Why Every American Should Care About Russian Hacking

There are many reasons to care about Russian interference in the 2016 election, but there are two that get to the heart of our democracy.

First, we want our own citizenry deciding who our leaders are. That’s obvious and foundational. So far we don’t have evidence that the attempts to hack our voting systems successfully changed any votes after they were cast or stopped them from being counted. But Russian hacking and dissemination of emails, and their disinformation campaign, indisputably resulted in people voting differently than they otherwise would have. It’s a virtual certainty that vote counts were more altered by Russian interference in the November election than by instances of voter fraud. Our response to the former should be proportionately more aggressive than even our overreaction to the latter unless we want to hand over the choice of our leaders to whatever nation is most adept at injecting itself into the operation of our democracy.

Second, we don’t want our leaders influenced by the threat of foreign interference. If you’re a member of Congress up in 2018 are you not a little gun-shy of taking bold positions on matters of importance to the Russian government? Do you really want to call attention to yourself? It is worth the risk of being targeted for email theft, disinformation and voting machine hacks? Beyond Russia, do you want to take any position opposed to the interests of any country with strong hacking capacity (or the means to buy it) whether it be matters of national defense, trade or any other issue? How do the 2020 presidential aspirants feel about this? After all, if Hillary Clinton had been seen by the Russians as less strong of an adversary, she might be president.

These are important concerns for members of both political parties. We obviously have to get to the bottom of whether Americans aided the Russians in their interference with the 2016 election — which would be a serious abetting of a violation of the principle that Americans should decide the outcome of American elections. And we need to ascertain whether any laws were broken. But intense interest in those questions shouldn’t stop us from moving ahead to make sure we’re as secure as we possibly can be for 2018. Even if no one is ever prosecuted and nothing additional is found indicating Trump-Russian collusion — we still have a democracy under attack that needs to be defended.