There are two things I know to be true: one, Russia interfered with 2016 election. Two, that interference has been used to try to delegitimize a legitimate president of the United States. The tension between these two truths has framed much of the Donald Trump presidency. In the wake of the Robert Mueller report, despite much of the news media’s unwillingness to accept the truth, this frame should change.
On the left, the only story they care about has been a now-disproven narrative that Trump has been under some sway of Russia and Vladimir Putin. On the right, a fear that giving too much credence to claims of Russian interference cripples Trump has stifled important conversations about how to protect us from Russian informational attacks. Only one person can break this stalemate, and it’s President Trump.
Last week, Trump had an opportunity during an hour-long phone conversation with Putin to bring up Russian interference. It appears he did not. That’s a shame, because as a matter of factual record established by the American intelligence community and the Mueller report, there is no doubt at all that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election through aggressive social media campaigns that reached tens of millions of Americans, at least.
The reaction to this fact from many conservatives has been to say, well, so what? How do we know it changed the outcome? We don’t. I tend to think it probably had no impact on the outcome of the election. In fact, Russia was just as happy to support Bernie Sanders as it was Trump. They wanted to disrupt, not to elect Trump. And maybe they did disrupt, or maybe the American voters just wanted disruption.
I am far less certain that this Russian disinformation campaign affected the election than I am that it contributed to how much we all hate each other now. The purpose of Russia’s attack was not to elect Trump, who in office has stymied Russian interests more than he has supported them. It was to make Americans despise each other. Whether Russia played a role in it or not, we do seem to hate each other. We hate each other more than I can ever remember in my lifetime.
And this is where President Trump comes in. We know now that he didn’t collude with Russia, presumably everyone is happy about that. But what we now require from our commander in chief is a clear message that interference of any kind from the stepchild of Soviet communism that Putin represents will not be accepted or tolerated. Trump has kept his powder dry on Putin. Now is the time to light some of that and put the petty tyrant in his place.
It doesn’t have to take the form of some kind of world peace-threatening saber-rattling. Trump could quite succinctly assert that Putin has tried to use social media to undermine American democracy, but he doesn’t understand how to use it as well as Trump does (which is probably accurate). A little bit about how “Putin thinks he can compete with me?” with some outer borough smirky smugness could go a long way right now.
Trump has clearly employed the idea that he should keep his enemies closer than his friends on the world stage. Okay. It’s a tried and tested method that has thus far served the president pretty well. But at a certain point, the dominant force has to be dominant. That time is now. Freed of concerns that he is in Putin’s pocket, a little smacking around of the mini Stalin would, just at the moment, quite fit the bill. Give it a thought, Mr. President.
Putin may feel safe right now continuing to attack America through social media. Let’s make sure he doesn’t. Let’s make sure Putin knows that Americans won’t be duped by his duplicitous propaganda campaigns. Let’s have our president call him out, and Americans understand he is fighting Russian interference.
President Trump has weathered the storm of collusion charges. He didn’t collude with Russia because of course he didn’t, and he was well aware that he didn’t. His anger at the accusation was understandable, perhaps even virtuous, but having been exonerated, there is even more virtue now in challenging the actual attacks on American democracy that Democrats so maliciously misrepresented.
Mr. President, you are cleared. Now go get Putin and these attacks on our democracy. We need you to do it.