The alarming response to Russian meddling in American democracy

And that is what is, or should be, so unsettling. Russian interference in elections across the Western world is like a nasty virus, attacking the body politic. Normally, America is protected by powerful, bipartisan immune responses against such a menace. It also boasts some of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence and cyber-defences, and when spooks tell the Republicans and Democrats who lead Congress and sit on the House and Senate intelligence committees of hostile acts by a foreign power, love of country generates a unified response. That immune response is not kicking in this time.

The problem is not that all Republicans in Congress dismiss the claim that Russia tried to meddle in the election. Committee chairmen have promised urgent hearings. “We cannot allow foreign governments to interfere in our democracy,” said Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and no friend of Russia, told reporters: “Everybody that I know, unclassified, has said that the Russians interfered in this election. They hacked into my campaign in 2008; is it a surprise to anyone?” The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Devin Nunes of California, has said that he believes Russia is guilty, but then turned his fire on the Obama administration, saying that President Barack Obama’s desire for a “reset” of relations with Moscow had led him and his spy chiefs to fail “to anticipate Putin’s hostile actions.” He grumbled that Team Obama had “ignored pleas by numerous Intelligence Committee members to take more forceful action against the Kremlin’s aggression.”

Yet Republicans are not conceding a more incendiary idea: that the authoritarian, anti-American government of Russia wanted Mr Trump to win. Mr Nunes, a prominent Trump supporter during the election, calls that “innuendo” based on “lots of circumstantial evidence, that’s it.” Other Republicans are taking the view that it is all very complicated and murky. “All this ‘news’ of Russian hacking: it has been going on for years,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Republican leadership, tweeted: “Serious, but hardly news.”