What are we to make of the fact of the cultural tone of the Russian intervention into the 2016 U.S. presidential election and subsequent, ongoing efforts through social media?
For as many of the millions of fake Facebook and other accounts they flooded the U.S. and Western Europe with in the last few years, most of the public evaluation of their effect has focused on their persuasions toward sowing political division and discord. A considerable amount of attention has been focused on that.
But there is something even more insidious and hiding in plain sight that, in their view, plays an even more central role in advancing their subversive anti-democratic objectives, and it is something that maybe we as Americans are not that eager to admit.
It is rooted in a core notion of incivility, in crude disrespect of persons, in a false sense of entitlement that shamelessly associates individual rights with a potty mouthed vernacular that rails against everything and everyone, the filthier the better.
It is seen in the pandemic of incivility that has overtaken the Internet in the form of the anonymous sewage that has become commonplace in the comment sections attached to almost everything online. The unbelievably ugly hate, cynicism and cruelty associated with so many comments could be considered grounds for declaring a national emergency.
Why? This is the stinking cesspool environment that is the playground for Russian subversion of our democracy. It is where all those Russian “bots” have been running wild all along. In fact, it’s where anyone wanting to suppress the public’s zeal for democratic institutions sees such a great opportunity to run amok.
Case in point on how this works: on my newspaper’s website, so disgusted I had become of this filth saturating the comment sections at the end of all of our articles, I changed our policy to require that all those who comment sign up first, identifying who they are.
The change was instantaneous. Instead of 15 or 20, or more, hateful, spiteful anonymous insults, the number was reduced to almost none. It happened right away and the nastiness has not picked back up.
This is a clue to the Trump phenomenon in the U.S. With the aid of all the Russian foul-mouthed “bots” online, Trump focused on empowering and enfranchising people to lock the “higher angels of their nature” in a foot locker and run wild in public, at least online, with their most nakedly foul, darkest thoughts. What they would never, ever say to their mother-in-law to her face they were encouraged and goaded into saying online, and then some.
Most people are not purely one way or the other on just about anything. The social context defines the behavior and language that most people feel they should exhibit. The institutions of our democracy, everything the Founding Fathers wrote and professed, had as their cornerstone the profound, and at the time novel, notion that “all men (and women) are created equal.”
That implicitly commands a level of civility from all citizens, being a powerful source of affirming a shared, universal humanity. Anyone who wants to protect and advance that notion is morally compelled to show respect for all of their fellow human creatures.
In the U.S., it was the election of Barack Obama in 2008 that spurred the most hateful and backward elites in the U.S. to launch “grasstop” movements such as the infamous Tea Party, and others, that were encouraged to unleash racist language and sentiments without restraint.
These elites convinced the Republican Party leadership that this was a legitimate pathway to a restoration of their presidential aspirations. What a disgusting, immoral decision that was.
They chose the racist path, including against immigrants, because, they were told, without it the natural demographic shift in the U.S. would make Texas the next California, becoming hopelessly pro-Democratic. Rather than trying to recruit the Hispanic vote, the GOP chose the suicidal approach of alienating it.
Now, perhaps, we can see why Republicans are welcoming a Russian intervention into U.S. elections. Only if elections are rigged and tainted by hate, can they go the GOP’s way in the future.