Let’s play a game. Imagine just for a moment what the front pages of newspapers or home pages of websites would look like if we removed articles about the hacking of emails in the 2016 election. Now go even further and imagine how a cable news hour and its line up of stories would be arranged if the focus were on other news. Would we have anything to talk about? Anything worthy of as much air time?
The actions and intentions of the Trump administration and a Republican held Congress have quite frankly, been terrifying. After 8 years of progress that felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace, it’s astonishing to be reminded how quickly we can reverse course. While pulling out of the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change won’t happen overnight, the rolling back of environmental regulations has already begun. After over 40 years of a destructive war on drugs left us with the largest prison population per capita in the world, we finally saw movement on criminal justice reform, which Jeff Sessions now wants to erase. Add to this list of regression women’s access to contraception and safe abortion, numerous strikes against transgender rights, workplace protections, retirement investments, conservation efforts and a budget that will cut programs relied on by the most vulnerable.
I’m not done yet. For now, the Affordable Care Act is still intact, but the carelessness with which access to healthcare for tens of millions of people is being handled doesn’t provide much hope. While courts have consistently been blocking a Muslim ban, the administration vows to keep trying. There are also the issues on which Trump has expanded much criticized Obama policies, like arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants, and an increase in civilian deaths overseas and relaxed drone strike rules. I’ve barely even touched on foreign policy, but I think you get the point.
What do all of these issues I’ve listed, and the many more that I’ve missed, have to do with hacking and the 2016 election? If you’re thinking it’s that they wouldn’t exist because Hillary Clinton would have won…you’re wrong. For starters, Hillary Clinton’s victory wouldn’t have impacted the Republican stronghold on both houses of Congress. More importantly, although it’s still very hard for people to swallow, Clinton lost for a plethora of reasons, and we have to acknowledge that hacked emails did not singularly change the course of history.
The main thread that runs through all of these policy changes is that they’re happening in real time. All of this damage has been done in just 132 days, and there is much, much more to come. The hack of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails? That was in 2016. So when I say that we need to “move on”, as I did last night on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes, my point is that we cannot let the issue of email hacking suck all the air out of the room. There are other and more pressing concerns that deserve equal, if not more attention.
That’s not to say we should ignore that all 17 intelligence agencies believe that the Russian government interfered in our election process. It’s an assault on our Democracy, plain and simple. But hacking and propaganda are actions that we need to assume will be par for the course moving forward. It’s no secret that countries like the US and Russia spy on each other and attempt to infiltrate as many other nations as they can. We should know, the US has affected its fair share of foreign elections throughout history. The teachable lesson of 2016 is that cybersecurity needs to be a priority of any campaign in the future, as attempts to hack and discredit will only continue to evolve.
Let’s also make sure we keep perspective and see the forest through the trees. While there is a hyper focus on potential “collusion” between the Trump administration and the Russian government on the hacking question, the real scandal most likely is tied to money. The financial interests of a billionaire real-estate tycoon President with a web of conflicts is a much deeper well to draw from. With Robert Mueller serving as special counsel in the investigation, I have faith that no stone will be left unturned and that the American public will eventually get answers on what’s at the root of Trump’s affinity for Vladimir Putin.
The Russia scandal is both important and exciting. With leaks pouring out of the White House and other corners of the government on a daily basis, I don’t expect journalists to not report on it, it’s their job. I don’t blame the public for being enthralled with every salacious detail. But we’re letting rage about the reality that Trump is president cloud our judgement. We have to be able to compartmentalize and give other news the same care and weight that we place upon a scandal that will take time to fully unfold.
So maybe when I say “move on”, I really mean be patient. Stay alert, but don’t forget to be just as vigilant about the many ways in which civil liberties and progress are being dismantled on a daily basis. The reason I bring up last night’s cable news appearance is that often when you have 30 seconds rather than a thousand words to make a point, it can easily be misconstrued. My “move on” comment was mocked by Ari Melber, the host filling in for Rachel Maddow, and I received many a tweet accusing me of defending Putin and telling me to go back to Russia. I’m not surprised in the least, these are the times we live in. But I think we can do better.