Whatever level of faith one puts in the investigation conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election, one unchallenged finding must be remembered: Russia’s main goal was to sow discord and distrust among Americans about our elections.
One wonders, then, did Russian President Vladimir Putin himself write the Democrats’ latest talking points on impeaching President Donald Trump? It would appear so, especially after listening Tuesday to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, who said, “The argument, ‘Why don’t you just wait?’ amounts to this: ‘Why don’t you let him cheat one more election. Why not let him cheat just one more time. Why not let him have foreign help just one more time.’”
During Wednesday night’s contentious impeachment debate, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said, “We cannot rely on an election to solve our problems when the president threatens the very integrity of that election … and while he allows his personal interests and the interests of our adversary Russia to advance.” Do Schiff and Nadler not realize that such hyperbole is more dangerous to democracy than anything they are accusing Trump of doing, and, in its own way, is just as complicit with foreign interference?
To be sure, Schiff, Nadler and their Democratic colleagues are not Russian operatives, any more than Trump is. But the Kremlin official currently in charge of the “distrust and discord” campaign could have no greater evidence of success than the impeachment of our president. One can imagine him reporting to Putin: “Look, Mr. President! The Democrats are telling the American people that President Trump cheated to win and will cheat again. They are trying to remove him from office. Americans are divided. Our efforts have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams!”
Russia is most certainly not upset that it was caught interfering in our elections. They and other foreign adversaries interfere in every U.S. election. Sure, they may have made a weak effort to pin it on Ukraine, but they can’t really care much either way. Whichever nation gets the blame, it has to count as success when Americans know that foreign interference happened and, in turn, suspect U.S. leaders of colluding in the effort.
The plan leads to success in every scenario. Russia knows that if Trump is impeached and removed from office, his supporters will consider it a “deep state” coup engineered for purely partisan reasons. If Trump survives impeachment and wins re-election, Russia knows that half of America will once more blame his victory on foreign intrusion. If Trump is defeated by the Democratic nominee, Russia knows the other half of America will blame it on four years of unprecedented investigations, harassment and impeachment that severely crippled the president.
Even if, as Mueller concluded, Russia ended up gearing its efforts more toward helping Trump than Hillary Clinton in 2016, it surely cares little who occupies the White House. Russia would be happy if Trump prevails, and just as happy if he is removed. What is much more important is the long-term strategy of sowing distrust of the democratic process for years to come, and leading to a constitutional crisis in perpetuity.
Is there any hope of avoiding the road that Russia has paved? Probably not. But if there is, it rests with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In a more perfect world — one not driven by politicians of both parties (including the president) playing solely to their bases — Pelosi could still reverse course. She could spend the weekend reminding herself that nothing has changed since March, when she warned that “impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country.”
But, now, that’s a dream. Caving to a bloodthirsty caucus, Pelosi seems no longer concerned about a divided nation, or finding another, less-strident means of rebuking the president, or encouraging everyone to dial back their rhetoric about tainted elections.
In America today, extremism is in, statesmanship is out and voices of reason are overwhelmed by the hyper-partisan din — while Russia raises a toast to our demise.
Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, is a freelance writer based in Hillsboro, Ohio.