Undermining Our Elections Will Undermine America

Despite the fact that our country is clearly on the fritz and needs a hard reboot, people are basically holding it together. In the coming weeks, soccer matches will start up again and we’ll head to Back to School Night. Routine trips to the grocery or hardware stores come off just as they always have. For the most part, our interactions with our neighbors are normal. We still spend our leisure time in the same ways and visit the same places for relaxation. The economy is humming along well enough and no one is experiencing mass layoffs or huge losses in their retirement portfolios. For those who are truly dissatisfied, the knowledge that elections are approaching is a solace and focal point for organization and resistance. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with America that cannot be solved via the traditional and legal ways we’ve addressed the need for change in the past.

But what if the elections don’t bring change? What if we lose confidence that the elections were fairly and honestly conducted? In that case, how likely is it that things will continue in a largely normal fashion?

The DNC called the FBI on Tuesday because they had been alerted to an attempt to breach their voter database. That sounds all too familiar. And it’s just one indication from yesterday that malevolent actors are still seeking to mess with our elections and influence our policies in underhanded ways.

Early Tuesday morning, Microsoft announced that parts of an operation linked to Russian military intelligence targeting the US Senate and conservative think tanks that advocated for tougher policies against Russia were thwarted last week.

It appears that the Russians are targeting Democratic candidates for office, like Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Dr. Hans Keirstead, who narrowly lost his primary bid to take on the Kremlin’s favorite congressman, Dana Rohrabacher of California. In Florida, there’s a raging dispute over whether Sen. Bill Nelson was correct or perhaps disclosed classified information when he alleged that the Russians had penetrated county election boards and “are in your records and all they have to do, if those election records are not protected, is to go in and start eliminating registered voters.” The FBI and DHS have reassured county election officers that they have no evidence that this is the case, but some anonymous intelligence sources have backed Nelson’s claims.

Whether these actions lead to concrete meddling, like deleting people from voter rolls or changing vote tallies, the mere fact that we’re talking about them serves to create doubt about the integrity of our elections. And that suits our enemies just fine.  Do you remember the final message Julian Assange sent to the Trump campaign on Election Day?

WikiLeaks didn’t write [Donald Trump Jr.] again until Election Day, November 8, 2016. “Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do,” WikiLeaks wrote at 6:35pm, when the idea that Clinton would win was still the prevailing conventional wisdom. (As late as 7:00pm that night, FiveThirtyEight, a trusted prognosticator of the election, gave Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning the presidency.) WikiLeaks insisted that contesting the election results would be good for Trump’s rumored plans to start a media network should he lose the presidency. “The discussion can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption, etc.,” WikiLeaks wrote.

Shortly after midnight that day, when it was clear that Trump had beaten all expectations and won the presidency, WikiLeaks sent him a simple message: “Wow.”

I’m fairly certain that Trump, who hadn’t even bothered to write a victory speech, was well prepared to follow the plan Assange had suggested. He had signaled that intention repeatedly throughout the late stages of the campaign.

Donald Trump said Thursday he will accept the results of next month’s election if he wins, a caveat that threatens to cast unprecedented doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Trump offered a stunning declaration during the final presidential debate that he might not accept the results of next month’s election. In his first speech since the debate, Trump seemed to simultaneously double down on the stance he articulated Wednesday night while also trying to clean it up.

Trump argued forcefully during a rally here that he was being asked to “waive” his right to contest the election after critics slammed him for refusing to pledge to accept the results of the election the previous night during the final presidential debate.

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win,” Trump told supporters here in his first comments since the final debate.

We never got to find out what he would do if he didn’t win, but a good indication is that he set up a ridiculous commission to investigate voter fraud despite the fact that he won. The chances that he would have gracefully accepted the legitimacy of his loss are zero.

Any government that rules in principle by the consent of the governed must assure that people will accept the legitimacy of its elections, but Trump has moved to undermine confidence in our electoral process. This is consistent with his efforts to undermine faith in federal law enforcement and our intelligence services. His refusal to acknowledge Russian meddling doesn’t mean that his other actions have bolstered confidence. The fact that he simply won’t act to protect our elections now serves the same purpose.

I don’t know why he is bent on following a strategy outlined by WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence, but the result is disintegration. Unlike termite damage, this kind of rot is easily visible. There’s a limit beyond which things will not remain calm and orderly. We will not have the same neighborly relations and our routines will be disrupted. Respect for the law will vanish and belief in peaceful and legal change will disappear. Demonstrations will turn violent and domestic terrorism from all sides may emerge.

For outside actors, perhaps this is what they want for America, but I don’t get why our president wants it. I don’t understand why everything he does seems to serve Putin’s purpose.

What I do know is that a lot of people are not going to accept the midterm election results and the president is working to make sure that this is so.

Martin Longman

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