News is coming fast and furious these days — so fast it can be hard to keep up. But the indictment against 13 Russian nationals unsealed last week in Washington, D.C., laid bare the fact that a foreign government was meddling successfully in our political process.
And that should make us stop and consider the implications for more than just a moment.
As others have noted in these opinion pages over the past week, news of Russian meddling is not earth-shaking. And we’re not so naive to think the United States hasn’t acted similarly for decades, both with covert and overt operations the world over. Loch K. Johnson, the dean of American intelligence scholars, told Scott Shane this week that “(The United States) has been doing this kind of thing since the C.I.A. was created in 1947.”
Yet in our modern world, manipulation and propaganda has become more subtle than briefcases filled with money, incendiary mailers delivered to doorsteps, or salacious information slipped to newspapers.
Social media allows us to become easier targets. Facebook is a near-perfect portal for passing along dubious information, and covering your tracks while doing it. It is an outrage that these billion-dollar corporations are becoming rich while polluting civil discourse and, like Russia, publishing information designed to inflame and distract.
Those attempting to divide our nation are exploiting an American nature that we have been far too eager to engage ourselves. We’re too likely to pass along information that confirms our biases or picks on people we disagree with. We’re too easy to demonize the other side in the debate. We’re too lax at considering different opinions.
But we should not feel helpless in the battle for our knowledge and our vote.
We can read different sources. We can take education seriously and never stop learning. We can conduct ourselves decently online, and think of those we interact with as real humans who want our world to be better — but have a different way of getting there.
Enemies of our democracy, Russia included, love to see Americans yelling at one another. They love it even more when we turn our deadly weapons against one another. But why make the Russians and ISIS and Kim Jong-Un happy with our infighting?
We are not vulnerable. We are a rich, powerful, free nation. Life is good for most. As a whole, the world is richer and healthier and more peaceful than ever before.
We can argue about taxes and government, immigration and gun control. We can argue online and in the street. And we should do all of these things — but we should do it peacefully, and with respect, and with people who we know are real humans and not trolls.
This movement toward nationalism and ethnic identity is a reaction to globalization, loss of identity and fear of change. Still, we can rise above the anxiety of the moment, trust our neighbors and thwart our enemies.