No, It's Not Worth It

From the Weekly Standard:

George Will has described Donald Trump as a “Vesuvius of mendacities.” But as we have discovered in the last 24 hours, we have failed to grasp the full scope of his volcanic recklessness; his obsequiousness, his dishonesty, his willingness to insult his own country, all the while suggesting a moral equivalency between Vladimir Putin’s thugocracy and American democracy.

It seems only moments ago that Republicans derided Barack Obama’s “apology tour.” But that has been replaced by Donald Trump’s Groveling Tour, a peculiar combination of bullying our friends and fawning on our enemies. Monday’s summit seems destined to be recorded in the annals of diplomatic folly, with geopolitical consequences that will last far longer than our own frenetic attention spans.

By now it is almost tedious to point out the contrast between Trump’s disdain for the leaders of our closest allies and his fascination with the world’s most thuggish and violent dictators. What we have learned again is that at the heart of every truculent and strutting bully is a craven sycophant eager to cower before a bigger bully.

On Monday, Trump found that bigger bully and his cowering was the embarrassment heard round the world.

The president did not merely insult and dismiss members of his own administration (Dan Coats) and attacked the institutions of his own government on foreign soil (the FBI and DoJ), he also demeaned his own country, all in order to curry favor with a bloody martinet, who is aggressively attacking us.

Trump’s performance was so bizarre that it seemed to leave many of his media courtiers (temporarily) speechless and caused otherwise sober analysts to wonder whether in fact the notorious “pee tape,” was really a thing. Standing in the presence of a man who had ordered an attack on the American political system, Trump gave a master class in capitulation. The Washington Post reported:

HELSINKI — President Trump refused to support the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying at the end of his summit here Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the autocrat privately gave him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial. 

After Putin claimed his government played no role in trying to sabotage the U.S. election, as the Justice Department charged last Friday in indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democratic emails as part of a broad subterfuge operation, Trump offered no pushback. He went on to condemn the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country.” 

By dismissing the investigation into Russian meddling, just days after a dozen GRU agents were indicted by his own government Trump sent a clear and dangerous message:

[It] gives governments and other actors everywhere license, when presented with a U.S. indictment, legal judgment, or request for cooperation, to dismiss it with an airy “fake news.” It specifically communicates to Putin that he needn’t worry about the U.S. Executive branch gearing up new sanctions or intelligence responses to the indictments. And it is a devastating repudiation of the commitment of tens of thousands of Americans who work for these parts of the government. 

In a sign of the poverty of our historical imagination, Trump’s performance is frequently compared to Neville Chamberlain. But this is unfair to Chamberlain, who, although deeply wrongheaded, was in fact a serious and patriotic man. Trump’s performance in Helsinki was something else altogether, a performance so servile that we struggle to place it in context, because there are no parallels in the history of the American presidency.

So what are we to make of our president, who relishes insulting and humiliating the leaders of western democracies, but truckles to dictators? We simply do not know (and it remains dangerous to speculate) whether the Russians have “kompromat” on Trump. Perhaps the reality is worse; maybe Trump really believes all of this and genuinely admires what Putin represents.

The ironies are almost too rich: Some of us are old enough to remember when Trump’s primary appeal was that “he fights.” David French recalls a conversation with one supporter:

The reality is that Trump caves and apologizes, and kowtows. The Man on the White Horse who alone can solve all of our problems turns out to be the guy who yearns to hold Vlad’s umbrella.

One final point: Since President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Trump supporters and enablers alike have claimed vindication. Last week, there was a tangible sense of triumphalism as they denounced Trump skeptics for failing to understand that Gorsuch/Kavanaugh somehow made it all worth it.

But Monday in Helsinki reminded us that as valuable as the court may be, it’s not worth it; not worth the mendacity, the pusillanimous appeasement, the debasement of the presidency, the castration of the Congress, the mockery of decency, the assault on truth, the air of thuggery and corruption in Trumpian politics, and the diminishment of our role in the world.