The real threat is disunity

Many Americans, perhaps millions, became unwitting tools of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Some remain susceptible to Russian meddling.

There was no conspiracy between the Kremlin and President Donald Trump’s camp during the 2016 campaign — special counsel Robert Mueller came to that conclusion after an exhaustive investigation.

But the probe also confirmed that Russian operatives worked then — and continue to do so — in attempts to foment divisiveness among Americans.

That’s worth repeating: Their purpose is to divide us, and thus weaken us.

Prior to the 2016 election, they pulled out all the stops, to the point of arranging public protests by both Republicans and Democrats who, at the time, did not know they were being used.

Social media has proven to be fertile ground for the Russians to spread phony claims about government and individual politicians. Too often, those “news” reports, revelations of “cover-ups” and outrageous photographs you may have seen were pure propaganda with no basis in fact.

Both our government and some social media companies have become more sophisticated in spotting Russian online propaganda and, sometimes, shutting it down. But beyond any reasonable doubt, the Kremlin will find ways to continue its cyberspace campaign to pit us against one another.

Veterans of the news business learn, sometimes through painful experience, that if a story seems too outrageous to be true, it may, indeed, be false. That is why, when we hear of such a report, we are especially cautious about verifying it.

But for many in the public, eager to find “dirt” on those they disagree with politically or socially, there are few or no constraints on what they are willing to believe. Divisiveness has become a vicious cycle.

And the Kremlin loves it.

That, not the now-disproven claim the Trump campaign was in league with Putin, is the real threat from Russia.

It’s sad to say, but these foreign operatives must have found that it isn’t hard to pit Americans against each other. Unlike people in many countries, we have much freedom to disagree — and we take advantage of it.

But Americans have also shown, historically, that we can come together with a deep, mighty strength that can only come from free people choosing to work together for the good of all humanity. It’s time for us to look beyond partisan differences, learn to live with each other and rededicate ourselves to our common purpose.