While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked …
— Bob Dylan
“I’m here today to continue the proud tradition of bold American diplomacy,” said Donald Trump at the outset of his July 16 press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. It went downhill rapidly from there.
“Proud” is not the word being bandied about in most corners of the United States today. “Mortified” and “Terrified” would be closer to the mark. In the roiling aftermath of Trump’s performance with Putin in Finland, the people of this country — especially the ones who supported Trump — have come face to face yet again with the horror of this thing we have unleashed upon ourselves.
In the weeks ahead, much will hinge on the manner in which ardent Trump voters respond to what went down, and by proxy, how the politicians who represent them likewise respond.
“America First,” goes the Trumpian refrain on an endless loop (even as Trump’s daughter deals in Chinese goods and his resorts seek underpaid immigrant labor). It’s a nationalist rallying cry that never fails to whip the president’s supporters into a froth at his virtually fact-free rallies.
Was that “America First” on display yesterday? I know Trump supporters have been led to believe the FBI is nothing more than a giant hive of anti-Trump activity, but really, just how deep does this so-called “Deep State” conspiracy go? Is the CIA in on it, too, and the NSA, and the other intelligence branches, and the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, and the White House director of national intelligence, and a busload of Republican members of congress . . . all of them are in on it and out to get Trump?
That’s pretty goddamn deep. Occam’s Razor tells us the simplest explanation is almost always the correct one. Apply the Razor to what went down in Helsinki, and the simplest explanation does not involve some Byzantine pan-dimensional plot to make Donald Trump look bad. Rather, we have the fairly straightforward tale of a failed real estate mogul who has owed his financial well-being to shady Russian financiers since long before he decided to run for president. They did their part to get him elected in 2016, and now the bill is coming due.
On that bill: Trash every Western alliance and trade deal Trump can get his hands on, destabilize NATO, praise his Russian friends to the skies, and as soon as possible, get rid of those darned sanctions. If you think this sounds farfetched, you didn’t see what happened in Helsinki. Donald Trump was not the president of the United States yesterday. He was, by all appearances and according to an ever-increasing pile of evidence, an asset sitting with his handler.
Even the folks at Fox News could not stomach what they saw. Neil Cavuto called Trump’s behavior “disgusting,” Trish Regan called it “horrible,” Brit Hume called him “lame,” and Stuart Varney along with several other notable Fox personalities could only agree. Putin “outmaneuvered our president” Ashley Webster said. Abby Huntsman, when confronted with the argument that it was all a negotiation tactic, said, “No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus.”
That, right there, is the canary in the coal mine. If Trump can’t get Fox to cover for him, he is well and truly way out there in the blue.
Speaking of damage, here’s some more to contemplate: Because Donald Trump does not want to be indicted for a variety of serious crimes, he has rearranged reality in a way that has left many liberals and progressives expected to view the US intelligence community — specifically the elements empowered to investigate Trump — as a clutch of wounded victims, beleaguered “good guys” just trying to do their jobs under brutally unfair circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t want to work for a Trump-run government, either, but for the luvva crumbcake, really? The US intelligence community — by and large, foreign and domestic — is among the most dangerous, lawless collections of humanity ever assembled. Trump is a preposterous menace, but the FBI wrote the book on crushing civil liberties, the CIA topples governments and the NSA has your phone number. The idea that they are what passes for the “good guys” these days means we, too, are way out there in the blue.
And then there’s this. Please read the following out loud to give it the full force and effect it requires:
Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press: My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell President Putin — would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?
Trump: So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server and what is the server saying?
Every one of those words is English. I understand them all individually. Strung together and heavily seasoned with the bent spices of far-right conspiracy kitchens where nonsense is prepped and served in ample portions, what we have is simply gibberish. God only knows what Trump said in private with Putin. If the Russians recorded their conversation, not an unlikely possibility, one can only imagine the blackmail material they have now . . . especially if Trump is as guilty as he looked on Monday in Helsinki.
If the Russians have audio of Trump admitting in any way to knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the “Pee Tape” will be left in deep shade. He has gotten away with being unspeakably gross ten dozen times by now. A digital recording of treason, however, might actually be enough to motivate the Republicans in Congress to actually act.
Republican Senator John McCain led the GOP pushback against Trump’s Finland calamity with a blunt and brutal assessment: “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
McCain’s critique is all well and good, but in truth he is also deeply responsible for this mess: He paved the way for a Trump presidency by elevating Sarah Palin to national prominence, an act that introduced the US to the idea that a wholly unqualified right-wing noise machine could actually run the country. He should now sit back and own this mess right alongside enablers like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
The GOP has been slow-cooking this Trump stew for 40 years and now they’re suddenly shocked (shocked!) to find the meat rancid and the vegetables rotten. It must be difficult to shave if you can’t look in the mirror, but then again, that suggests a sense of shame. They left that behind a long time ago.
Republicans in Congress have hauled enough water for Donald Trump to topple the Hoover Dam. Now, they have a decision to make, and we are all going to find out what kind of country this is very soon. Silence is acceptance, obedience is surrender, and time is growing mortally short.