Bombshells were dropped, tea was spilt and secrets were revealed — the final report on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 and 2020 US elections by the Senate Intelligence Committee contained a lot of damning information.
It also confirmed, once and for all, that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election was never a hoax, as President Trump has often claimed. Public reaction was ,however, meek — if one can even speak of a ‘reaction’, as the report was widely ignored. This is good news for President Trump, his re-election campaign and Russia, but bad news for American democracy.
Amongst many other revelations, the Senate report shed light on the “high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” of Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which allowed Russian intelligence to gain knowledge and influence the campaign. Until at least January 2020, Manafort — alongside Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik — continuously spread false information about Russia’s involvement in the elections, instead blaming Ukraine for the issues raised.
The close Manafort-Kilimnik cooperation is especially significant, as Kilimnik has been linked to the hacking of the emails of Hillary Clinton and the DNC. Through Roger Stone, the Trump campaign seems to have been aware of these hacks and the information that would come of them before publication, giving the campaign time to devise responses that would dictate the narrative.
The final key revelation concerns itself with Russia’s influence on President Trump’s policy development, as his transition team was inexperienced, especially regarding foreign policy towards Russia. According to the report, it is likely that Russian intelligence services used this to steer the administration’s foreign policy decisions in Russia’s favour.
President Trump himself was not directly implicated in the report — but it also did not confirm his innocence or obliviousness on the matter. Either way, the confirmation that some of his closest trustees and campaign members encouraged Russia in their actions shows cracks in the integrity of US democracy. These are concerning — on a domestic and international level.
The issue is not limited to the 2016 election.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has also found that Russia is influencing the 2020 election and continuing to target top campaign staff. This has triggered national security concerns around what Republican committee chairman Richard Burr described as ‘an ongoing threat.’
A few weeks earlier, William Evanina, the director of US counterintelligence had also stated “covert and overt influence measures” were being used by foreign countries to impact the 2020 election. Russia was seen as aiming to “denigrate” Joe Biden and boost President Trump on TV and social media.
American voters are aware of these issues, with polls show that 75% think it is likely that there will be foreign interference in the upcoming elections, from Russia and elsewhere. They do not see this as especially problematic though, making it unlikely that the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia will impact his chances negatively.
Various reasons have been suggested for this — voters potentially being distracted by Covid-19, the Democratic National Convention or other political issues being one possible factor. Others argue the US public may be fed up with hearing about Russia.
Another argument is that under Trump, the US (and even global) public may have become more passive. After everything he has done that would normally be considered absurd for a politician — especially in a democracy — people have become accustomed to this behaviour as the new norm, and no longer view his actions as critically as before.
President Trump himself has not strayed from his position that Russia’s meddling in elections is a hoax. This year, Trump insisted that Russia was surely not on his side — as he claims that “Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than I have, ever.”
Judging by the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee however, this is far from the truth. Instead Russia was able to gain influence over Trump and manipulate him to take stances and promote policies that helped the Russian government over the past four years.
Russia is also seen as encouraging of a breakdown of US democracy — and President Trump has contributed to this, albeit unknowingly. By dividing the nation politically and culturally, making American institutions seem less credible and isolating the US from other leading Western democracies, President Trump has created a national and global sense of distrust and a lack of faith in US democracy.
His continuous dismissiveness of Russian interference and the lack of consequences for those involved, both on the US and Russian side, make it seem like he either does not know or does not care. Either scenario would be problematic in a democracy, especially since they relate to voting.
Free, equal, fair voting opportunities are the basis for a functioning democracy and President Trump is allowing for this to be undermined. His recent statements and actions around delaying the 2020 US election and mail-in or absentee voting also support this.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza has stated that “The integrity of the coming election is at stake”, due to Russia and President Trump. This underlines just how vital action from the government would be to prevent the weakening of US democracy. Americans should consider Trump’s actions and reactions more carefully than they currently are.
Because a president who allows for the erosion of core democratic institutions in his country is problematic in more than one way. It makes the country vulnerable to interference from other strong powers — not only Russia, but also from China and Iran. The US elections have almost become a game for other countries.
It also opens up US foreign policy to critique en masse, as it seems to be easily impacted and swayed and weakens the diplomatic position of the US, risking not only its stability as a democracy, but also its position as the global hegemon. The latter is of course incredibly important to President Trump, as the 2020 elections see him focusing on American Exceptionalism and pride once more — yet he is allowing Russia to attack this position.
When going to the polls in November, US voters will have to consider if they are happy to re-elect a president who has allowed for integral democratic institutions to be undermined, in the country which has claimed to be the greatest democracy on earth.
Russia may have carried the weapon used to attack US democracy, but President Trump has certainly not made a significant effort to stop them. If anything, his campaign team, which are somewhat an extension of him, encouraged Russia and colluded with them for their own gains, whilst disregarding the impact Russia’s actions would have on US democracy.