I don't believe in conspiracies until I find proof to support them. I find guilt-by-association arguments illogical and unfair, overused by politicians and pundits alike.
But the theory that Russia facilitated the leaking of tens of thousands of emails, some of them damning, from the Democratic National Committee, cannot be dismissed as trifling.
There is, in fact, real evidence that the DNC email system was hacked by a branch of the Russian military intelligence service. There is real evidence that the hacker who leaked the documents, known as "Guccifer," has ties to the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has not coherently explained how Europe should handle the Russian incursion into Ukraine, nor has he expressed a definitive view on whether Vladimir Putin has a claim to parts of that country. But Trump has certainly spoken admirably of Putin. "He's running his country and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country," Trump said on MSNBC's Morning Joe back in December.
Trump's intention to gut NATO's charter — until NATO countries pay up, somehow — and to undermine the collective strength that serves as a deterrent to Russia is also now on the record.
Putin's nationalism is not always irrational. His view of recent history is comprehensible. His desire to restore luster to the Russian brand is excusable. But Putin's tactics, his cult of personality, his persecution of enemies, the murder of journalists and harassment of political dissidents, his racism, xenophobia, corruption — all that is execrable. His designs on the Baltic states inject fear into an already jittery Europe. He is not a force for stability. All of which means the next U.S. president has hard choices to make.
I don't believe that Trump is wittingly doing the bidding of the Russian Federation or its security and enmeshed governmental and corporate interests. There is no evidence that Trump is unduly influenced by Putin himself. (And the Trump campaign denies that is has anything to do with the hack.)
But it's fair to say the Kremlin believes it would be able to prosecute Putin's policies with vigor and ease with Trump as president. It's not an unwarranted stretch to believe that Putin has heard nothing from Trump's mouth or from his campaign that would give him pause.
That, in and of itself, shouldn't be a huge problem. Foreign leaders have interests, too. If they decide that one candidate is better for them than another, then it would stand to reason that they translate that preference into policy. Here's what logic says: Just because Putin thinks Trump would be a better president for him doesn't mean that Trump would actually go easy on Russia, or that Trump thinks the same about Putin.
But if it has become Russian policy to try and influence the election of the next president of the United States, then we, as citizens, should at least be aware of that intervention.
And now we are. Because Russia really does seem to be intervening on behalf of Donald Trump.