This is the final segment of a three-part series exploring how Russian disinformation has impacted and continues to impact U.S. elections. Catch up with what Powell has to say about the roots of Russia’s information warfare and its role in the U.S. presidential election in Part I, and how to identify and what to do about trolls and bot armies in Part II.
Trump and Disinformation
Trump uses tactics similar to that of Russia’s information warfare to boost his campaign and his administration, including attacking any reports that paint him in a bad light. He uses his position of power to go after the press, labeling them “fake news” and the “enemy of the people” — particularly when they attempt to do their job and fact check him.
He also uses social media on a daily basis to spread disinformation. The number of times he has been found to have misstated or blatantly lied to reporters and to millions of viewers through televised press conferences, speeches, and posts on social media is astounding. According to several reports, he has lied or given misleading information over 20,000 times since his inauguration.
He is his own propaganda channel, stoking fear and pitting people against each other. He posts degrading comments on social media daily, then later refutes them despite documented proof, or denies he meant them seriously. For example, even after reports surfaced that Russia had taken bounties out on the lives of our military in Afghanistan, he refused to acknowledge it or hold them accountable.
Also alarming are the actions he doesn’t take. On many occasions he failed to respond to events the way a typical president would and refused to quell fears or clarify misinformation provided to the public. He is also quite skilled at redirecting answers to reporters’ questions that he does not want to answer truthfully. He has spent nearly three quarters of his presidency attacking Robert Mueller and the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, refusing to denounce this interference in our elections. He referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” even though it produced dozens of indictments, including 12 Russian GRU officers and 7 persons who held leadership and advisor roles in Trump’s 2016 campaign; the Americans had some connection to election interference or lied to investigators.
In the United States, we need to ask the tough questions. How is Trump’s refusal to hold Russia accountable making us weaker? Does Trump emulate Putin or has he been compromised? Why would an elected president choose to accept Russia’s interference, not once, but twice?
After almost four years of the Trump Administration, a number of White House staffers have either been fired or resigned. Many of these staffers have spoken out during impeachment hearings, giving testimonies under oath, or penning tell-all books. The message they all agree on: Trump and his administration’s actions and behaviors were and should be of great concern to our national security.
As we face the election of 2020, we are faced with many challenges. Extreme weather events, a lethal pandemic, a failing economy, children attending virtual schools, the potential repeal of the ACA, a bitter Supreme Court battle, and systemic racial injustice, just to name a few.
Most of these challenges shouldn’t be considered partisan or political. And who we elect will determine how these issues are handled moving forward. The current occupant of the Oval Office hasn’t done nearly enough, if anything at all, to address these challenges.
One thing is certain, we currently have a president who appears to use the same tactics as Russia. He disseminates disinformation to obscure truths and produce chaos among people, continuing to distract from real issues that further divide us.
We must work to get people to vote and help voters see the differences and distinctions between the candidates. We must remember as we cast our ballots that elections have consequences so — choose wisely.
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