Monday, July 23, 2018

Someone is responsible for destroying American democracy and, surprise, it's not the Russians

One of my favorite science movies is Steven Soderbergh's 2011 Contagion. Not only is it smart and riveting, it also features three strong women scientists as its heroes. See the short essay I wrote to  see why I loved this film.

For those unfamiliar with it, Contagion - to the extent cinematically practical - realistically portrays the unfolding of a deadly global pandemic and the valiant efforts of scientists around the world to wrestle it to the mat.

Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control is a setting of the film. (They even participated in its production.) In the story, the director of CDC Dr. Ellis Cheever, played by Laurence Fishburne, is confronted by a U.S. government agent who suspects that the pandemic is the result of terrorists weaponizing the bird flu. To which Cheever responds, "someone doesn't have to weaponize the bird flu.The birds are doing that."

I like sharing this quote because it applies to so many situations where people jump at dramatic explanations while overlooking the explanations that are staring them right in the face.

Take for instance the current hue and cry about Russia trying to destroy our democracy. Now, there's little doubt in my mind that Russian agents, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, have committed criminal acts in order to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Perhaps they're still at work trying to do the same for the upcoming midterms.

But when it comes to destroying American democracy, I take a cue from the CDC director in Contagion and say, "the Russians don't have to destroy our democracy. The Republicans are already doing that."

All the havoc wrought by Putin and his gang of twelve indicted GRU agents and their stateside colluders pales in comparison with the damage that has been done over the past decade by the combination of gerrymandering and voter suppression engineered by the GOP and their agents at all levels of government. If the democratic process dies in this country, we will have no one to blame other than the Republican Party.

The fact of the matter is that much of the Russian threat to our electoral process can be effectively addressed by securing our electoral infrastructure. My guess is that, for less than the cost of a single advanced fighter aircraft, we could put in place the digital defenses necessary to keep Russian - and other - attackers out of our ballot boxes.

I wish I could say that it was a fraction as easy to address the threat posed to our democratic system by Republicans. We will have to regain control of a number of state houses in order to reverse the gerrymandering already in place. As it stands now, with an increasingly Republican Supreme Court, overturning of the despicable Citizens United decision which elevates the rights of corporations to those of citizens in our electoral process, is a pipedream. And it looks as though hope to turn back GOP voter suppression measures targeting people of color are likewise doomed for the near future.

So, by all means, let's do the easy stuff that's required to frustrate Russian and other hackers who are trying to mess with our elections. But let's not forget that our greatest enemy when it comes to undermining democracy in this country is the Republican Party. And the only way to defeat their nefarious designs is to beat them soundly at the polls come this November. It could very well be our last chance to do so.
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