As democracy struggles on life support in the United States and with authoritarianism gaining popularity here and abroad. Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, must be clapping his hands and smiling broadly.
Putin is aware that Russia cannot compete militarily with the United States, but the former KGB operative knows of other ways to damage his strongest rival. What Putin hoped for is well documented and easy to see. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, reported in January 2017 on the work of the FBI, CIA, and the National Security Agency:
"President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments."
Putin succeeded probably more than even he thought possible. By all rights, Hillary Clinton should have won the presidency in 2016 and Trump would have had to slink back into private life. But with considerable help from Putin and likeminded election trolls, the majority of Americans and most of the rest of the world were stunned to see Donald Trump elected and sworn in as this country's 45th president.
This country has paid a huge price. Trump's win was a major jolt to America's psyche. Despite his numerous flaws as a politician and as a human being, this reality TV star turned out to be the champion con-man of all time. He had managed to convince nearly half this nation that he would restore America to greatness despite his numerous failures as a businessman and a human being.
By helping Trump gain the presidency, Putin knew that the U.S. would be easier to manipulate and take advantage of. The results came quickly. Upon taking office (and even before) Trump moved to dredge up the worst prejudices and fears in this country. His efforts succeeded, and the poison began to spread.
In short time xenophobia, racism, gun worship, fear of alternate lifestyles (LGBT, especially), religious fundamentalism, distrust of government, and a hatred of all things liberal or progressive rose to the surface and were exploited by the Trump campaign. Political decency and tolerance were pushed aside, allowing a disturbing dark side to take control of the Republican Party. Most importantly, with the help of a growing ultra-right media, which egged on the haters and others fearful of losing white power and privileges, Trump and his followers gained strength, neutralized the moderate wing, and before long the Republican Party barely resembled its old self.
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