The new question is this: What has been—what will be—done to protect American democracy from such attacks in the future? The Russian attack in 2016 worked, yielding dividends beyond Vladimir Putin’s wildest hopes. The Russians hoped to cast a shadow over the Clinton presidency. Instead, they outright elected their preferred candidate. Americans once thought it was a big deal that Alger Hiss rose to serve as acting temporary secretary general of the United Nations. This time, a Russian-backed individual was installed in the Oval Office.
From that position of power, Trump has systematically attempted to shut down investigations of the foreign-espionage operation that operated on his behalf. He fired the director of the FBI to shut it down. His White House coordinated with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to misdirect the investigation. He mobilized the speaker of the House to thwart bipartisan investigations under broadly respected leadership. He has inspired, supported, and joined a national propaganda campaign against the Mueller investigation.
And all the while, Trump has done nothing—literally nothing—to harden the nation’s voting systems against follow-up Russian operations. On Sunday, he publicly repudiated his own national-security adviser for acknowledging at the Munich Security Conference the most incontrovertible basics of what happened in 2016.
It’s worth thinking about what a patriotic president would have done in Trump’s situation. He would be leading the investigation himself. He would be scouring his own campaign—doing everything in his power to reassure the country that whatever the Russians may or may not have done, his government owed Putin nothing. He would have imposed penalties on Russia for their outrageous acts—rather than protecting Russia from penalties voted by Congress. Above all, he would be leading the demand for changes to election laws and practices, including holding Facebook to account for its negligence.
At every turn, Trump has failed to do what a patriotic president would do—failed to put the national interest first. He has left the 2018 elections as vulnerable as the 2016 elections to Russian intervention on his behalf.
The president’s malignant narcissism surely explains much of this passivity. He cannot endure the thought that he owes the presidency to anything other than his own magnificence. “But wasn’t I a great candidate?” he tweeted plaintively at 7:43 a.m on Sunday morning.
But Americans who cherish democracy and national sovereignty need to start discussing a bigger and darker question.
Authoritarian nationalist parties across the western world have outright cooperated with the Russians. Russian money has helped to finance the National Front in France, and the election and reelection of the president of the Czech Republic. In Germany, Russia first created a hoax refugee-rape case—then widely publicized it—in an effort to boost its preferred extremist party in that country’s 2017 election, the Alternative for Germany. Russia supported pro-AfD comment in media favored by Germany’s surprisingly substantial Russian-speaking communities.