What the Russian ‘hacking’ is really about

James Schall

President Barack Obama in his last days in office has drawn attention to himself by ordering an investigation into “hacking” by the Russians to influence our recent election.

But is there anything surprising or even wrong in the Russians, British, Iranians, Germans, Saudis, or Chinese trying to influence our elections to their advantage? In many ways, they would be remiss if they did not try. What else would we expect them to do?

Does anyone think that our country does not seek to find out what the Russians or Chinese are doing? Generally, we maintain that it is up to each country to protect itself from such outside influence. We are said to be far in advance in the discovery and use of methods to secure data ward off cyber-intrusions.

Russia’s efforts were claimed to be “one-sided.” They hurt Hillary Clinton and helped President-elect Donald Trump. But how were the Russians to know what would help whom? Were they any less surprised at Trump’s unexpected victory than anyone else? The kind of big government advocated by Clinton seems much more amenable to the Russian tradition than anything Trump advocated.

Trump has not seen Vladimir Putin as all bad. When Popes John Paul II and Francis visited Fidel Castro, or Richard Nixon visited China, or Franklin D. Roosevelt joshed with Joseph Stalin, or Obama bowed to the Saudi king, they were interpreted as taking the first step for reconciliation or getting along.

But if I were a member of a Russian intelligence unit, I would be surprised to think that I ought not find out and influence in any way I could the goings on in this or that country that might affect my own countries policies or security. That’s pretty much the name of the game in such matters.

Perhaps the reason a call goes out to investigate the Russian hacking has little to do with the Russians. Outgoing presidents often make a slew of appointments or decrees that they hope will help their ideology or party in the coming years.

And, of course, this is precisely the way the Republicans see the issue. Obama’s sudden interest in hacking is a matter of internal politics. If the president can pin the odium on the GOP, well and good.

If we look back at the election, we may wonder why information that was useful to know came to us through “leaked” documents. Should these not have arrived by normal channels? Yet, they were kept from the public. The theory is, and it may be true, that if many of these telling documents had not been “leaked,” the election might have gone the other way.

So we are in the business of questioning the objectivity and legitimacy of the election. This turmoil hinders the country from settling down smoothly into a new era. Thus, we are not playing our politics according to Hoyle.

But politics has always been more than a bit messy. It is designed in part to take care of messiness. But everyone still appeals to honor and fairness, as if such concepts ought to have something to do with our public lives.

Even if I were a Russian, I would think that some truth is found in such notions.

The Rev. James Schall, S.J., author of “A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning & Being Forgiven,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University.