The 2016 election exposed a deadly and dangerous glitch among American voters. We're apparently a nation of suckers and kneejerk social media users, and that's actually sugar-coating the diagnosis a little.
Russia's active measures worked only because gullible Trump voters and a complicit press allowed them to. If the American people hadn't taken the bait, the alleged bombshells in the various hacked documents would have landed with a thud rather than being reported nearly every day with screamer headlines and social media outrage. Obviously the most guilty voting demographic were the Republicans. (As a corollary to this observation, insert the rank gullibility of 62 million voters and an unquestioning press and we have no choice but to conclude that Hillary Clinton's popular-vote victory was even more impressive.)
Let's be perfectly frank: Tens of millions of Trump voters cast their ballots from a place of partisan defiance and complacency in the face of Russian aggression. It's almost too much imbecility to comprehend and made worse by the reality that very few if any Trump voters will ever admit that they made an historically cataclysmic error.
Just how misinformed are the Red Hats? According to Public Policy Polling research conducted just after the 2016 election, here's what Trump voters seriously believed about a series of big news items that year:
- 40 percent of Trump voters insisted that Trump won the national popular vote.
- 60 percent of Trump voters believed Hillary Clinton received millions of illegal votes.
- 73 percent of Trump voters believed that George Soros was paying anti-Trump protesters.
- 29 percent of Trump voters believed California votes shouldn't counted in the national popular vote.
- 67 percent of Trump voters thought the unemployment rate went up under President Obama. Only 20 percent accurately believe it went down.
- 39 percent of Trump voters thought the stock market went down under Obama. And 19 percent are unsure. (The Dow climbed from around 6,600 in 2009 to 19,800 in January, 2017.)
- 14 percent of Trump voters believed Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex ring run out of a Washington pizzeria. Another 32 percent aren't sure one way or another. Only 54 percent are certain that Pizzagate is a myth.
Every single one of these voters has been played for a sucker, ripe for Putin's espionage.
But I completely understand how and why these brainwashed voters were deceived. These are the same Americans who seriously thought Obama hired actual "czars" instead of mere policy advisers -- positions referred to by the press as czars since the Reagan administration.
However, it's continually disturbing that too many liberals, who should be smart enough to know better, were fooled by Russian propaganda as well. According to a bombshell report in The New York Times, the now-indicted Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, targeted African-Americans and Bernie Sanders supporters with agitprop about Hillary Clinton:
While the right-wing pages promoted Mr. Trump’s candidacy, the left-wing pages scorned Mrs. Clinton while promoting Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. The voter suppression effort was focused particularly on Sanders supporters and African-Americans, urging them to shun Mrs. Clinton in the general election and either vote for Ms. Stein or stay home.
Some of the bogus accounts created by the Russians employed a bait-and-switch gambit:
For instance, an Instagram account called @army_of_jesus_ first posted in January 2015 images from The Muppet Show, then shifted to The Simpsons and by early 2016 became Jesus-focused. Multiple memes associated Jesus with Mr. Trump’s campaign and Satan with Mrs. Clinton’s.
Jill Stein's vote totals in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania indicate the agitprop worked as intended.
And with the Democratic primary season around the corner (heaven help us), it can't be screamed enough: don't believe anyone except reliable, recognizable sources! Constantly ask yourself: is this social media post just Some Guy On The Internet or is it based on a reputable news agency?
I get it, though. A rumor by Some Guy On The Internet might make for a nice wave of retweets or shares, but ask yourself about the cost in votes that'll surely be handed to Trump (should he make it to 2020). If you see an obvious bot -- usually someone with only a few follows and a handle with a series of numbers -- immediately block and report. Do not interact, goddammit. If you see a meme that seems too outrageous, fact-check it on Politifact or Snopes before sharing. The days of drive-by likes and shares are over. As with anything, think before you click.
We like to believe liberals are smarter and better informed than the other side. The latest by The Times indicates that we're plagued by our own faction of useful idiots who too-easily fell prey to the Russians. This has to end now.