election, with the election of the narcissistic demagogue Donald Trump, the process went into cardiac arrest.
The failure was hastened along by Russia – they have their own fish to fry and took advantage of our vulnerabilities to advance their interests through Mr. Trump. But on the broader scale, the process has been undermined by its vulnerability to influence peddling and big money – a problem that is devastatingly chronic. The catch 22 is that a majority of the representatives are elected by big money and those same representatives would have to vote to limit campaign spending and lobbying to get money out of politics. Of course, the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, by opening the flood gates to the money of corporations, accentuated the problem. Finally, the voting process itself has been increasingly corrupted by gerrymandering, voter suppression, and most recently by the use of computerized voting machines that are vulnerable to hacking. See earlier blogs at Computer Programmer, Going All the Way, Hacking Voting Machines, and Getting Money out of Politics.
Yet perhaps all is not lost. For the first time in generations, these weaknesses of the American system have become highly visible and increasingly recognized. Perhaps paradoxically, because the weaknesses are in the open, there is an opportunity to gather the critical mass of voters needed to restore our democracy. What we need is for a significant majority to demand that our system represent the public interest as promised and reject candidates who disenfranchise the voters. You want to gerrymander? You want money in politics? We will vote you out. Sounds simple. How about it?