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home : editorial : editorial May 26, 2018

2/20/2018 2:40:00 PM
'Real U.S. persons'
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

I went home with a waitress

The way I always do

How was I to know

She was with the Russians too?

- Warren Zevon, "Lawyers Guns and Money"

The sense that Russia - and more specifically its president, Vladimir Putin - were the big winners in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is only enhanced by the indictment of 13 Russians handed down by special counsel Robert Mueller last week. These bad actors and a Russian Internet troll farm - none of which are likely to ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom - undertook an array of nefarious and fraudulent practices to "sow discord" in the United States and "spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general."

The operation was a success, regardless of its substantive impact on the outcome of the election.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein noted last week that "There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election." OK. But there's really no way to know that - how can you measure the impact of discord and distrust on hearts and minds? In any case, swaying the election one way or another was not a requirement for this asymmetric psy-op to earn a few trolls a medal or two. All the Russians had to do to make Uncle Vova smile that oily, predatory smile was to roil the American waters.

And roiled they are... severely.

The indictment is both good and bad for Donald Trump. On the good side, the indictment offers no indication that there was collusion between his campaign and Russian actors.

"There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity," Rosenstein said.

All "real U.S. persons" who interacted with Russian provocateurs did so as "unwittingly" as Warren Zevon in his choice of waitress companions. How were they to know?

There may be another shoe yet to drop, but this indictment provides no fuel to the collusion narrative.

On the other hand, Trump's persistent complaints that the whole Russia investigation is a "hoax" or "fake news" are no longer sustainable, even for his most ardent supporters.

"Good or bad for Donald Trump" has always been the president's sole measuring stick, but that should not be the focus. Given that the Russian actions amount to "information warfare on America," there's something more significant at stake here. The president should act decisively to defend his country. Instead, he's pointing fingers at everybody but Russia and taunting Oprah Winfrey.

The great revelation of the Russia investigation so far is just how ripe the American electorate is for exploitation. There's a lot of anger out there, soaked in the rocket fuel of fear and resentment; it doesn't take much of a spark to make it go up in flames. Our fingers are itching on our keyboards, quick to fire off a killer meme or retweet an insult, but reluctant to drill down on issues, policies and candidates. We're all too credulous about "information" - accurate or not - that confirms and validates our biases and often too lazy to do our homework and draw our own conclusions.

We bunker up in our chosen media silos, unwilling to listen to another perspective and always ready to believe the worst about those who see things differently than we do. Friendships and family relationships fracture along political faultlines.

And Uncle Vova smiles.

Here in Sisters, we're still a small enough and tight-knit enough community that we can have real conversations with other "real U.S. persons." It takes a little work, and it can be a little intimidating stepping out of our echo-chamber and hearing something we may not like from somebody we do like. But that's the only antidote to the hostile bunker mentality we've allowed to take root in our country, which bad actors who mean us harm can and will - as this indictment shows - exploit.

So go have a cup of coffee with your neighbor who stands on the other side of the political fence. You may have more in common than you think - and you're sticking it to Uncle Vova just a little. Which can't be a bad thing.

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