Explained: The Russian effort to help Donald Trump
In 2013, Donald Trump went to Russia. He may, or may not, have had an experience in a Moscow hotel room while he was there. But even if that didn’t happen, something else surely did.
Trump: I was with the top level people, both oligarchs and generals and top-of-the-government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you I met the top people.
Whatever happened, it seems to be around this same point that Russia decided to see if it could make Donald Trump the next president of the United States. That effort centered around turning the same tools it had used to attack the nascent democratic governments of former Soviet states into a systematic campaign that spread disinformation, stole real information, and pried open America along fault lines of race and culture. Russia’s commitment to Trump meant devoting the full-time attention of hundreds of intelligence operatives, over a period of years. It included social media accounts that were carefully nursed along for over two years, until they weren’t just part of the landscape on both left and right, but were actually in positions of influence, and even leadership, in both communities. The effort that Russia launched following Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow spanned continents and included social media, traditional media, false news sites, cyber espionage, clandestine meetings, and boots-on-the-ground organizing.
But that wasn’t the start of the story.
Americans have two stories they tell one another. For Democrats, a president should be Josiah Bartlett—thoughtful, decisive, and intensely moral—willing to make personal chances and throw away all political calculus when it comes to doing the right thing. For Republicans, a president is James Marshall, confident and cool as he takes on terrorists with his own fists and saves his family, and not incidentally the world, by never backing down.
But Russia doesn’t believe in either of those stories. For Russia, the United States is a country dominated by three features, racism, violence and greed. In supporting Trump, Russia acted on those beliefs.