The digital international interference in our election — ghastly and disastrous though it is — is just the first phase on a process of the globalization of the democratic and political processes.
If we start with the obvious assumption that people in all countries now have enormous interests in the results of elections in other countries, add to it the nearly as obvious assumption that the more they realize that, the more they will expect to have a way of communicating that, you very quickly get to the idea that the international system needs to build ways that those views can be communicated to voters in each country.
Without it any way condoning Putin’s behavior, or certainly Trump’s two-faced encouragement of it, nonetheless, seeing it as an expression of that desire to be heard by a highly powerless and frightened country, may help us think of long-term ways of ensuring that cross national voices are heard.
Of course, any such approaches have to be transparent, truthful, multi-lateral, and respectful — all qualities in much shorter display than they should be.
But imagine for a moment that a mechanism had existed for Russian voters to communicate to their US equivalents their of course overblown and hopelessly manipulated fears for Russians in the Stalin-Diaspora. Maybe those fears would then have been less subject to manipulation and hysteria. Of course, it would have been necessary for Russian voters to have known that the fears had been communicated, and at least to some extent, heard. I wonder also how well the working class voters in the UK who carried Brexit knew what those similarly situated in the EU, many of whom they must have met in their now cheap European holidays, felt about the issue.
There is an interesting, but failed, precedent for this. Back in 2004, the Guardian organized a project which encouraged Brits to write to Clarke County Ohio voters (cold communication), expressing their concerns. The experiment backfired, with the Republicans making hay with the supposed interference. Most Republicans appear to have been more sensitive about such things in those days! (Maybe they are less concerned about covert involvement than transparent efforts.) Looked at from the non-US point of view, of course, that over-reaction would have shown the rest of the world that the US was contemptuous of the views of outsiders. Again, without justifying the conclusion, such a feeling would reinforce the sense that the only way to influence US elections is covertly.
So getting Americans used to the idea will have to be a critical component of any strategy.
Some first thoughts on ways of moving forward in the short term might be:
Having Americans living abroad reaching out to people in their host countries and systematically sharing what they hear of what people want from the US with their networks and even in a new special public forum.
Similarly, encouraging those with family abroad to solicit the views of family and share them in such a forum.
Much better cross-national polling, with explanations of countries strongly held views and explanations for those views.
General encouragement of e-mail and other communication across borders — not in one direction, but reciprocally and multi-laterally, with a particular emphasis on linking people with similar backgrounds who would tend to trust each other. (Much easier now with translation software.)
Having a televised Presidential debate before an international audience, and with the questions submitted by that audience. It would be a great opportunity for grandstanding, but also a wonderful test of how candidates dealt with all the challenges of that environment. Imagine to the message to the world about our understanding of our international responsibilities.
Having the various processes by which governments consult the public be expanded to welcome international views. It is hard to imagine the incoming administration adopting such processes, but not so hard to imagine some state governments, such as those of California, dong so. Indeed, to think of a concrete example, the California Courts adjudicate cases all the time involving those outside the US, particularly family cases. Would it not make sense for the California Courts, in the process of soliciting opinions from their user, to listen to to out of country users?
That is all about communication. In the long term, we need globalized institutions that provide reassurance to voters in all countries that their interests will be protected.