I think Jimmy Carter once said he’d never lie to us. Well, that’s nice, but we really don’t want our presidents to be too excruciatingly truthful. We certainly don’t want them to blurt out state secrets. We do expect them, at all times, to stand up for this country and its values and its vital interests.
In that sense, yes: America first.
But we don’t expect them to stand up in front of the world and allow that our intelligence services may be OK, but “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial” that Russia conducted an elaborate campaign to meddle with our 2016 election. Not when our intelligence agencies are unanimous that they did it. Not when indictments have been handed down with chapter and verse, and names, ranks and unit numbers of the Russian agents involved.
“Extremely strong and powerful”? Is that why, last Monday in Helsinki, Mr. Trump looked like a dog that had just been whipped by its master?
He stood there with Vladimir Putin and gave equal weight to both sides: Maybe it was Russia that attacked our democracy, maybe not. That’s Vladimir Putin, a tyrant without whose nod nothing important happens in Russia; who made war on Ukraine through a plausibly deniable third-party army; who supplied the missile with which that army shot down a Malaysian airliner, killing 298 people. That’s Vladimir Putin, whose enemies have a remarkable tendency to wind up either behind bars or dead, whether from a bomb in their office or a fall from a fifth-floor window or a shooting on the streets of Moscow or a poisoning on the streets of the United Kingdom.
As for “No collusion!” — which Mr. Trump has said a hundred times — I care less about that than about the fact that he can’t seem to face the undeniable fact that the Russians tried to steer the election in his favor.
On Tuesday, though, Mr. Trump did some back-pedaling, claiming that he had simply misspoken in Helsinki, leaving the “n’t” off of “wouldn’t,” which was supposed to make him look slightly less weak.
(After all, what’s one “not” or “n’t” more or less? Can we really be sure that Moses got it right when he came down from the mountaintop with those tablets that said things like “Thou shalt not kill”? The Commandments may have been carved in stone, but maybe they got mischiseled. Maybe it was supposed to say “Thou Shalt Kill” and “Thou shalt steal.”)
Anyway, on Tuesday Mr. Trump finally conceded that the Russians did the deed, but he couldn’t resist adding: “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
Yes, Mr. President, there certainly are a lot of people out there; around seven billion, all told. And among them there may very well be the 400-pound hacker, sitting on his bed, that you theorized during one of the presidential debates. (“I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people.”)
Why is the president of the United States being so weirdly submissive to the president of Russia? Is he out of touch with reality?
Well, that would depend on what the meaning of “is” is.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.