A Foreign Affair
There's been a great deal of attention of Trump's phone call extorting the president of Ukraine, trying to get them involved in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. And great attention to him telling China that they might want to look for information on one of his possible 2020 election opponents. Just as there was so much attention when he had called out to Russia, "Russia, if you're listening..." to involve itself in the 2016 presidential election.
And there was outrage and substantial attention when Trump told George Stephanopolous during an interview that he sees nothing wrong with getting help from a foreign countries to use any information they have on his political opponents.
As a starting point, the attention and outraged reaction to Trump's involving foreign nations in U.S. elections begins with a very basic and easy to understand reality: it's against federal law. And I sense that much of the focus on that is because a nation's elections are sovereign and sacred and must be protected from outside influence. But only recently, when I heard that Ukraine was going to start an investigation and when China said that they would not involve itself in U.S. elections (knowing that just because they said they wouldn't has zero bearing on whether they would or not, and accepting that it's likely they will) that I took a step back to see the damage that such a thing could cause, and how deeply problematic it was.
When the United States holds an investigation, there are rules that are set up, there are laws that must be followed, there is transparency that must be adhered to, there are witness that must be questioned under oath and penalty of perjury, and there are results that must be open and studied. But when a foreign nation conducts their investigation into matters that impact a U.S. election there is absolutely no oversight. None. They present whatever their findings are and it becomes the public record in the United States.
The investigation might be to U.S. standards. Or not. The investigation might be by a U.S. ally. Or not. The investigation might be objective. Or -- it might be done in order to totally benefit the foreign nation that is conducting the investigation by influencing the election process of the U.S.
Ukraine is not an enemy of the United States. But whether or not they were extorted by Trump (and they were), it is clear that they feel a pressure to please the current administration who has $250 million dollars in aid and weaponry to give them in fighting for their survival against Russia. It is difficult to imagine that any "investigation" they undertook would not at its core be done to benefit themselves under such life or death conditions.
China is an adversary of the U.S., and one of the strongest. Imagine their "investigation" into any matters relating to a U.S. election. Or Russia conducting such an investigation. Or Saudi Arabia. Or North Korea. Under normal condition in normal times, the American public -- in general -- would be deeply aware by long tradition to protect its own best interest by dismissing foreign attempts to influence our elections in any way. But when you are in a time when an administration has been trying for four years to break down that protective barrier and make it seem acceptable to accept foreign assistance in U.S. elections, you stand on the edge of corroding an historic value of the country.
Fortunately, I think most of the country gets this. Unfortunately, much of it clearly doesn't. Fortunately, most of those who don't are set in their ways of who they would vote for anyway, So, I think that while there is still most definitely an impact on our elections, that affect is not as great as it appears on the surface. Where the greatest damage occurs, though, is how much that foreign influences entrenches opinion and helps serve to create an even stronger divide in the country.
And whether you think foreign influence is indeed alright or wrong (and it is profoundly wrong), there has been only one political party which has pursued and accepted foreign influence. This is not about Trump -- we know who he is. This is about the elected members of the Republican Party who enable it and are complicit.
And that's the problem with accepting foreign assistance in influencing U.S. elections. "It's illegal" is only the starting point.
Can turn on Republicans if a foreign nation finds them problematic and against their own national interests. It's deeply harmful to democracy is the next big step.
Happily, most people get this. But it should be close to everyone.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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