We do not want the Russians — or anyone else — to influence the outcome of our elections. But interfering in elections is an everyday occurrence. According to historian Alfred W. McCoy citing research at Carnegie Mellon University, between 1946 and the year 2000, the U.S. intervened in 81 elections in foreign countries. Stephen Kinzer writes in his book Overthrow that the U.S. has overthrown 14 foreign governments. Interference in elections has also become a homegrown problem in the United States.
An elected official who represents the people in a political jurisdiction should be elected by the people who live in that jurisdiction without outside influence. We now live in an age when outsiders with money can and do target elected officials they don’t like or boost candidates they do like. Former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar was a victim of a raid. Senator Lugar was a highly respected Indiana senator who, when the Soviet Union collapsed, performed a very important role in gaining control of the thousands of nuclear weapons in the various areas of the former USSR. There was concern that those weapons might be sold to or stolen by the wrong kind of people. Citizens of Indiana and all of us owe a measure of gratitude to Senator Lugar. But in the 2012 primary elections, a small contingent managed to end Lugar’s public service. The radical contingent that unseated Senator Lugar owed much of their political steam to the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers each have accumulated wealth of 41 billion dollars.
The Koch brothers father built petroleum refineries for Russia’s Joseph Stalin and for Germany’s Adolph Hitler. His sons, Charles and David Koch, developed ultra-radical political views. They supported and have been members of organizations that want no taxes. That would mean no government, anarchy, and chaos. Charles and David Koch financed many radical political activities, and they formed Americans for Prosperity.
When we elect government officials, without external interference, we are accountable for the result. When outside wealthy individuals or organizations intervene in our electoral jurisdiction, there is no way to hold the outsider accountable for the result they produce.
Throughout most of recorded human history, the license to govern has been the result of acquisition of power by any means, usually violence.
Those devious means to acquire political dominance include computerized gerrymandering, that is, shaping political districts to favor a particular party or outcome. A computer software algorithm can make millions of comparisons and present the best way to gerrymander political districts. If the party that controls the state legislature reshapes the voting districts, they can give themselves an immense advantage. It can give a minority control of the government.
Other means of shaping elections historically included a requirement to pay a tax to gain the right to vote. That requirement prevented poor people from exercising the right to vote. More recently, a requirement to possess a particular type of identification has been used to prevent some citizens from casting a vote. Disenfranchisement of people who have previously been in prison is a practice that is still used in some states, including Florida where it prevents more than 1.5 million people from voting.
The national news media played an exceptional role in the 2016 presidential election. The national media had experienced some revenue decline because of the introduction of social media. The national media managers recognized that we are fascinated by things spectacular, or unusual or bizarre. They fed our fascination and in the process improved their financial status. But they also delivered and unintended consequence. According to analytics firm Media Quant, the national news media gave one candidate five billion dollars of free advertising. That does seem like an intervention.
We strive to achieve that “more perfect union.” It will never be perfect, but we can always make it better.
Reach Jack Stevenson is retired, served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Currently, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary for community newspapers.