May 6, 2019 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Hammer the Mafia-State President
Hammer him till there’s no room to talk about anything else.
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I’ve never seen a president more obsequious to a weak foreign leader than Donald Trump is to Vladimir Putin. Many don’t believe Kremlin sabotage of our sovereignty was a big deal. They might believe it’s “fake news.” (After all, some eat, drink and sleep Fox News.) But that doesn’t make it less true. The Democrat candidates should therefore hammer this president until there’s no room to talk about anything else.
I get it. Seriously, I get it. The Democratic candidates hope to assail Trump and the Republican Party on various and sundry bread-and-butter issues, like health care, opioids, drug prices, and whatnot. They will. I have no doubt about that. But hammering a president’s servile posture toward an enemy isn’t separate from bread-and-butter issues. They are a part of a deeper campaign arsenal. Or should be.
Trump has assaulted our civic religion, violated human rights, undermined law enforcement, accepted “emoluments,” betrayed friends, befriended foes, fomented discord and otherwise conducted himself lawlessly and maliciously as well as maligned his oath of office not because he’s a authoritarian mastermind (ha!) but because he’s amoral and deeply corrupt. In that, he’s almost identical to the head of a country in which it’s impossible to tell the difference between the government and criminal underworld. Putin, as the experts say, is one such leader. Russia is a mafia state.
If the president were smarter and wilier, he’d make it so the fetid rot of his criminal mind were less obvious. He can’t, though, and anyway, getting away with something you’re not supposed to, or demonstrating to the suckers and rubes that he can’t be touched, is part of his image and identity. As a result, Trump spent a hour on the phone Friday with Putin, kibitzing about this and that, sharing a laugh about Robert Mueller and the “Russian hoax,” and never once bringing up that Putin’s goons “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
Why doesn’t Trump retaliate against Russia for its “sweeping and systematic” interference in our affairs? Answer: He doesn’t want to.
The telephone call was front page news, because, as the Times reported, it “illustrated yet again the deep disconnect between Mr. Trump’s personal treatment of Mr. Putin and his administration’s more hard-edge relations with the Russian government.”
That’s a nice and rather bland way of putting it. The Democrats should not be so nice or so bland. They should say what needs saying. Trump did not win on his own. Kremlin operatives abetted his campaign. Don’t believe it? Why doesn’t he retaliate against Russia for its “sweeping and systematic” interference in our affairs? Answer: He doesn’t want to. Why? If he retaliates, Trump might lose in 2020. That’s just what you’d expect from a mafia-state president. Is that what American voters want?
Even the president’s archest defenders do not contest Robert Mueller’s findings. The part they avoid talking about is the part about Russian sabotage targeting the Democrat and helping the Republican. This should put Republican office holders as well as Republican and independent voters in a quandary that the Democratic candidates can exploit to some degree. Adam Schiff has established a constructive framing. In March, he said: “You might say [Russian ties are] just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic, and yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion” (my italics).
Authoritarianism and corruption are the same. One begets the other; one amplifies and justifies the other. The same goes for collusion and obstruction. If Trump worried that voters might see him as illegitimate as a result of Russian interference, he’d have incentive to obstruct an investigation into Russia’s interference. Indeed, given his many ties to that country, his incentives abounded. The Mueller report found that:
a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns. Although the President publicly stated during and after the election that he had no connection to Russia, the Trump Organization, through Michael Cohen, was pursuing the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project through June 2016 and candidate Trump was repeatedly briefed on the progress of those efforts (from pages 76 and 77; italics are mine).
I think the Democratic candidates are getting it. Joe Biden launched his campaign as a fight for the heart and soul of America. He said over the weekend that foreign leaders have called him for reassurance. Theresa May even asked if the US and the UK “still have a special relationship,” according to the AP. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren said Mueller “demonstrated conclusively that Russia attacked our electoral system with the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” Amy Klobuchar echoed that, saying:
What I would say when I’m president to Vladimir Putin is that we’ve got your number, I’ve got the FBI after you, I’ve got the CIA looking at all of this, I’ve figured out what you guys are up to and we’re going to protect our elections and we’re going to put increasing sanctions on against you.
To this, I say more, please. Hammer the mafia-state president.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Trump Injures America 10,000 Times (public)
Lying with such frequency and malice
New Era of Apartheid Politics (public)
The long era of bipartisan compromise is dead.
Barr’s Obstruction of Congress (public)
He swore to tell the whole truth. He didn’t.
Barr Is Asking for Punishment (public)
The Democrats should oblige him.
A Good Hill for Dems to Die On (public)
Trump is not a monarch. He must be held accountable.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.