Let’s stop acting like wounded innocents.
The United States has been big-footing around the globe for more than a century. We have influenced elections in other countries and when that didn’t work, we have deposed leaders who did not support our interests. Prominent examples include intervening several times in Central America and supporting coups that replaced elected leaders with dictators in Iran, Congo and Chile.
The Russians did to us what we have been doing to others for a long time.
Russia’s motivations are clear. Last May, I participated in the Dartmouth Conference, a U.S./Russian exchange that has been going on since the Eisenhower administration. During meetings in Zavidovo, Russia, and Moscow, my Russian counterparts made clear that they preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton. “We can do business with him,” one of the oligarchs said.
What he didn’t say at that meeting, but what U.S. participants knew from several previous discussions, were three things.
First, the Russians resented Bill Clinton for the NATO expansion of the 1990s, which Russians viewed both as a threat to their security and as an effort to humiliate Russia. (During a meeting in 2008, a retired Russian general offered a scenario for regaining control over Ukraine.) Second, Russians disliked Hillary Clinton because they believed that she was part of an Obama administration effort to effect regime change in Russia. My U.S. colleagues and I thought this was crazy, but most of our Russian counterparts seemed to believe it, and President Vladimir Putin acted on it.
Third, the Russians saw Trump as a rube who could be swayed by flattering words and profitable deals for his company.
I would put Rep. John Lewis’s point about the president-elect’s legitimacy this way: Whether Russia actually succeeded in swaying the election, the fact that they tried to do so weakens Trump’s moral claim to the presidency. Lewis may have had another reason to challenge Trump’s legitimacy: voter suppression laws that may have kept tens of thousands of African-Americans and Hispanics from voting in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and other states. Although he did not mention that in his interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, he surely was acutely aware of it.
Trump has fulfilled the Russians’ wildest fantasies by helping to undermine his own legitimacy. Rather than accept the intelligence findings and express serious concern about Russia’s actions, he has denigrated the intelligence community.
His refusal to release his tax returns means that suspicions about his financial dealings, including possible debts to the oligarchs, will linger throughout his presidency. And his failure to relinquish a financial interest in his company means that whenever he makes a decision, millions of Americans will ask, “How much is he getting out of this?”
Russia is not likely to relent in its efforts to influence U.S. politics any more than the U.S. is likely to stop trying to influence politics in other countries. That’s what nations do. Computer hacking is just the latest weapon in an arsenal that includes everything from propaganda to poisoning.
In recent decades, the U.S. has developed norms - laws and social conventions - to protect the integrity of our elections and to ensure that our elected leaders’ decisions are not corrupted by personal financial interests. Trump has refused to follow those norms. To the contrary, he seems to have profited from violating them.
As a result, he invites reservations about the legitimacy of his presidency and he invites accusations that his decisions are corrupt.
Edwin Dorn is a professor of public policy at the University of Texas at Austin and a former under-secretary in the Department of Defense.