Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 24 hours, you’re aware that former special counsel Robert Mueller went before Congress on Wednesday to testify about his office’s 22-month investigation into Russian interference and the 2016 election. Depending on who you listen to, the hours-long hearing was either amazing for Democrats or great for President Trump. As with all things political, there’s a post-hearing hot take to accommodate every specific viewpoint.
A day removed from Mueller’s testimony, we want to focus on what we believe – strike that, what we know – was the most essential part of Mueller’s testimony.
Sorry, Democrats: It wasn’t his contradiction of the president’s repeated claims of “total exoneration.”
Sorry, Republicans: It wasn’t his resistance to the idea that the only reason President Trump wasn’t charged was because of a legal opinion that a sitting president could not be indicted.
No, the real moment of truth was very early on, at the end of the former special counsel’s opening statement. Mueller said:
“And let me say one more thing. Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. … This deserves the attention of every American.”
This deserves the attention of every American. From a public servant who has seen and done what Robert Mueller has, a warning such as this deserves to be heeded. But Mueller’s admonition, first issued back in May and echoed basically word-for-word Wednesday, immediately ran the risk of being buried under headlines about “optics,” the hearing’s lack of entertainment value, or narrow analysis about who “won” or “lost” the day.
Beyond all that noise are the intractable facts: Russians interfered in the 2016 election. In at least two instances, they searched registration records and penetrated state voter databases. They hacked political parties’ servers and, most notably, conducted a sweeping misinformation campaign to undermine Americans’ trust in the news and information they were consuming. On both the left and the right, they sowed the seeds of discord, proving President Lincoln’s point that a house divided could not stand. They’re still at it, and will most certainly still be at it in 2020.
Mueller also mentioned that the FBI continues to investigate, and perform counterintelligence, on foreign election interference. This is reassuring, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to relax.
Remember, this deserves the attention of every American. Going forward, here are ways to direct that attention, and to lessen the impact of further attacks on our democracy.
First, reflect upon what has already happened. If you haven’t yet, read and understand the Mueller Report. It’s inexpensive in book form, readily accessible in a variety of audiobook formats, and offered free in PDF format here. The report is broken into two volumes, so if you are short on time, or have your mind already made up on the Trump campaign’s role in the affair, or are not eager to spend the rest of summer poring over 400 pages of redacted legalese, then focus on Volume 1. This is the part that summarizes 2016 Russian interference, including acts that “violated U.S. criminal law.” Regardless of which campaign may have benefited or which one was damaged by foreign meddling, it’s important to understand exactly what investigators learned about what transpired. That clarity is and will remain valuable in the days and months ahead.
Make election security a political priority. Let your federal and state representatives know that interference in our elections is a strike at the heart of our democracy as well as faith in our institutions. Encourage them regularly to support funding on election upgrades. We are lucky in Nebraska to have leadership that takes such matters seriously. Other states are not as fortunate, and at a federal level Congress has yet to act on a number of election security-related proposals. It is everyday Americans’ job to continually remind our elected servants how important our elections are, as a matter of national security and integrity.
Display healthy skepticism with your news diet. The rejection of truth is a rejection of democracy. Without shared facts, everything else in our system eventually collapses. Social-media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are not only fertile ground for conspiracists to flourish, they’re easy places to build our own cloistered universes filled with half-truths that fold neatly into to our established worldview. Reject this frame and question everything. FactCheck.org promotes eight steps to sniff out fake news:
1. Consider the source;
2. Read beyond headlines;
3. Check the author to see if they’re credible (or even real);
4. Check the article’s supporting sources to make sure they’re real;
5. Check the article’s date to make sure it’s not outdated;
6. Make sure it’s not satire or a joke;
7. Check your own biases; and
8. If you’re still not sure, ask the experts such as a librarian or a prominent fact-checking site.
Finally, be prepared for new threats. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge past mistakes or missed opportunities to help make sure they aren’t repeated. Moving forward, vigilance is key. As U.S. awareness of Russian intrusion grows, the diversionary tactics will undoubtedly change. Remain vigilant and aware of the environment we are now in.
In this intractable political climate, it’s doubtful that Americans will arrive at a consensus about what to do with many of the questions brought forth by the Mueller probe. It should be above politics, however, to say that every American can play a role in defending our democracy. That is what Robert Mueller, in a few short seconds amid his hours of testimony, made clear. He was not saying it just for the media, or just for members of Congress. He said this deserves the attention of every American. Now it’s up to us.