The Russian state may or may not have tried to intervene to sway the recent election for Trump, and they may or may not possess an embarrassing sex tape of the president-elect that could be used to blackmail him. Although these may be legitimate concerns for U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate, they are not crucial developments. On the contrary, they are sensational diversion from more important political events.
If Putin directed Russian hackers to compromise the private emails of the Democratic National Convention in order to portray Hillary Clinton in a negative light, then his plan was not very effective since, after all, Clinton won by 2.8 million votes. But even if we assume that Russia interfered in such a way to nudge Trump to the victory in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, DNC email leaks make an underwhelming argument for Trump compared to the preponderance of reasons to have voted against the candidate. And while the “intelligence community” along with our political leaders has not yet presented any evidence of Putin-directed hacking of the Clinton campaign, the media has moved on to broadcast the even more specious narrative of Russian possession of an embarrassing sex tape of Trump that they could use as blackmail. The problem with this news story is that the “Russian Dossier” is admittedly based on hearsay and is thus totally unreliable.
When opponents of Trump claim that he is an illegitimate president because leaks of real DNC emails by the Russian state swayed the election, they are taking a flimsy and fallacious stance. The result of investing in the sensational position is that Trump’s proponents can dismiss the arguments as partisan whining. At the same time, there is ample solid ground on which to denounce the election, such as Clinton’s distinct victory in the popular vote, systemic disenfranchisement, and the refusal of key states to allow hand recounts despite voting irregularities. While spies and sex are alluring, serious efforts to express a democratic system demand honest and effective tactics.
All this is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the extent to which the Russian government may have tried to affect the election, nor should we underestimate the implications of a Trump-Putin alliance. My point is that media and intelligence organizations should research and scrutinize narratives of Russian collusion rather than occupy the headlines with sensational speculations. Finding a scapegoat for Trump’s presidency diverts attention and energy from the strength of American fascism which allowed him to emerge as a successful candidate.