Trump, Putin, and the Plague on America

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One

In March of 1973, White House Counsel John Dean famously told Richard Nixon, “There’s a cancer on the presidency.” Dean referred, of course, to criminal actions taken on the president’s behalf, and the president’s involvement of a cover-up.

Today, there’s clearly a disease on the presidency—and on the entire Cabinet, and on the majority in Congress, as well. But more than that, the plague is overtaking the body politic. There’s a pox on all of our houses.

I recall when the Republican brand was a patriarchal vision dressed up in patriotism. Ironically (or not), it was that “love it or leave it” variety of American nationalism that led us to the abandonment of loyalty to the notion of American democracy—of an America led by Americans.

The people who voted for and support Donald Trump don’t care that Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation and no fan of democracy, has his hooks into the U.S. president, and may even have made the winning margin in Trump’s election. Love-it-or-leave-it nationalism draped a flag over a Petri dish of festering resentments over the changing shape of society: one in which black people gained political agency, women popped up here and there in positions of power, Native Americans demanded sovereignty over their lands, queer folk asserted their right to exist, and non-white people became more visible throughout the population. Moreover, sex was being reframed as something people do with each other instead of a means of control.

By the time Trump came along, the contents of the Petri dish were ripe; they no longer needed the veil. Trump yanked off the flag, unleashing those furies of racism, sexism, and homophobia against those who represented the change. For those already harboring various strains of these plagues in their nervous systems, the potent pathogenetic brew that Trump served up was exhilarating. Any allegiance, or even lip service, to the task of creating a more perfect union was cast off. So what if the murderous kleptocrat who runs Russia—an adversary of the United States—tipped the scales in favor of the sociopathic kleptomaniac who now runs the United States.

And for the private capitalists who built the network that now constitutes the infrastructure of the GOP, a kleptomaniac is a powerful, if imperfect, vehicle.

But it’s too easy to leave it all at the feet of greedy capitalists, racists, sexists, homophobes, and haters of every stripe. This one’s on all of us—or at least most of us. Class and race privilege offered many of us convenient blinders to the true state of things in America—to the outrages absorbed every day by people whose empowerment is opposed by the dominant culture. Our responses now look weak compared with the rampage of the plunderers who now run the show. While they loot the public commons, we hang all of our hopes on an upcoming election that may already have been stolen. This is not responsible opposition.

 

THE LAST WEEK has served up more than a dozen incidents and actions gleaned by the Trump administration from an authoritarian playbook, and we stand gobsmacked and inert.

Following the furor evoked by Trump’s press conference with Putin last week, the White House altered the transcript and video that appears on its website, eliminating a question from Reuters reporter Jeff Mason that rendered Putin’s answer incriminating with regard to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. (After the uproar, the White House updated its transcript.) The secretary of state appeared before a Senate committee, snarkily refusing to drop even a hint of what might have been discussed between Trump and Putin in a private meeting between the two. The White House has not released a read-out or a statement about the substance of that meeting.

The White House announced it would revoke the security clearances of former intelligence and law enforcement officials who have been critical of the president. (What First Amendment?) Its director of communications barred a pool reporter—who happened to be from CNN, the frequent target of presidential ire—from covering an open-press event. Her crime? She had dared to ask questions during an Oval Office photo op in the same manner as every pool reporter that ever lived has done.

The attorney general appeared before an audience of high school students, laughing appreciatively when they launched into a chant of “Lock her up!”—a chant popularized by Trump acolytes on the campaign trail after candidate Trump promised to put his opponent in prison if he won the election. 

The White House extended, and then withdrew, an invitation for Putin to visit the president in the Oval Office this fall. Better to wait until the “witch hunt” was over, said the president’s national security adviser. The so-called witch hunt, of course, is the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. 

In the meantime, a recording was released of Trump, while a candidate, arranging to pay off a former Playboy model, just months before the election, who claims to have had an affair with the man Putin helped win the presidency. And now the other voice on that recording—that of Trump’s erstwhile “fixer” Michael Cohen—is saying that Trump knew in advance of a much-discussed Trump Tower meeting between Putin cronies and the Trump campaign team that the Russians were promising “dirt” on the opponent Trump said he would imprison.

Amid the mayhem, the Plunder Project™ hummed along, with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross proposing to gut the Endangered Species Act (the better for mining, petroleum, and timber interests), and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos throwing a wrench in a debt-relief program for students who were defrauded by private colleges and other private education enterprises. Note that DeVos is sister to Erik Prince, who convened an intriguing meeting during the campaign in Seychelles, apparently to arrange a back-channel between Putin and Trump. Yes, the same Erik Prince who founded the infamous mercenary firm Blackwater.

And yet, it’s just another day in the week of the Trump administration. We sit before our TVs, mouths agape, while Russia sets out once again to aid the Republican Party in its voter-disenfranchisement regime in the upcoming congressional and gubernatorial elections.

 

TURNOUT WILL NO DOUBT be critical to determining the outcome of those elections, but it won’t be the whole deal—not when there still exist states, such as Georgia, where voting machines provide no paper record of a citizen’s vote. Notably, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that one of the Russian operatives recently indicted by the special counsel has been poking around the websites of county election systems in Georgia. 

The governor’s mansion in Georgia is up for grabs in November. If Democrat Stacey Abrams wins, she’ll be the first African American woman to ever win a gubernatorial election. If she loses, the post will go to Republican Brian Kemp who, as Georgia’s secretary of state, oversaw voter-roll purges that are part of the broader GOP voter-disenfranchisement effort.

Then there’s Missouri, where the same forces behind the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails attempted to get into the computers of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, according to a forensic analysis by The Daily Beast. McCaskill, a Democratic who has been critical of Russia, is facing a tough election in November against Republican Josh Hawley.

And as I write, Vladimir Putin has extended an invitation to Donald Trump to visit him at the Kremlin.

 

THE SITUATION IS DIRE. Radical action is required. Members of Congress who oppose the usurpation of the U.S. government by a domestic kleptomaniac and an adversarial foreign kleptocrat need to think like activists. The time may come soon when members of the Senate who oppose the procedural tactics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to enable the current and likely illegitimate president to smash the republic—well, those senators may need to stage a walk-out.

And people need to pour into the streets.

Right now, the Trump regime has all of the attention. Whether positive or negative, it hardly matters. Efforts of the opposition barely register in the broader media sphere, leaving the majority of Americans feeling overwhelmed in the face of a juggernaut they feel they can do little to stop.

Someone needs to step forward and lead. The fix will not be procedural. It will be the sound of feet walking, and the sight of everyday people displaying their resistance fiercely. Because the present state of affairs is unacceptable. 

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