What You and I Should Do About Russian Meddling in American Elections
Many people are so wrapped up in the policies and rhetoric of the current presidential administration — and all they get us to think about — that the fundamental importance of so-called Russian meddling is a mere afterthought. I suggest that the methods and consequences of this interference in our political system is one of the most vital subjects Americans should be thinking about, responding to, and altering behavior in light of. These are acts being perpetrated by our foreign adversaries in an effort to defeat us, and I have heard almost nothing about what the Russians are doing, how we are responding, and what that could mean for our future.
Forget the details of bot accounts amplifying messages on social media, the voter profiles that may know your impending decisions better than you do, and even how our adversaries did their best to make a narcissistic bully of reality TV fame our 45th president.
What I want you to remember is that their primary goal is and was to amplify disturbing extreme voices on both the political Left and Right, in order to create the deepest disturbing feelings in each of us. Chances are, therefore that you are more angry, more disgusted, and more fearful than you were five years ago. And, because most of us are not on a spiritual path of self-discovery, we are largely unaware of how our personal emotional trajectories have been altered by this targeted social media assault.
I recently participated in a service at my church to celebrate the end of “The Season for Nonviolence” — the 64 days between the 71st anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30th and the 51st anniversary of the assassination of The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King on April 4th. The first MLK quote that I read to the congregation was, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is a choice between nonviolence and nonexistence.” You can dismiss this as an overreaction to the Cold War nuclear threat posed by the Soviet Union, but the Doomsday Clock is currently as close to the midnight of annihilation as it has ever been.
Now, think about the fact that Russian trolls are trying to make us more angry, disgusted, and fearful; they want us to take the path of civil war, race war, or another form of self-annihilation. Of course, our own system is also fueling that fire with ever-growing inequity between the rich and the rest of us. And the man we elected as (figure)head of that system often makes comments that encourage us to hate, fear, or otherwise be suspicious of the non-white members of community.
So, let’s circle back to the choice of “nonviolence or nonexistence.” There is no more important reason for us to commit to nonviolence than the fact that we are being encouraged to be violent, to think violent thoughts, and to champion violent acts. But, there are many other reasons to adopt the powerful message of nonviolence — I know what it is that I am willing to die for but refuse to kill for.
Nonviolent resistance, especially when your adversary is committing acts of violence — but you are not — is a gift of the moral high ground, no matter the issue. Nonviolence stops those in a transcendent state of anger, perhaps in their tracks. Even if they do land a blow or two, they will often stop in the face of acquiescence to their brutality. If not, they will often think about the experience of committing violence on someone who does not fight back in the future. Many Vietnam Veterans are still haunted by the women and children they were ordered to kill.
Mahatma Gandhi used nonviolence to free India from British rule, Martin Luther King, Jr. used it to force the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and Cesar Chavez used it to establish a union for migrant farm workers.
So, what can you do to advance the cause of nonviolent resistance? When you decide to attend a peaceful protest, you advance the cause, but you also do so when you decide not to use hateful language, violent language, or dehumanizing language. (I apologize for all of the times I have referred to our president as, “Orange Julius.” I think it’s funny, but it is also inappropriate for me to give in to my desire for humor at the expense of my commitment to treating every human being with dignity and respect.)
It takes a lot of courage to be nonviolent — especially to mention to others one’s negative reaction to hearing anyone called a name. It’s easier to go along with violence. For example, despite the fact that there was doubt about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 easily passed each house of Congress. Among the arguments used to justify this was an attempt to link Osama bin Laden to Iraq — a precursor to the “fake news” we currently endure.
So, if you can stop yourself from further stirring up negative emotions, if you can interrupt the angry rants of someone on your own side of the political debate — or even of an adversary — you can make a small contribution to Peace. Be prepared for the person you are talking with to turn their anger on you.
You might say, “Are you sure you want to turn the anger you’re feeling at this situation against me, because I am suggesting that the anger is unhelpful and unhealthy? Do you see how bad this is getting?”
I sometimes express gratitude for #45’s election. “If HRC had been elected, we would have relaxed and let the racism, sexism, and climate denial run silently through our politics as usual.”
So, what is your strategy?
Good luck, everyone. The society you save may be your own.