Alan Zendell, July 18, 2018
We’ve all had two days to absorb the Helsinki press conference in which Russian President Putin smirked and our president misread the expression as a friendly smile. No doubt we’ve all formed our opinions about it, and heard the denunciations of President Trump’s apparent inability to accept the findings of his own security people. We all saw him bend over backwards to praise his Russian counterpart – it’s a wonder he didn’t rupture his spine. After the abuse he heaped on NATO and our closest allies, what was the world to think about his infatuation with the man who is potentially America’s most dangerous adversary?
It was no surprise to most Americans that master manipulator Putin was able to run circles around Trump, much the way a scheming, manipulative seductress can hold an infatuated male in complete thrall. What does it say about our president that his need for approval from dictators and autocrats continually overwhelms his judgment? He seems almost rapturous when Putin is near.
The critical takeaways from Helsinki haven’t been realized yet. The essential question is whether the Republican leadership has seen enough, or if not, how much it will take for integrity to win out over self-interest. They’re in a tough spot. There’s a Congressional election coming up in just over a hundred days, and Trump’s base of support appears to dominate the Republican Party.
There was a time in America when people in power put the country over party loyalty and their own political futures. In 1973 a corrupt, dysfunctional president (Richard Nixon, if you’re too young to remember) created a constitutional crisis that would have torn the nation, already badly divided over Vietnam, completely apart. Disaster was averted when Attorney General Eliot Richardson and his Deputy William Ruckelshaus resigned. Think of it! Two politicians at the very pinnacles of their careers quit in protest with no assurance that they weren’t destroying their futures.
Paul Ryan has already announced that he’s leaving the Congress and Mitch McConnell isn’t running for re-election in November, and yet neither of them has been willing to speak out forcefully against the actions of this president, though neither has any use for him. Clearly, their priority is assuring a voting majority in the House and Senate after November, when it should be assuring the health and security of the nation.
The primaries are over and the candidates have been chosen. Each of them will have the same choice ahead of them in the coming months. Will they do their jobs as prescribed by the Constitution or will they permit a dangerous. erratic president to rule as an autocrat? Trump governs by threat and intimidation, and this election may well turn on who shows a willingness to stand up to him regardless of party dictates.
Distinguished Conservative commentator George Will may have said it best today: “Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him.” I said much the same thing last week in The Evolution of Trump, if not as eloquently. Richard Clarke who worked as Counter-terrorism chief and National Security advisor to presidents Reagan, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton said on PBS last night that the fascination referred to by Will has essentially turned Trump into a “controlled asset” of the Russians who feels compelled to act the way Putin wants him to.
That speaks volumes about our President. He’s like every other bully who acts tough until he meets someone who possesses the strength he wishes he had himself. In fact, Trump is the opposite of the man he worships, and once again Will said it much better than I could have when he described him as “This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”
It’s almost too much to contemplate – our president is an ego-driven man with an unquenchable lust for power who at his core simply melts when he encounters real strength. We saw it with Chinese President Xi, with North Korean dictator Kim, and we’ve seen and heard it since the day Trump announced he was running for president with Putin.
Not for the first time, Will also raised the question of when the Republican leadership would finally decide enough was enough. He characterized them as possessing “the peculiar strength that comes from being incapable of embarrassment.”
Maybe that should be our litmus test in evaluating candidates this year. Don’t vote for anyone until you know what it takes to make him or her blush.