We are in a new Cold War with Russia, and this time it looks like they will win. Thanks to years of propaganda and now a pending Donald Trump presidency, we are in for at least four years of Russian control over our experiment in democracy. This isn’t just the fault of the resurgence of white nationalist populist politics, it’s also because of the gullibility and the engineered apathy of the left which allowed it to happen.
This disturbing turn of events didn’t happen overnight. The anger toward Barack Obama’s presidency from the far-right, along with the far-left’s tendency towards believing “alternative media” sources created a fertile field for Moscow to plant with seeds of distrust. The rise of Facebook and Twitter made it easy for anyone with an agenda to create a website, and then put it in front of millions of people, with the added incentive of monetizing their site.
The people who believed President Obama wasn’t liberal enough, and the people who believed he was a gay Communist Muslim sent to destroy capitalism and institute sharia law were both the targets of this campaign, which weaponized social media and worked out perfectly for Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election became apparent during the Democratic National Convention this summer. WikiLeaks, which now operates as a de facto Russian front, released a trove of stolen emails from the server of the Democratic National Committee. The leak served two purposes: to raise doubts about the legitimacy of Clinton’s nomination and to give a subtle boost to her Republican rival, Donald Trump.
We’ve since learned, thanks in part to this report by BuzzFeed, that senior members of Clinton’s campaign staff had their email accounts hacked by a group known as Fancy Bear (among many other names). The internal dynamics of the group aren’t well understood. What we know is that the White House and various American intelligence agencies believe strongly that Fancy Bear is working at the behest of the Russian government. (Source)
In the past, both Republicans and Democrats were usually unified in their opposition to Russia. This was one thing both parties could agree upon, especially during the years of the Soviet Union and the height of the Cold War. Republican and Democrat presidents alike confronted Moscow’s aggression, sometimes through ill-advised proxy wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and now Syria.
Both parties are not the same, but foreign and domestic propaganda sources have repeated that false message over and over again, aimed primarily at dividing the left leading up to the 2016 election. Groups that claimed to be progressive repeated old Republican conspiracy stories about the Clintons, and didn’t let up once Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton at the convention. It also didn’t help either that people like my former colleague at Forward Progressives made every attempt to mock and belittle Bernie Sanders and his base at every opportunity.
Despite evidence that both the DNC and RNC were hacked by groups linked to Moscow, only the leaks damaging to Democrats and Hillary Clinton saw the light of day. Only the information that tried to portray the primaries as rigged against Bernie Sanders blew up in “alternative media.” Even the far-right website Breitbart ran a number of articles that gave free publicity to Jill Stein (who is as cozy with Russia as Trump’s advisors are), while ignoring Gary Johnson and other candidates who could take away votes from Donald Trump.
Why? Because that would create a divide on the left, but nothing embarrassing about Trump came out from Wikileaks, and the reason why isn’t too hard to figure out if you employ a little bit of critical thinking and knowledge of how today’s “alternative media” is financed.
It’s easy for Russia to reward websites like Zerohedge, Common Dreams, Counterpunch or Infowars without sending them a single dime. Anything the Russian government likes can easily get hundreds of thousands of page views in a short period of time, generating substantial ad revenue for the owners of that site, thanks to Moscow’s army of trolls.
The people in Macdeonia creating all of these fake news clickbait stories didn’t just target Trump supporters in the beginning. They were also posting false stories aimed at Bernie Sanders fans in Facebook groups, but eventually found they were making a lot more money making up anti-Hillary blogs which were designed to appeal to the confirmation bias of Trump supporters.
This wasn’t just because of the rabid army of deplorables who eventually got Trump elected, it was almost certainly because Russian interests created a huge financial incentive for these blog owners to create more anti-Hillary content by generating tremendous amounts of web traffic. I reported hundreds of fake Facebook profiles that dumped links from these false news sites into nearly every group I belonged to, and most of these profiles originated from Eastern Europe, or even Russia itself.
On the other side of the coin, individuals like myself who pointed out the problem and/or tried to combat Trump came under heavy assault from reporting brigades. During 2016, my personal Facebook profile spent the majority of the year in one 30 day ban after another for sharing anything critical of Trump, even though far worse things like calls for assassinating President Obama or Hillary Clinton were allowed to remain on the pages that had posted them.
The far-right and the far-far-left now both adore Russia and Putin’s authoritarian government, a clear sign of the resurgence of white nationalism and the dumbing down of liberal politics.
The left conveniently overlooks the strict anti-gay laws Moscow has in place, and the right happily ignores the fact that Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave if he knew Republicans had a higher approval of a Russian leader than a sitting American president.
Donald Trump isn’t going to make America great again, he’s going to make Russia great again, and he’s going to get a lot of help from America’s political fringes. Pro-Trump and anti-left propaganda will continue to infest our social media as long as there is a financial incentive for these sites to remain in existence.
We’re in for more of the same in 2020 and beyond unless we refuse to be manipulated, and start employing critical thinking skills whenever we come in contact with fake or exaggerated news – both from the right, and the left.