Will Progressives Defend Our Elections?

There’s a tendency of the left to object to any objection to Russia’s role in promoting Donald Trump as our next president by pointing out that the United States is hardly guiltless when it comes to trying to influence foreign elections. I don’t mind people pointing this out, since it’s true, but it does rankle me that this is used as some kind of defense of Russia’s actions.

If you want to talk about American meddling in foreign elections, you should start at the beginning of the modern era. The first real job the CIA undertook was an all-hands-on-deck effort to deny the communists a victory in the Italian elections of 1948. This was when the CIA forged its deep ties to the Vatican, which would become important as the Cold War unfolded in Latin America.

It’s not easy to unpack how the U.S government, the Vatican, the CIA and KGB, and the mainstream left interacted in Latin America during the Cold War. All of these institutions evolved or changed course under new leadership during the decades of the conflict. What remained fairly consistent was that the U.S. sought to undermine left-wing populism in the region on the theory that it tended toward economic extremism and was always at risk of communist domination. The Vatican vacillated, at times supporting liberation theology and at other times colluding with Washington in tamping it down.

Later on, the U.S. took a different approach, founding the The National Endowment for Democracy in 1983. That organization was in the news the last time a foreign power was accused of interfering in an American election. In March 1997, John Broder wrote a piece for the New York Times that expressed the typical liberal aversion to defending our country’s elections because our own hands are dirty.

Members of both political parties express horror at accusations that the Chinese may have tried to use covert campaign donations to influence American policy, but the United States has long meddled in other nations’ internal affairs.

At issue then was the appearance that China had preferentially funneled money to the Democrats during the 1996 election. This was supposedly fair game.

Congress routinely appropriates tens of millions of dollars in covert and overt money to use in influencing domestic politics abroad.

The National Endowment for Democracy, created 15 years ago to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades, spends $30 million a year to support things like political parties, labor unions, dissident movements and the news media in dozens of countries, including China.

The endowment has financed unions in France, Paraguay, the Philippines and Panama. In the mid-1980’s, it provided $5 million to Polish emigres to keep the Solidarity movement alive. It has underwritten moderate political parties in Portugal, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Northern Ireland. It provided a $400,000 grant for political groups in Czechoslovakia that backed the election of Vaclav Havel as president in 1990. For the Nicaraguan election of 1990, it provided more than $3 million in ”technical” assistance, some of which was used to bolster Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the presidential candidate favored by the United States.

And, of course, this was the polite stuff. There was also the nasty stuff.

Since the end of World War II, the United States, usually acting covertly through the C.I.A., has installed or toppled leaders on every continent, secretly supported political parties of close allies like Japan, fomented coups, spread false rumors, bribed political figures and spent countless billions of dollars to sway public opinion.

”If the Chinese indeed tried to influence the election here last year, the United States is only getting a taste of its own medicine,” said Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at the National Security Archive, an organization affiliated with George Washington University that monitors intelligence and foreign policy.

”China has done little more than emulate a long pattern of U.S. manipulation, bribery and covert operations to influence the political trajectory of countless countries around the world,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

I don’t really know what this is. I guess it’s the application of some karmic theory that what goes around comes around, or that the chickens always come home to roost. But it’s weak-kneed and politically unattractive. When progressives adopt this position, that Donald Trump is only what we deserve, that our Democratic headquarters can be bugged by the Kremlin but not by G. Gordon Liddy, that our country can be decimated by Russia because it’s fair turnabout, then it’s no wonder people don’t trust us to protect this country’s sovereignty or its people. This is what happens when a political movement adopts a completely countercultural, anti-government stance. It can no longer defend our institutions because it has become convinced that they are rotten to the core.

Unless you can craft me a theory under which the contemporary left in this country should be kept out of power and a dangerous narcissistic buffoon should have the nuclear codes instead, then I don’t did give a damn about what our country has done or is doing in foreign elections, and I am going to object loudly to Russia’s role in undermining our candidate for the presidency. And if you think American politicians of either party should have their emails divulged by Russians because that’s exactly what they have coming, then don’t expect anyone to vote for you.

The progressive movement that I respect was opposed to what our government was doing to tamp down left-wing populism during the Cold War, and it was opposed to the way our government empowered and apologized for white supremacists in South Africa and right-wing dictators in Chile and Argentina. It saw these things as wrong both politically and because it violated principles of self-determination. But it never concluded that we should allow foreign powers to intervene in our own elections because of some kind of goose/gander abdication of national pride and responsibility. Nor did it conclude that it’s own power and legitimacy should be sacrificed on that altar.

I would not vote for anyone, no matter how progressive, who refused to defend the integrity of our elections and to punish those who intervened in them. And very few voters will disagree with me.

At least when Ron Paul makes the karmic argument, he does so more to argue that we should stop interfering so much in others’ sovereignty rather than justifying it when it is done to us.

If the left has any intention of fighting for the things they claim to believe in, they will need to get over this predilection to rationalize their own ratf*cking on some ridiculous theory that policies they largely opposed somehow justify it.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.