One of the most disturbing things coming out of the multiple investigations into Russian interference with the 2016 election is the number of people who refuse to believe anything ever happened.

In a visit Wednesday with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram editorial board, Maine Sen. Angus King said he still hears from Mainers who are convinced that reports of Russian interests interfering with the election are just a big batch of fake news.

And where do they get their ideas? From President Trump himself. Through tweets and public statements, Trump has denied, deflected and mocked the growing mountain of evidence that shows how Russian operatives set up shop in America intending to disrupt our democracy.

Trump supporters in Maine and elsewhere “follow the president,” King said. “He sees it as an attempt to delegitimize his election … and they view this as a threat to him.”

But King is concerned about a different threat, and it’s the one to which America is exposing itself if we don’t take these actions more seriously.

King complained to the leaders of the intelligence agencies last week that the country still doesn’t have a working definition of cyberwarfare, or a clearly communicated response that would deter other countries that might be thinking of attacking. That was the strategy that kept the world out of a nuclear war for 70 years, King said, and it’s what’s needed now.

The intelligence committee is still gathering evidence, and King does not expect it to issue a report before next summer. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation is still in its early stages, but enough has been revealed in court to show that this is more than just a typical partisan brawl.

Four people, including Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, have pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI or otherwise trying to cover up the investigation. One-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates have been indicted for money laundering. And 13 Russian nationals have been indicted for conspiring to commit fraud and violation of American election laws among other charges.

What should concern even the most ardent Trump supporter in that indictment is the detailed description of the disinformation campaign that operated throughout the primaries and general election campaigns, illegally spending as much as $1.2 million a month to push fake news on social media.

On its surface, the effort was to help Trump and hurt Clinton, but underneath was a secondary goal – sowing division among Americans.

“A witness to our committee said, ‘They take a crack in our society and turn it into a chasm.’ ”

By the time King saw evidence of these attacks, he had already become familiar with the techniques that were employed.

Several weeks before the election, King met with a group of diplomats from the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who described how their elections had been disrupted by Russian interference in exactly the same way. As Election Day approached, their candidates and had to fend off false charges that were flooding nontraditional media channels.

The best defense, they suggested, is to make sure the people know what’s happening so they won’t be taken in so easily.

And that’s why Trump’s dismissal of the evidence is so dangerous. The country is easier to manipulate when too many of us refuse to understand what the game is.

King is right when he says that we need an all-government response to attacks on our election system. The logical person to lead that effort would be the president.

But before that can happen, he would first need to tell his supporters that he believes we have a problem.

filed under: