I’m as repulsed by Trump’s behavior during the marionette performance that was this week’s joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, but I’m not pinning any hopes on it making an real change. Here are five reasons why:
- The CIA and FBI are not our friends. Yes, it’s terribly embarrassing for a president to disavow the findings of his own intelligence agencies. And, to be clear, they are probably right: Russia tried to influence the US presidential election with help from inside world of Trump. So I’m not saying that they’re wrong like they were wrong about the facts, which got us into the pointless, destructive, terrorist-spawning invasion of Iraq, which also squandered so much of our world power, in addition to lives lost. I’m saying that they are wrong as in they are immoral.
- We can’t ask the intelligence community to do what voters ought to do: bring Trump down. Even if this scandal leads to his impeachment, it’s the job of the people to bring presidents to power and remove him. None of this erases the fact that 60 million Americans are deplorable. (Yeah, I mean that.)
- Russia tried to interfere in our election? No shit. Trump is an power hungry, immoral, has lots of skeletons in his closet, is a narcissist who can be flattered and manipulated, and does not value anything beyond his own gain. That’s why the RNC should never have allowed him to step forward. “Character matters” because character weaknesses make someone vulnerable to manipulation. Trump is extremely vulnerable. Which is why the KGB tried to recruit him FORTY YEARS AGO. They knew then what the rest of us have known for months and some Republicans* seems to be understanding now: a man with obligations to anyone or any ideals will betray us without even understanding it is a betrayal.
- Americans have no right to be upset by meddling in elections in other nations. The history of US “intervention” in democratic processes elsewhere is long. If you think Trump and Putin are repugnant, you don’t get to praise Ronald Reagan. Most of the time, the US is the “foreign influence.” And this cuts across party: Remember that one reason that Hondurans are risking their lives to come to the US is because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, under President Obama, undermined democracy there, lifted up supporters of a coup, and contributed to an uptick in violence in one of the most violent places on earth. Yeah, sure, I’d rather have her as president and the choice between Trump and Clinton was a real one. But while Trump is uniquely stupid for a US president, he’s not uniquely disrespectful of democracy.
- And Republicans have no authority to be upset now. So Trump stepped on stage with his puppetmaster? That’s not new information. Nothing in Helsinki was new. We already knew all of this. And the Republicans that are being trotted out to be outraged–they’re McCain, Flake, and Kasich. Paul Ryan can only muster a recognition that Russia interfered–that is, he agrees with our intelligence agencies. That’s not criticism of Trump’s lies or obsequious behavior. The Republicans who have strongly condemned his toadying have been “Never Trumpers” all along–except when it means voting with Trump’s agenda or doing anything that would actually stop him. (To Republicans who wonder if it’s fair to ask a Republican to vote against Trump’s policies just to spite him, when, in fact, they support those policies, the answer is: yes. Otherwise, you are just teaching him that awful behavior still gets rewarded.) They could actually do something–especially Flake–other than talk. (What could Flake do? Run in Arizona, knowing he will lose, in order to prevent a Trump-backed candidate from winning. But he won’t, because, while Flake likes to say he can’t support Trump, what he won’t do is stop a Trumpian candidate who could actually take office. Thanks for nothing, bub.)
Above, Jeff Darcy’s political cartoon for the Cleveland Plain Dealer shows a giant bear and a tiny elephant behind two podiums labeled “Helsinki 2018.” The bear wears a pin that says “I <heart> Trump Honey” and holds a leash that rings the neck of the elephant, which has a squinty face and blonde hair. The cartoon is labeled “The Elephant and the Bear in the Room.”
One of our favorite family car games is to play an alternate reality game: one person poses a historical counterfactual, and then we imagine the consequences. (Our family’s love of history and foreign policies has occupied us for thousands and thousands of miles.) What would have happened if Truman hadn’t dropped bombs on Japan? If Reagan hadn’t intervened in Nicaragua or had supported the Sandistas? If George HW Bush hadn’t invaded Iraq? If Robert Mugabe had stepped aside earlier? To that list, we are adding the question: What would happen if the US had had a fair and trustworthy election in 2016? If Republicans had voted for nation over party?
*I want to see Trump collaborators in Congress saying no to Trump now: strong words from members of Congress who are willing to step forward and say, “I was wrong to support him, and I will no longer do so, and I will make it my goal to prevent his re-election.” I’d love to be wrong, but I would put money instead on Republicans working hard to ignore this.