When the founding fathers declared independence from Great Britain over two centuries ago, they declared freedom from all foreign rule. The idea that our country determines its own course, free from foreign control, remains at the core of our national identity.
We’ve strayed from this course. The 2016 election showed clearly that Russia has the will and the ability to manipulate critical U.S. electoral and governmental systems. Russia’s actions have shown the world that the U.S. government is no longer independent from foreign exploitation.
President Trump’s expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin does not mean he’s under Putin’s control. However, when combined with what we know about connections between the Trump campaign/administration and Russian officials, the president’s sentiments are cause for concern. There are plenty of Trump-Russia connections: Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Trump campaign but didn’t disclose it to his former colleagues in the Senate; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has significant business ties to Russian oil companies Rosneft and Gazprom; former national security official Michael Flynn was paid by RT, the Russian government’s propaganda arm, hid his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak, and made a trip to Russia’s intelligence agency GRU. There are many more connections, detailed here.
Then there’s the matter of Russia’s effort to hack the machinery of our election. The Director of National Intelligence released a 25-page report documenting how Russian operatives penetrated campaign and government computer systems and leaked some of what they found to Wikileaks, compromising the integrity of the electoral process. Even more worrisome, Russian officials gained access to some electoral boards’ equipment and data. Although no evidence that the hackers altered votes or vote totals was found, this is a very real possibility in the future.
If Putin simply had declared his public support for then-candidate Trump, nothing would have been amiss. The behind-the-scenes dealings are the problem. Putin has shown that he doesn’t wish to merely influence American democracy; he wishes to control it. The hacking, the possible backdoor dealings with Trump officials, and the strategic propaganda network Putin personally endorsed indicate a conspiracy to control American elections and American government.
Our founders would be appalled that we’ve allowed foreign powers such influence on our trajectory. Russian hacking, foreign money, and special interests abroad have tainted our ideals. The 4th of July is a time to celebrate our country, but we must also re-evaluate the state of our democracy to ensure we continue to have a nation worth celebrating.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections