For the past few months, airwaves have been saturated with allegations of covert Russian interference in America’s 2016 presidential election. Like a dog with a bone, teleprompter-jockeys are working tirelessly to ensure this claim becomes the explanation for Donald Trump’s ascendancy. The argument was given legitimacy with a report from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which concluded that Russian hackers influenced the election outcome. Today, Sally Yates is testifying about the role of Russia in the presidential elections.
There are at least three problems with this narrative. First, the fixation with foreign meddling overlooks the fact that America obstructs its own electoral process. Second, this reasoning downplays America’s interference – through the CIA – in the elections of sovereign nations around the globe for a century. Third, this version of events is an attempt to minimize the sex, race, and class-based fault lines that garnered overwhelming support for Trump in the first place.
Ways America Interferes in its Own Elections
Since the inception of this nation, roadblocks existed to prevent certain subsets of the population from voting. Women, non-whites (i.e. Asians, Native Americans, blacks), and those without property were originally barred from voting. These groups were selectively granted the franchise at different points in time.
Despite these laws, the contentious battle over the right to vote has not been resolved. There are at least three ways the American electoral process is internally sabotaged. First, people that were convicted of felonies are disenfranchised, to varying degrees, across the states. Consider the consequences imposed around the country:
- Permanent loss of voting rights (3 states)
- Loss of voting rights in prison (14 states)
- Cannot vote with some felony convictions (6 states)
- Loss of voting rights in prison and on parole (4 states)
- Cannot vote in prison or on parole; can vote after sentence is complete, including probationers (21 states)
- Everyone has the right to vote (2 states)
Due to felony disenfranchisement laws, 6.1 million Americans cannot vote. These laws have a disproportionate impact on black people due to racial bias in the criminal justice system. Consequently, 1 in every 13 black people is prohibited from voting due to a felony conviction. At the state level, these figures become even more drastic. In Florida, for example, 23% of African Americans are permanently unable to vote.
It is important to remember that Florida is a battleground state in presidential elections. The closest election in American history came down to Florida in 2000; where, after a recount and decision from the Supreme Court, George W. Bush won by only 537 votes. None of this would be necessary if ex-felons could vote at that time. Back then, there were 750,000 ex-felons barred from voting. Most felons are black, and black people vote overwhelmingly Democratic (95%+). It is safe to assume that if ex-felons were granted the franchise, the election outcome would’ve been different.
How did felony disenfranchisement impact the 2016 presidential election? Trump won Florida by just 112,000 votes. Reports estimate that there are 107,000 Floridians on parole or probation, and an additional 1.3 million ex-felons who cannot vote. Once again, since felons tend to be black and blacks tend to vote Democratic, the election outcome could’ve been different in Florida and other states, as well.
State governments disenfranchise felons, not Russia.
Second, 32 states require some form of voter identification at the polls. This means that a person is only able to cast a vote if they possess and show their state-issued ID card. However, a study of Pennsylvania showed that over 760,000 residents did not have this form of documentation. Such a mandate continues the legacy of Jim Crow by erecting additional barriers for the poor who cannot afford/access these materials. Additionally, the states with higher proportions of immigrant populations are more likely to impose these restrictions. We can only wonder how these laws skewed this election cycle.
Various state governments impose voter ID laws, not Russia.
Third, the Citizens United case granted corporations the right to dump ungodly sums of money into the American electoral process as a form of “speech”. Running for office requires a deep reservoir of money – known as a “war chest” – to advertise and campaign across the country. Corporations sign blank checks in exchange for political influence. Therefore, candidates are selected before they are elected. Americans are given the opportunity to vote on options that were already approved by capitalist overlords. The integrity of politicians is now thrown into question as most pledge allegiance to their corporate sponsors instead of the average American voter.
The federal government allows money in politics, not Russia.
Fourth, districts are often gerrymandered. This is a complex and disingenuous process of dividing territories to give one party a numerical advantage over another. Votes from certain demographics (i.e. typically race, or another proxy) are strategically concentrated in ‘blocks’ for inclusion, while others are excluded. The end result is that regions, from an aerial view, end up resembling jigsaw puzzles.
Various state governments gerrymander districts, not Russia.
The United States Interferes in Elections Across the Globe
America often frames itself as the global police officer who intervenes to prevent violence in other nations. A closer inspection of foreign policy, however, reveals that America does not care about the formations of dictatorships – it is only interested in profit for corporations. I will provide just three examples, although there are several more. Just a few years ago, declassified documents revealed that the CIA staged a coup to overthrow Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh from Iran in 1953, largely because he nationalized the oil fields. Moreover, in 1954, the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government in Guatemala because their reform policies threatened profit for the United Fruit Company. Further, the CIA overthrew democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, because he was a threat to capitalist hegemony in the region.
The United States – through the CIA – routinely interferes in elections across the world. The investigation into Russian hackers by the CIA, then, should be taken with several grains of salt. America has been interfering in elections in the Middle East for the past 10+ years! This so-called intelligence agency has demonstrated its demonic expertise in destabilizing foreign nations and undermining elections, so we should be suspicious of their assessment that “Russia was involved in the 2016 election”.
Using Russia As a Scapegoat
Even if these claims were true, the narrative of Russian interference is a simple explanation for a complex phenomenon. Sexism, racism, and classism are organizing principles in the United States, and they undoubtedly exerted their influence in the election results. Donald Trump ran on an openly misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and classist platform. When the demographics of Trump voters are examined, we find that he won 53% votes among white women; and a majority of the white working class. More shockingly, voter turnout for the presidential election was at a 20-year low. Only 55% of the American adult population cast a vote. These are American problems that cannot be laid at Russia’s doorstep.
We need to own this and stop trying to flee from an unpleasant reality. Instead of scapegoating a nefarious foreign enemy in front of a computer screen, we need to confront the failures of neoliberal economic policy and how it galvanized Trump supporters. We must have deeper conversations about the weaknesses of intersectional feminism and anti-capitalist theory which often fail to centralize those at the bottom of our socioeconomic ladder: black women. Pointing the finger at Vladimir Putin is disingenuous insofar as it seeks to blame cyber-security for a problem created and perpetuated by systemic injustice. We must view these accusations as an attempt to stabilize U.S. imperialism and global hegemony.
By: Darryl Walker, Jr.