Even as the US and Russia Expel Diplomats and Close Consulates
What? Trump has invited Vladimir Putin to a summit at the White House?
This is the same president and Putin who have each just expelled scores of diplomats and closed a consulate? This is the same president who is bringing in Russia hard-liners Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and hawkish John Bolton as national security adviser?
How are we not supposed to be confused here?
We know this is the same president who won’t say a bad word about Russian attempts to interfere in our elections; or criticize a foe who is running bots with social media messages to undercut American value; or who is under investigation for too-close ties to Russians altogether. We know this is the same Putin who has invaded Ukraine, who is grabbing territory and more in Syria, who tramples human rights and who is introducing new weaponry that he openly describes as threatening to the United States.
Let’s remember, please, that this is the same week in which the Trump administration imposed new sanctions on seven of Russia’s richest men and 17 top government officials in the latest effort to punish Putin’s inner circle for interference in the 2016 election and other Russian aggressions. The sanctions freeze assets and prevent U.S. companies and individuals from doing business with them, and reflect an “oddly disjointed policy” toward Russia on the part of the Trump administration. While Trump continues to call for good relations with Putin, “Congress and much of the rest of the administration are pushing through increasingly punitive efforts that are sinking relations with Moscow to lows not seen in years,” said The New York Times.
Even Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, must be muttering to herself. This makes no sense. She has had the job to explain that despite any Trump warm personal feelings about Putin as a man, the U.S., the White House and the presidency are lined up with allies who want to warn Putin not to assassinate former citizens on Western soil.
This week, in his last public remarks as national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, strongly denounced Russia for its increased aggression around the world and declared: “We have failed to impose sufficient costs.” Just hours earlier, in a White House news conference with Baltic state leaders, Trump said, “Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have.”
The announcement on pending withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria is essentially ceding influence in the area to Russia, as well as Turkey and Iran.
Mr. Trump, how do we not consider those vague reports that Putin holds some information about you, some financial or ethical history, that better explains why in the face of continuing and increasing aggression you continue to spout fountains of praise for this authoritarian leader? For his sham re-election? For his murderous treatment of critics?
Inviting foreign leaders to meet in the White House is the ultimate note of friendship, not a challenge across the board. While Putin is here, should we also have a state dinner to celebrate Russian resurgence?
As it turns out, the Kremlin was just as mealy-mouthed about a White House meeting as Trump’s staff. There were conflicting messages, with a lot of backing-and-forthing this week about a White House meeting being one of a number of possibilities.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un must be spinning in his lair, wondering if he, too, will be invited to the White House. If he times it right, perhaps he could show up in time for Trump’s vaunted military parade, where Kim would feel right at home.
More broadly, something weird(er) seemed to be happening at the White House last week.
Between dismissing some cabinet members just because he could and naming people like John Bolton who make others very nervous, Trump turned to his supercharged tweet machine to attack an American company, Amazon; to threaten China, just as we need the Chinese leadership with North Korea; to threaten to pull out of Syria; and, naturally, to blame Democrats anew for stranding Dreamers, those in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that he himself stopped.
Apparently newly moved from watching an inflated Fox News report about a dangerous “caravan” of Hondurans, including children, fleeing poverty and danger to move through Mexico for the U.S. border, the president ordered the military to defend the southern border. Forget the fact that the caravan abandoned its efforts, that it was meant as some kind of annual PR event, that some fleeing Hondurans planned to apply for asylum and that most would remain in Mexico. What was concerning was that agencies and staff alike were running around leaderless looking for the rulebook on who would go, when, where and what they could or could not do.
What is upsetting here is both poorly thought policy and lack of any process. Even as political theater, the best explanation, the scenario comes off as a total stream-of-consciousness presidency. Indeed, at a West Virginia conference on tax cuts, Trump slapped through a barrage of red meat topics, claiming rapes by Mexicans, asserting that the military will be on hand until there is a Wall and, generally, making clear that he is the answer to whatever question is out there.
Trump is bouncing around a series of White House issues, slapping at anyone who does not support his exact thoughts, even though those are anything but fully understood. For Trump to prosper, someone else must pay. History has recorded exactly such scapegoating moves as hallmarks of autocratic tyrants. Trump is steadily shucking the bounds of democracy and its checks and balances in his attempt to emerge as some kind of regal presence in lieu of a president who listens to the American people and helps them. He is helping himself and his friends at the expense of people in real need.
In policy after policy, Trump has declared war on the poor, on creativity and on empathy with a heavy-handedness for the promotion of particular businesses and industries that he thinks are politically helpful. He is increasingly targeting disruption as an end goal, he is increasingly self-driven and he is increasingly isolated, apparently by choice.
Yet, at the same time, the outside world seems to be closing in on patterns of bad ethical behavior by the president, his family and his government; on legal challenges by porn stars and the special counsel alike and from overseas governments who are pushing back against what they see as unwarranted aggressiveness in trade policy; and, on military threats and general discourteous behavior.
As a citizen, I have less faith in my government right now than I can remember about keeping the country at peace, about making every American more prosperous and about restoring some sense of reason that can allow us to think about more than one day at a time. This feels horribly out of whack, made worse when I see that American polls show Trump’s popularity increasing because of the promise of another $20 in some paychecks each week.
It troubles me that Trump cannot see teachers in state after state saying that they cannot live on the money they earn; that Trump cannot see that we are maintaining conditions in which an unarmed black man can be shot for taking out a cell phone in his grandmother’s backyard; that Trump cannot see the ethical misbehavior of Cabinet members like Scott Pruitt.
All that pales, of course, when I see that Trump is inviting Putin to the White House. It is an insult to American intelligence on all levels.