The Russians Are Undermining Our Democracy. What Democracy?

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Former FBI special agent Clint Watts, one of the more assiduous promoters of the Russiagate narrative, weighed in yesterday on Hillary Clinton’s accusation that Tulsi Gabbard was a Russian asset. Watts, who is a national security contributor at NBC and MSNBC, said that Gabbard might not be on Moscow’s payroll, but, like Donald Trump, is seen by the Kremlin “as an agent of influence.”

Watts said that the Kremlin’s key goals in using its “agents of influence” are to “erode U.S. citizen confidence in democratic governance and degrade American trust in their own elected officials.” Moscow, he wrote, was the biggest winner from the fallout over the accusations against Gabbard because, “Assertions abound, confusion looms and again, for another election cycle we ask, ‘is Russia sending agents to win the White House’?”

Put aside for a moment that if confusion is looming about whether Vladimir Putin is currently “sending agents” to the United States, the blame lies with Hillary Clinton for making the baseless accusations against Gabbard which started the entire news frenzy. By his own logic, Watts could be an agent of influence also because he’s spent much of the past few years spreading the story that Trump might be a formal Russian agent — which his article yesterday acknowledged was “far-fetched” and disproven by the Mueller report.

I’m more interested in Watts’s claim — one that’s been endlessly repeated for the past few years in the media — that the Kremlin is a key factor in undermining democracy and “sowing discord” in the United States.

Consider a few rather obvious and embarrassing facts, none which can be traced to the Kremlin.

—Public trust in the U.S. government has been falling for almost 20 years and since 2007 “the share saying they can trust the government always or most of the time has not surpassed 30%.”

—Congressional approval has, with a few exceptions, generally followed that same trajectory and currently sits at 18 percent. Nonetheless, Republicans and Democrats have gamed the system — i.e. via gerrymandering and campaign finance laws that allow incumbents to wrack up huge cash advantages — so that winning reelection in the House has never dropped below 80 percent since 1964 and in 2018 was 91 percent. Reelection rates to the Senate haven’t been under 80 percent since 1988 and was 84 percent in 2018.

—We have an Electoral College system that makes national polls and voting virtually meaningless in most places. The only votes that count in the presidential election are in a handful of swing states, like Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and a few others. Hillary Clinton was a horrendous candidate but she won the popular vote in 2016 by about 3 million but got screwed by the Electoral College, which dates to the 1787 constitution. And it’s a major reason Trump could win again despite his generally low national popularity level.

The candidate who spends the most money almost always wins. Hence, whoever can tap the big donors is almost assured of victory, especially incumbents. And the rich vote more than the poor — by a lot — because they’re the ones with the money to buy the candidates who’ll give them the policies they pay for.

—Voter turnout in the United States is among lowest in the world, and millions of people aren’t eligible to vote because of a felony conviction, purge of voter rolls or registration problems. In the 2018 midterm elections, about 47 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, which was up from 2014 but still less than 1966, when 49 percent voted. Racist laws to kick people off the voting rolls have been passing for decades, organized by Republicans.

Even the Economist Intelligence Unit, hardly a radical outfit, said in January 2017 that the U.S. had become U.S. a “flawed democracy,” which understates the case considerably. It said in a report that “dwindling trust in government, elected representatives and political parties” was to blame, and that it would have downgraded its ranking of the U.S. independently of the 2016 election.

In short, we have a totally screwed up electoral system that is homegrown. Putin is not a democrat and and Trump’s policies are racist, but the Kremlin didn’t put him in the White House. When it comes to undermining democracy and sowing discord, it’s long past time to look in the mirror.

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