14 December 2016

We need to investigate Russia's interference in the election because it's a threat to our country. But we need to stop pretending it's why Trump won.

Our intelligence services are saying, "with high confidence," that Russia engaged in successful hacking of a number of people and institutions connected with the Clinton campaign, and was responsible for leaking the information they received to the public with the intention of interfering in our elections, and possibly with the specific intent of helping the Trump campaign. (I doubt that it will ever be truly clear whether they genuinely wanted a Trump victory, or merely wanted him to come close enough to delegitimize and cripple Clinton.)  That's bad. That's a threat to the stability of our country. It's something that we have to address, or face the probability that it will happen again.

But we also need to acknowledge that the Russian hacking and leaks, as bad as they were, did not cause Trump's victory.

That's likely to be a controversial statement, so let me break down my reasoning on this:
In order for the Russians to have made the difference, there would have to be tens of thousands of voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania who did not vote for Clinton, but would have voted for her were it not for things revealed in the leaked emails.  Maybe there were that many people who were that pissed off by the controversial risotto recipe, but I have serious doubts.

There simply weren't very many new revelations in either the DNC leaks or the Podesta emails, and no new narratives were spun around the leaks. The leaks simply reinforced (sometimes naturally, sometimes after sufficient spinning) existing narratives. The narratives were already there prior to the leaks.

Seriously, people didn't suddenly start believing that the DNC had tried to do what it could to help Clinton overcome Sanders in the primary when it was revealed that the interim Chair of the DNC had, at a bare minimum, assisted the Clinton campaign with debate prep during the primaries, and possibly had done so using information obtained as a result of her affiliation with CNN. People started to believe the DNC was trying to do what they could to help Clinton based on things like the scheduling of the debates on holiday weekends, the threat to bar anyone who participated in independent debates from official ones, and the refusal to let candidates like Lessig enter the debates at all.

People didn't suddenly formulate an opinion regarding Clinton's relationship with Wall Street when they saw the leaked transcripts from Podesta's email. People, both on the right and from the Sanders camp, had been demanding those transcripts for months before the leak and had been criticizing Clinton's big-money speaking engagements for even longer.

The people who got angry about things that turned up in the Russian-sponsored leaks were already angry about those very issues. In order for the leaks to make the difference between victory and defeat, tens of thousands of them would have had to care about those issues to begin with, but still be definite Clinton voters, but then be pushed over the edge to either not vote at all or to vote for a different candidate because of unconfirmed leaks which were - at that time - being widely reported as potentially being linked to the Russians.

Seriously, how likely is that.

No, if the Russians have succeeded at anything, it's at convincing people that their attempt at intervention actually did anything to sway the 2016 election. It didn't. The harm that it has indubitably done to us will come later, and will in part result from all the "but if only" bullshit theories that are spun around their minimal interference.

There are reasons that Trump won, and that Clinton lost. We will find them closer to home than Russia.
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