July 19, 2018 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Trump Is Telling Us He’s Illegitimate
A president with a track-record of projecting is telling us something. Are we listening?
One thing I never understood about Donald Trump’s approach to the Russia investigation is why he keeps saying nothing happened when we know it did.
He could have taken a different approach from the beginning. Something like this: We are going to get to the bottom of this scandal to ensure that hostile foreign governments never again violate our sovereignty and the will of the people.
He’d have to explain why the Kremlin helped him while hindering his rival. He’d have to accept to some degree that his presidency isn’t quite legitimate. But in defending electoral integrity and the rule of law, Trump could have charted a course to legitimacy, even as the investigation continued to bring down key campaign figures.
In short, Donald Trump could have done what President Richard Nixon did from the outset of the Watergate scandal. He favored getting to the bottom of things, because, Nixon said, “people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.”
Well, Trump isn’t Nixon. The president has from the start accused the FBI’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller of conducting a “WITCH HUNT.” He has from the start vacillated between accepting and rejecting the unanimous conclusion that Crypto-Czar Vladimir Putin ordered information warfare against Hillary Clinton. On Wednesday, he said the Kremlin stopped hacking the US. In fact, it continues.
I raise all this in light of a report published last night by the New York Times. It is nothing short of explosive. Two weeks before Trump’s inauguration, intelligence chiefs gathered together to show the president-elect incontrovertible evidence that Putin ordered a campaign to move US public opinion by way of social media to get Trump elected. In other words, the president has known the truth for months, and every time he said he did not know, he was lying. From the Times:
The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.
Like I said, the report is explosive. You are going to be hearing more about in the coming days. For the purposes of today’s newsletter, however, I can’t help wondering why—why does Trump continue to lie about something the truth of which he surely knew would be revealed in time. Turns out the Times report offers a theory:
In the run-up to this week’s ducking and weaving, Mr. Trump has done all he can to suggest other possible explanations for the hacks into the American political system. His fear, according to one of his closest aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is that any admission of even an unsuccessful Russian attempt to influence the 2016 vote raises questions about the legitimacy of his presidency (my italics).
Are you familiar with the Twitter phenomenon known as “There’s always a tweet?” This refers to the vast archive of pre-presidential tweeting in which then-candidate Trump accused someone of doing something he would go on to do as president. Put another way: Trump tends to project. If there’s anything constant in this chaotic White House, it’s the fact that Trump accuses people of doing things that he’s doing.
Apply this psychological phenomenon to his reported fear of being seen as an illegitimate president. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assert that a president with a proven track-record of projecting is telling us something: that he isn’t legitimate.
Many will argue that for Trump to be truly illegitimate that the Russians would have to have altered individual votes. That’s bunk. All they had to do was move public opinion against Clinton in three key states: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Don’t take my word for it. One of the people who told Trump he was the beneficiary of the Russian attack was James Clapper. In May, the former director of national intelligence was on PBS Newshour, where he said: “To me, it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election, and it’s my belief they actually turned it.”
Again, why has Trump been lying to us when he surely knew the truth would be revealed in time? Well, maybe he hasn’t been lying. Maybe he was telling us.
The question is: are we listening?
As you know, the Editorial Board believes that politics is simpler and more complex than most people realize. That’s why the newsletter is published every day, right on top of the news cycle, to bring you up to speed and (we hope) much-needed clarity. This is a lot of work, work that has value. So please take a moment to think about this:
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.