TSC IntelBrief: The Divided States of America
Bottom Line Up Front:
- The Russian disinformation campaigns—both ongoing and during the past Presidential election—have succeeded.
- The United States’ political system is ripping apart non-political institutions and the public trust in foundational, American beliefs.
- With no risk or concern of a strong and unified U.S. government reaction, Russia will continue its messaging campaigns to sow bitter division on a large scale.
- Despite warnings from top officials that Russia will certainly interfere with the 2018 elections, neither Congress nor the White House have taken steps to address the issue.
Despite the intense coverage of the ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns against the United States—covered in real time by sites like Hamilton 68, which tracks Russian affiliated bots and memes—the U.S. government has done little to address the issue. Not even Russian involvement in spreading memes and hashtags to deepen existing political divisions has resulted in bipartisan political action. The success of the Russian campaigns can be seen in the very debates it has generated, across the political spectrum in the U.S.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have both recently warned of the Russian threat. When asked by a BBC reporter if he and his agency believed Russia would target the 2018 elections, Director Pompeo replied: ‘Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that.’ Yet in terms of concrete government reaction and response, there has been nothing but rhetoric and recriminations, with the arguments now having gone beyond questioning the lack of response to questioning the loyalties of entire government agencies and departments.
The complete breakdown of national-level politics is such that not even seemingly non-objectionable bills such as S-1989 ‘The Honest Ads Act’—which seeks to apply disclosure requirements to online political ads similar to those required for TV—has much chance of being passed. A bill called the ‘Secure Elections Act’—in response to the probing/hacking attacks of the electoral voting systems of 21 U.S. states before the 2016 election—hasn’t gained much momentum even in light of the proven attacks. By comparison, a 2002 bill to upgrade states’ voting systems passed the Senate 92-2, a sign of how divided even basic necessities such as safeguarding democratic elections have become in the present environment.
The White House and its supporters now openly disparage the notion of an independent judiciary, castigating the leadership of the FBI, CIA, and the DOJ as not just incompetent, but malicious and even treasonous. The term ‘treason’ is now frequently used by members of Congress to describe other members or to describe civil servants with whom they disagree. The constant attack on U.S. institutions is having an effect: A February 5 poll by Reuters/Ipsos showed that 73% of Republicans agreed with the statement ‘members of the FBI and Department of Justice are working to delegitimize Trump through politically motivated investigations.’ The lasting impacts go much further than poll results, with voters turning away from the founding beliefs instilled in the U.S. Constitution.
The ongoing divisiveness and inability to agree–even on the reality of the Russian disinformation campaigns–threatens any conclusions reached by the ongoing investigation by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, and has paralyzed the House and Senate investigations. Meanwhile, the 2018 elections are approaching and little to nothing will have been done to prevent another foreign-influenced campaign aimed at undermining not just specific candidates, but the whole notion of free and meaningful elections.
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