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If only Joe McCarthy had lived to see this moment, when it is suddenly in vogue to attribute large-scale events in American politics to the hand of Russia and to inveigh against domestic subversion.

Robert Mueller released an indictment of 13 Russians for crimes related to their social-media campaign to meddle in our internal affairs in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2016 election.

Mueller obviously isn’t a McCarthyite, and can’t be held responsible for the hysteria — and hopeful expectations of an impeachment-level event — that has built up around his work. His indictment is, as far as anyone can tell, rigorously factual. That’s probably the point of it — to create a record of an episode that we should want to know as much about as possible and prevent from ever happening again.

The Russia campaign was a shockingly cynical violation of our sovereignty. President Donald Trump would do himself and the country a favor by frankly denouncing it. But the scale of the operation shouldn’t be exaggerated. In the context of a hugely expensive, obsessively covered, impossibly dramatic presidential election, the Russian contribution on social media was piddling and often laughable.

The Russians wanted to boost Trump, but as a Facebook executive noted, most of their spending on Facebook ads came after the election. The larger goal was to sow discord, yet we had already primed ourselves for plenty of that.

Does anyone believe, absent Russian trolls on Twitter and Facebook, that we were headed to a placid election season involving an incendiary, mediagenic former reality TV star bent on blowing up the political establishment and a longtime pol who had stoked the enmity of Republicans for 30 years and was under FBI investigation?

If you read the Mueller indictment, you might think the Russians were everywhere, not only advertising on Facebook (“Trump is our only hope for a better future;” “Ohio Wants Hillary 4 Prison”), but organizing rallies around the country. But it’s not clear these rallies even came off.

The New York Post couldn’t find any evidence of planned pro-Trump and anti-Hillary rallies in New York — not exactly a swing state — in June and July of 2016. Pictures and videos that appear to be from Russian-initiated pro-Trump “flash mobs” in Florida show a handful of people in various cities. This at a time when Trump was routinely holding rallies with thousands of people that garnered lavish media coverage.

The biggest Russian rally success appears to have been an anti-Trump event in New York after the election; it drew 10,000 people. This hardly means that the #resistance was corrupted by Russian influence. Without Kremlin involvement, half a million women marched against Trump in Washington, D.C., and more than 3 million around the country.

The Russians didn’t do anything to us that we weren’t doing to ourselves, although we were doing it on a much larger, more potent scale. The Russians are just aping the arguments we are already having with one other, and the sewerish level of much of the discussion on social media.

The New York Times ran a report the other day on Russian bots, in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, posting on Twitter about gun control. It’s hard to believe that this is going to rip apart the American body politic when many perfectly respectable, red-blooded Americans themselves advocate for gun control, and often in the immediate aftermath of shootings.

In a better world, Trump would be less defensive about the Russian investigation, and his opposition would be less obsessively invested in it (at least until such time that it produces a genuine bombshell). We should seek to shut down Russian influence as much as possible, without losing perspective. We aren’t divided because of Russia; we’re divided because we have genuine, deeply held differences. The fault, to the extent there is one, isn’t with the bots, but with ourselves.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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awol2009

The Russians have the NRA, GOP and tRump right where they want them. Money laundering/illegal campaign contributions, brainwashing their redneck base with propaganda, "bots", planted spies.
https://www.snopes.com/2018/02/16/did-kremlin-give-money-to-nra/

Cassandra2

Lowry would have been at the head of the line praising McCarthy. And now he once again pooh-poohs the fact that a foreign government conspired to meddle in our sovereign rights to conduct free elections. Just whose side is he on?

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Hillary conspired with multiple governments through her hidden server. The beyond "top secret" Special Access Programs (SAPs) were sold to the highest bidders (China). Ever wonder how the Chinese suddenly have all of our F-35 fighter plane design plans and are now building them?

Bill sold us out to North Korea and Hillary was selling us out to China.

Have you ever wondered why Obama managed to illegally ship billions of dollars (all in cash) to Iran after Trump won? Bribe money that financed her campaign?? Now she cannot deliver on her further sellout of America???

SHE WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO LOSE

Over 13,000 sealed indictments when an average year has around 1,000. Club Gitmo is expanding to hold 13,000 prisoners. COINCIDENCE?

Beware the Ides of March.....2018 is going to be GLORIOUS!

kingman10

there goes snow job way off topic again. She rears her ugly head to compete with buggs as the most insane person in the area. so far the race is to close to call. Sold out to the Kochs and the Russians, snow job can only lash out and repeat their propaganda in hopes of getting a small paycheck. Too bad she sold her soul to the carry out evil for such a small price. Given her infantile posts and wacko logic, she is probably way over paid.

Cassandra2

Cougar, the Russian fake news bot, is trying to distract from the fact that Trup is selling us out to the Russians. Mis-stating facts and twisting the story is one of its favorite tactics.
But Mueller is already closing in and is already getting guilty pleas that will bring down this corrupt, treasonous regime.

oldhomey

Mr. Lowry concludes: "In a better world, Trump would be less defensive about the Russian investigation, and his opposition would be less obsessively invested in it (at least until such time that it produces a genuine bombshell). We should seek to shut down Russian influence as much as possible, without losing perspective. We aren’t divided because of Russia; we’re divided because we have genuine, deeply held differences. The fault, to the extent there is one, isn’t with the bots, but with ourselves."

I am not sure what he wants us to carry away from his observations here. I think he overstates how most Democrats view the Mueller investigation. They want it to continue unimpeded, and let the chips fall where they may. The most important thing is to figure out what the Russians were up to in the election, what they are up to now, and to stop it. How any American can argue against that is simply unimaginable to me. It looks to me that Mr. Lowry is making light of the Russian interference in order to protect the party in power. If Hillary had won and it turned out the Russians had been pitching for her, we would be hearing a far different story.

If Trump is revealed in the investigation to have done nothing wrong, so be it. We will know definitively and lay that suspicion to rest for his benefit and the benefit of the country. To stop the investigation prematurely would be a disaster in that regard. And, if Trump is guilty of something that would explain his desperate opposition to Mueller and the investigation, he will have to suffer the consequences of the law, public opinion and his place in history. Let the investigation continue.

kingman10

The Russians did not invent ours severe political divisiveness, that honor belongs to the repubs when we elected a black man to the white house. Then the repubs spoke only of making him a one term president, and attacked his citizenship, his religion, his family and his race. Obstructionism was the their motto during those eight years. The Russians didn't invent our current divisiveness, they just took advantage of it and tried to turn it up a notch or two. And they did a great job of it with the help of their candidate, #45.

oldhomey

Exactly.

johnnybragatti

All Trump rallies in the U.S.were Anti-Hillary rallies
and pro Nazi rallies.
Ever heard of Waukesha ,Wisconsin trump rally?.. a bonafide Hillary grudge-match and little else.
Witness the ditty: "lock her up", chanted or "sung" at all rallies.
The deplorables and low-life hillbillies were rockin" out,
in hog heaven.

crank

"The Russians didn’t do anything to us that we weren’t doing to ourselves, although we were doing it on a much larger, more potent scale. The Russians are just aping the arguments we are already having with one other , and the sewerish level of much of the discussion on social media."

One merely needs to read the comments posted on nearly every political article or op-ed here on the Tribune site to know this is quite accurate.

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