Editorial: A treasonous Trump revealed, or a cult leader better defined?

Of the dozens of political columns we read about Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki this past Monday, long-time conservative columnist (and erstwhile Republican) George Wills captured Trump’s galling performance in the most accurate terms:
“In Helsinki, the president who bandies the phrase “America First,” put himself first, as always, and America last, behind President Vladimir Putin’s regime…
“Like the purloined letter in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story with that title, collusion with Russia is hiding in plain sight. We shall learn from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation whether in 2016 there was collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign. The world, however, saw in Helsinki something more grave — ongoing collusion between Trump, now in power, and Russia. The collusion is in what Trump says (refusing to back the United States’ intelligence agencies) and in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukraine, downing civilian airliners, attempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on.)
“Americans elected a president who — this is safe to surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret,” Wills continued. “The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.
“The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”
What a description of an American president: “This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”
Trump supporters might wonder how a conservative columnist of the past 40-plus years could be so harsh on their own man? What could a reliably conservative pundit, who has spent his life studying and observing the politics of this nation, know that they don’t?
Ummm. Could be food for thought.
A hint could be found in Republican Sen. John McCain’s comments about Trump’s meeting with Putin:
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” McCain said Monday, sounding the alarm that the president was not only not representing the interests of the country, but betraying it. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” said McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake. President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.”
Added Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona: “I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.”
That Trump constantly puts the blame on America first (recently noting that we are a “very stupid country” led by “very stupid leaders”) was a theme of several columns, as was the suggestion that Trump has become more of a cult leader than a presidential figure.
Respected Republican political strategist Ana Navarro tweeted in anguished disgust: “If you’re an American, if you’re a Republican, and you’re not disgusted by Trump’s undermining of U.S. Intelligence Agencies, his dismissal of Russia’s cyber-terrorism against our democratic institutions, and his deference to the murderous Russian leader, YOU ARE A CULT MEMBER.”
And those comments are from fellow Republicans, disgusted and outraged by this president.
And yet, a majority of Republicans leaders, who have control of Congress, refuse to exercise their constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on this executive branch. Some Republicans have feebly suggested that he was duly elected by the electoral vote (even if done nefariously with Russia’s help) and they can’t rein him in. (Though, obviously, they exercised plenty of opposition to President Obama when he was in office.)
Of course Congress could rein in Trump’s actions. That is their most important duty when the executive branch is acting against the nation’s interest. When a president acts in a treasonous way — and that is precisely what many military and intelligence leaders in both parties have suggested — then Congress is duty-bound to act.
But will it? As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested Wednesday: “Until and unless the G.O.P.-led Congress passes legislation that protects special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired by Trump or enacts into law specific, deeper sanctions on Russia if it is ever again caught trying to tilt our elections — or secures Trump’s tax returns or the transcript of his two hours and 10 minutes of private conversation with Putin — it’s all just talk to cover the G.O.P.’s behind. Let the Republicans in Congress do something hard and concrete that shows they love our country more than they fear Trump’s base and I will believe their words…. I can’t say it better than Michael Gerson, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, did in The Washington Post Monday: “Much of the G.O.P. is playing down Russian aggression. And it is actively undermining the investigation of that aggression. Trump’s political tools have become Putin’s useful idiots. The party of national strength has become an obstacle to the effective protection of the country.”
Think of that: A speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush says of his own party under Trump that they “have become Putin’s useful idiots” and that “the party (that ran on a platform) of national strength has become an obstacle to the effective protection of the country.”
But will Congress do its duty? Don’t hold your breath. They are in Trump’s grip and afraid his cultish supporters will turn on those who speak out against him. But unless Congress does act, it’s not a script that’s likely to end well.

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