Here’s the alternate reality we seem to be living in these days.
As David Remick wrote in the New Yorker, in the course of a single European journey, President Trump met with leaders of Western Europe and declared them “foes;” fractured long-standing military, economic and political alliances; and absolved Russia of its documented attempts to undermine the 2016 election.
And, that might not have been the most unbelievable memory of the week.
The televised “clarification” on Tuesday from the White House Cabinet Room was an incredible display of back-tracking.
Facing blistering bipartisan criticism after Monday’s press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and no doubt pressured into damage control mode by his aides, President Trump walked back his comments from Monday that disparaged our intelligence services and their conclusion that the Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 election.
As he tried to clean up his self-inflicted mess, Trump had his head bowed as he laboriously read from a prepared statement. When he does that, he speaks with the reluctant tone of a child placed in the corner who’s ordered to repeat, “I promise not to steal cookies from the lunch line ...”
One can only surmise that advisers convinced our nation’s leader that it wasn’t a good idea to have clearly stated to the world: “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia.”
He said Tuesday he meant to say “wouldn’t.” I imagine his handlers couldn’t come up with any better way to save face.
It reminded me of Bill Clinton rambling in front of a 1998 grand jury, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word is ... is.”
Support seems to be growing for a bill giving Congress the power to impose new sanctions on Russia if it interferes in the midterm elections. This comes after the U.S. Justice Department on Friday indicted 12 Russian agents accused of taking part in a hacking scheme intended to disrupt the U.S. election.
House Speaker Paul Ryan mentioned intelligence indicating that Russia has been known to do this around the world — in France, the Baltics. It’s all part of Russia’s attempt to delegitimize democracy, itself.
And, unlike the president, Ryan warned that Russia would do it again and must be stopped.
There’s been much speculation about Russia “having something” on Trump that makes him cozy up to them. But, I really think it simply comes down to this: our president is so insecure that he can’t distinguish the difference between collusion and Russian interference. You can admit there is meddling, but that doesn’t have to mean it undermines his election.
Yet, admitting there was meddling, in his mind, does undermine the outcome. He’s too egocentric to allow himself to admit there was influence because it diminishes the glory from his great victory.
It may not be anything more than that. A lot of us aren’t saying the meddling changed the outcome — heck, James Comey did his share there — but heaven forbid anyone even have a chance to consider that it did.
To their credit, Iowa Republican Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley commented late Monday about their disappointment in the Finland press conference. Grassley said the charges in Friday’s indictments “strike at the core of our democracy” and that the president missed an opportunity for a show of strength when he appeared to accept Putin’s denial of interference.
By now, we all know that Trump lacks in talking deep specifics of any issue, so I wonder if Sen. Ernst really believed what she was saying in the following statement.
“I hope that President Trump, today, delivered a strong message behind closed doors that Russia will continue to be punished for their illegal annexation of Ukraine in 2014, their abhorrent support for the murderous Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and their aggressive actions in U.S. domestic policy,” Ernst said. “I am also hopeful President Trump discussed Russia’s role in the Balkans, as Iowa’s sister state, Kosovo, continues to be threatened by Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics in Serbia.”
Really, you think the conversation strolled down those avenues? Precision is not part of Trump’s repertoire.
After the summit, Trump only mentioned how Putin “spoke strongly.” He had the same assessment of Kim Jong-un. As George Will noted in a column Wednesday, Trump seems to have a weak man’s banal fascination with “strong” and powerful men. Oppressive despots, in other words.
Will says Trump hangs his hat on his perceived image by his base that he’s a business genius who built an empire on his own, and will translate those “skills” to a vibrant American economy. (Meanwhile, the tariffs are crippling the nation’s agriculture community.)
Will says Trump fears making his tax returns public, so he can hang on to the “tacky charisma of wealth.” That would evaporate if his tax returns revealed that he has lied about his wealth, too. It’s his image kryptonite.
So, now what?
Stay tuned, because it’s interesting that cameras at Tuesday’s walk-back statement showed a crossed out sentence in the prepared statement about “bringing the perpetrators who attacked the United States to justice.”
On Wednesday, Sarah Sanders seemed to be in backtrack mode again, after it appeared Trump said, “No,” when asked by a reporter if Russia was still targeting the United States. She said he was saying “no” to answering questions.
Meanwhile, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, issued a statement Monday about Russia’s ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy through cyberattacks.
The stakes seem a little high for our national leaders to not be on the same page.
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