As the government shutdown drags on, more evidence emerges that President Trump’s inner circle indeed collaborated with Russians, and attacks on our institutions and media have become commonplace – it’s no question democracy is being tested.
The midterm elections offered a sigh of relief for many Americans, and a glimmer of hope that Congress will fulfill its function as a check on the executive branch. There will be real investigations, subpoenas, and ultimately long overdue accountability for a president that peddles lies more often than facts and alienates our allies while praising adversaries.
It has become clear the GOP has swung far-right and has morphed into the party of Trump. There are few moderates that remain, and those that position themselves as moderates vote Trump’s agenda despite Tweets or media appearances shaking their heads in disapproval.
The midterm elections followed through with a blue wave that boasts an impressive roster of unconventional candidates from all walks of life. It was a historical moment for women and minorities and impossible to deny the inspirational moment in American history. And yet, I worry that the pendulum that has swung far right, will over-correct and swing too far left. I worry because that is exactly what the foreign adversary that meddled in the 2016 presidential election wants to happen. The 2017 report by the Intelligence Community concluded that Russia worked to get Trump elected through disinformation, strategic hacking and weaponizing information. Russia has used the same tactic to boost fringe extremist politicians and movements – on the far-left and the far-right throughout Europe. It helps explain why at a gala in Russia, sitting at the same table with Putin was Trump’s disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the far-left presidential hopeful Jill Stein.
When I started working at RT, a Russian-backed station, in 2011, Russia wasn’t considered the adversary it is today. But looking back, the guests that management often chose, the stories and themes, now make sense. They often fell into the Trump camp or the Bernie camp, railing against the establishment and the need to overthrow the system. The channel championed itself as an alternative to the mainstream that provided a platform that gave a voice to the voiceless. In my mid-20s, that resonated with me. Today, that narrative has caught fire and resonates with a lot of Americans.
But I saw in 2014 that the station was not just an alternative point of view, but mobilized to spread propaganda on the conflict in Ukraine and the war in Syria. That’s when I quit on the air. Around that time, is when Russia created the infamous “troll farm,” polluting the internet with half-truths and false stories. I could never imagine that that station would be just one piece of a mass disinformation machine that would eventually work to help elect the current president of the United States. I also could not predict that Fox News would eventually become a mirror image of RT, functioning as a mouthpiece with a few legitimate voices and reporters to keep up the facade of real news station. The current chaos, extreme partisan division, uneasiness from our allies, the emboldening of our adversaries – these are all wins for Russia. And countries like Iran and China are taking notes.
I have traveled extensively since 2014, speaking about the machinations of disinformation and the weaponization of information. From the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to Hungary, Germany and Norway, the concerns are the same: The amplification of political parties on the far-right and the far-left aiming to take down the establishment, spreading wild conspiracy theories in their mission.
It’s easy to chant “build a wall,” and “drain the swamp.” We’re seeing in painful slow motion today, it’s harder to actually accomplish. It’s also easy to rail against the billionaires, a message Bernie Sanders took to RT two years after I quit, without strong policy proposals and a seeming disinterest in foreign policy. A popular trend now is to stoke passions of extremes. The center doesn’t seem so sexy. Many want simple answers to complicated problems. Forget nuance and moderation and bipartisanship.
To be sure, there is much work to be done to reverse the damage done to our democracy. And there is so much more we can do to improve the lives of all Americans – including expanding access to affordable healthcare and education, advocating for womens’ health rights, prioritizing climate change, working to bolster the middle class and the chance for everyone to prosper.
The observation that the trend toward the extremes is bad for America and good for our adversaries will bring mockery and condemnation from the far-left and the far-right of the political spectrum. But luckily, the solution to America’s woes lies in that vast middle – the moderate, reasonable Americans that just want to see America normal again.