Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies — including the CIA and the NSA — long ago concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.
So what about next week’s 2018 midterm elections?
Are we heading for part two of this horror movie?
In a classic example of closing the barn door after the horses have run out, the U.S. Cyber Command belatedly announced last week the start of an effort to slow Russian interference in the midterms. In February, Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill After messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget MORE, the former head of the NSA, said Trump had not asked intelligence agencies to do anything to counter the Russians.
Meanwhile, National Security Adviser John Bolton looks to be preparing to avoid blame for any foreign interference in this year’s election. He recently announced that he warned the Russians that any more interference is “intolerable.”
But in September, the Trump White House blocked passage of the Secure Elections Act which had bipartisan support and aimed to keep this year’s election safe from cyberattacks.
The failure to act came as Facebook admitted that phony social media postings by the Russians reached 126 million people on its platform; Twitter has acknowledged 50,000 fake foreign accounts.
The Justice Department charged another Russian national this month with interfering in the 2016 election, specifically through a “troll farm.”
The criminal complaint said Russia wants “to inflame passions on a wide variety of topics, including immigration, gun control, and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March, and the NFL national anthem debate,” to undermine trust in government and elections.
Then last week someone sent bombs in an attempt to murder Democrats — including President Obama, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE, several sitting members of Congress, a former attorney general, and a former CIA director.
President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE, incredibly, blamed reporters for the attempted assassinations.
"The media also has a responsibility to set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostilities…false attacks and stories," Trump tweeted, as bomb-sniffing dogs were still scouring New York.
Somehow, Trump failed to mention the Russians’ ongoing effort to foment distrust by setting Americans against Americans.
And he made no mention of his own words supporting violence against his political critics, such as implying during the 2016 race that “Second Amendment people” — gun owners — might take care of Hillary Clinton. And don’t forget his continuing attack on the American press as the “enemy of the people.”
“You rev people up and what happens?” Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich said, in comments directed at Trump after the bombs were discovered. “Somebody out there who is unstable does something crazy. And that is what I think we are seeing here.”
Last week, I saw firsthand the power of the bad example set by Trump and the Russians.
“Hi. I’m one of your trolls!” a middle-aged man said to me in Dallas. I was there filming Fox News’ “The Five” on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
A manic grin on his face, he pulled out his iPhone and asked, “Can I have a picture?”
Usually, I’m happy to oblige fans. Their request is usually preceded by some version of “I disagree with you, but I enjoy watching you fight it out on Fox.”
I’ve always thought of it as a small celebration of free speech. We are able to disagree without being disagreeable.
But this was the first time someone was brazen enough to identify themselves as a troll and tell me with a laugh that he had fun trashing my new book in nasty, fake online reviews without reading it.
Then, as if he was sharing a harmless insiders’ joke, he whispered about having described me online with a racial epithet. There were too many people around for me to respond. I let him take his selfie picture and go away.
The Russian despot Vladimir Lenin once spoke of “useful idiots” who could help the Soviet Union spread its propaganda in the West without knowing they were helping America’s enemy.
Now, Russia has a new army of “useful idiots” — including the guy in Dallas — in their new war against the U.S.
These trolls may not know they’re being used. Or worse, they may not care. A popular meme in conservative circles these days is “better a Russian than a Democrat.”
Radio talk show host Alex Jones famously charged that the massacre of children at the Sandy Hook elementary school was “completely fake” and that the terrorist attacks on September 11th were an “inside job.” Most Americans shunned him. Yet then-candidate Donald Trump appeared on Jones’ show and praised his “amazing reputation.”
This digital swamp of toxic rhetoric and conspiracy theories proved a fertile breeding ground for the Russian cyberattack on the 2016 elections.
Is the US too polarized to defeat this hostile foreign threat? We will get our first clear answer when Americans vote next week.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, "'What the Hell Do You Have to Lose?' — Trump's War on Civil Rights" is out now, published by Public Affairs Books.