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Who Says the Next Election Trolls Will Be Russians?


All too often in social conflicts, the “smart” strategists think the next fight will be exactly like the last fight.

So if you prepare for yesterday’s battles, you will surely win today and tomorrow, right?

The French Generals of the 1930’s were sure that World War II would be exactly like World War I – all trench warfare. So they built the Maginot line of enhanced fortification. The Germans had fast mobile tanks. They ran around the Maginot line. France fell to Germany in a month.

Hillary Clinton knew that upper Midwest states always voted for Democrats. This is the way they had voted in previous elections. So, she could concentrate on getting voters in swing states in the South, and she would be President. Angry white men in Michigan and Wisconsin voted for Donald Trump and Trump became President.

In social science, this kind of forecasting is called extrapolation. It is the least reliable methodology for predicting the future – although everybody does it. Extrapolation is assuming that whatever trends existed in the past will exist in the future without any changes. Trends always change. There is always something in Period 2 that invalidates the logic that explained what went on in Period 1.

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Which brings us to the subject of electronic meddling in American national elections.

In 2016, Russian trolls interfered with the election, producing an electoral win for Donald Trump. It is well known they campaigned for Trump on the internet. They targeted voting machines. I will be agnostic on the question of whether they were able to change any votes on those machines.

So the natural assumption is that in 2020, Russian trolls will do the same thing again. Local officials can take whatever measures they want to protect American voting machines. Net of whatever the American electorate thinks, there will be a giant bloc of “foreign” influence that will push for Donald Trump … possibly decisively.

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Who says in the next election that the foreign influence is going to be Russian? Who says in the next election that the foreign influence will be in favor of Donald Trump?

I am not talking about the dubious argument that the electoral hacking in 2016 was done by the Ukraine. Nor am I talking about any arcane plot by the Clinton Foundation to stalemate the Democratic primaries so Hillary can be re-nominated in a brokered convention. (The President has made the first argument; conspiracy theorists make the second.)

I am making a more obvious argument.

Russia is not the only foreign country that has the technological capacity to hack computer systems or to make mischief on the internet. China has that capacity. North Korea has that capacity. Iran has that capacity. India has that capacity. Nigeria has that capacity. Israel has that capacity. Many nations have that capacity.

Some of those countries, like Nigeria, are indifferent to the American elections. Some of those countries, like Israel, favor Trump. Some of those countries, like Iran, absolutely oppose Trump. Countries like China are probably waiting to see who the Democratic nominee would be. It is easy to imagine many Democratic nominees whom the Chinese would prefer to Donald Trump.

All of these countries are going to have the capacity to meddle in the 2020 elections. Putting doctored videos and voice-files on the internet is easy. Creating bots that send out messages praising one candidate and panning another is easy. Breaking into American voting machines is going to require a greater level of sophistication. After 2016, anyone with an interest in American elections has had four years to prepare for whatever intervention they would like to apply in 2020. Don’t think that every single solitary military intelligence agency trying to hack our systems will fail.

Will the hackers that favor Donald Trump win?

Or will the election be won by the new hackers from non-Russian countries who would prefer a Democratic president?

Who can say?

All I can say is that the CNN political commentators, who like to spend hours and hours of pseudo-news time making projections about the outcome of the American election, might not want to spend all their time looking at polls of American voters or re-re-analyzing the candidates’ speeches thirty-eight times.

They had better find out what countries are going to be clandestinely working for victory for the Republicans and the Democrats and which military intelligence services are doing a better job of cracking our defenses.

Next year’s election may not be all about Putin.

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