Students of democracy note three trends since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The first was the spread of democracy throughout parts of the world formerly ruled by authoritarian governments. The second was a counteroffensive by the redoubts of authoritarianism to insulate themselves from that wave. The third and most recent trend is a concerted effort by remaining autocrats to contain and combat democracy on a global level. Rather than just trying to block the spread of democracy within their own countries, those governments are now actively working to project influence beyond their borders in ways that undermine democratic impulses. One of the most disturbing phenomena of 2016 was the success of that effort. The struggle between democrats and authoritarians will likely be the defining fight of the year to come.

One example of the third wave was the alleged Russian effort to undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process in the United States, a project that stunned many observers. Even without physically impacting the voting process, hackers that some believe to be associated with the government in Moscow shaped the election environment in ways that many respected observers believe affected the outcome. Doubters could look at Russian meddling in Central European elections to see a pattern and find confirmation of Moscow's intent.

In addition to funding parties sympathetic to Moscow, Russia has also attempted to subvert the election process of other countries by spreading propaganda and hacking databases and institutions to selectively leak information that could influence voters. Elections in Ukraine, Montenegro and Italy have Russian fingerprints on them, and more of the same is expected when Germany, France and the Netherlands go to the polls in 2017.