Russia Hacked the Election!

Well, no, not really.

The story, as far as I can tell, is that unnamed sources in the CIA believe that Russian agents hacked the emails of prominent Democrats and made their contents public in order to influence the election.

Even if 100% true, to call this “hacking the election” is profoundly misleading, and would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that basically every major news outlet has picked up on that phrasing.

It’s not that I think it’s good that private communications are being hacked and publicized by foreign nations in order to influence our political process. I’m just saying that when somebody does actually hack the election (i.e. actually interfere with the actual casting or counting of actual ballots), I don’t want to have to say “they nuked Washington DC” to communicate the gravity of what actually happened.

Plus, remember how we were worried about how, when Trump inevitably lost the election, he would undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process by saying that it was all rigged?

Yeah… Is it too much to ask for a credible opposition party right now?

I don’t want to downplay the significance of cyber espionage and is ramifications for politics. We live in a world where communications stored on hackable devices have a not-insignificant chance of being made public and used against political candidates. But that’s the reality we live in, regardless of whether the hackers in this particular instance were ex-KGB, Iranian secret service, or random guys in their basement.

More to the point, this isn’t really about Trump either. If email hacks are having an undue impact on political process, the solution is better cyber security protocols and more robust political strategies that won’t be upset by a few leaked emails. It’s a problem to be worked around in the next national election, but not a cause to panic.

Of course, there is a larger argument, which goes that Russia wanted Trump to be elected because they believed that Trump’s administration would weaken the United States and diminish our prestige and influence on the world stage. This might well be true. But the relevant story is that Trump’s administration would weaken the United States and diminish our prestige and influence on the world stage, not that Putin thinks this.

Of course, the real reason this is getting so much play is because the Clinton campaign had already been pushing a narrative about Trump’s connections with Vladimir Putin. I have never thought there was much to this. At one point on the campaign, Trump said something off the cuff about Putin being a stronger leader than Obama (which, while bad, is hardly the worst thing Trump has said off the cuff), and then someone on the Clinton campaign decided that the specter of our cold war adversary loomed large enough in the American psyche that alleging connections with Putin was the most damaging thing you could say about Trump (maybe it did well in focus groups).

And now we see this message has evolved into a full-blown conspiracy theory.

I think Freddie DeBoer’s take on this is pretty spot on. Even if the CIA has it right, there are plenty of more prescient reasons to oppose a Trump administration. I don’t want to see the opposition party spin itself into irrelevance by focusing on conspiracy theories.

One hopes that this is just an excuse to produce content about Trump, despite the fact that he’s not yet in the position to do anything newsworthy. Hopefully once he takes office and starts actually doing things, our news media will have enough interesting things to write about that conspiracies and rumors will drop off the map.

Hopefully we can get to work…

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