‘A Disaster for Our Country’

Jewish Light Editorial

Whoever thought, in their worst nightmares, that they would see the president of the United States appear onstage with his Russian counterpart and say he believed the word of Russia over the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies?

Yet that was the nightmare scenario on display in Helsinki on Monday, when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a joint news conference after their one-on-one summit meeting.

After last week’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials accused of hacking into emails of Democratic Party officials — actions that hardly could have been done without Putin’s knowledge and approval — the world waited to see whether, finally, Trump would denounce such actions and stand up to the Russian president.

Instead, he ignored all evidence that fails to conform to his persistent denials that there was any collusion or any foreign interference in the election. He said that when he met with Putin, in the company only of translators, not any advisers, the subject of electoral meddling came up and was immediately shot down.


“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump told reporters.

Of course, given Trump’s past statements — not to mention his envy at the Russian president’s autocratic powers — such a reaction is hardly surprising. Even before their summit meeting began, the president took to Twitter to declare:

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

That song is wearing pretty thin. So are Trump’s constant tangential references to “Crooked Hillary Clinton” and his tendency to antagonize friends and cozy up to longtime foes in other venues, such as his meeting in Singapore last month with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un.

Before going to Helsinki, Trump stirred up more divisiveness at the NATO summit in Brussels, then in his visit to Great Britain.

His double talk on NATO — first insulting longtime American allies, then blasting them for not paying their fair share, then finally declaring the summit a great success that was inaccurately portrayed in the media — showed once again that American foreign policy is being controlled by whim and impulse, not reason and history.

Then, Trump’s “advice” to British Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit was disrespectful, and his declaration that her country is a foe of the United States did further damage to U.S. prestige on the world stage.

But it was in Helsinki that Trump sank to a new low. Simply by arranging the face-to-face meeting, Putin was able to gain stature as a statesman and demonstrate where the U.S.-Russian relationship stands. Trump’s fawning treatment of the Russian president and his disdain for the conclusions of his own government amounted to a disheartening display of how the White House is selling out the American people.

Trump’s horrendous performance did not go unnoticed at home. Even before the news conference had ended, social media lit up with terms such as tragic, feckless and treason. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, had this forceful response:

“Republicans in Congress cannot continue to turn a blind eye towards the very real possibility that Vladimir Putin has compromised our commander in chief and turned him, perhaps without his knowledge, into a Russian asset.”

And Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has long been a Trump antagonist and had called on the president to hold Putin accountable or cancel the summit, called the president’s performance “disgraceful,” adding:

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. … No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

Even the president’s favorite network, Fox News, joined the criticism. Neil Cavuto called the press conference “disgusting,” while Brit Hume called Trump’s acceptance of Putin’s claims over the findings of U.S. intelligence a “lame response, to say the least.” 

Will other supporters — people more accustomed to siding with the president than criticizing him — finally have the courage and the pride to speak up and say that Trump’s surrender to Putin was wrong and damaging not only to the United States but to anyone who stands for freedom? Will this be the issue that finally breaks the spell that Trump has cast over those whose best interests he clearly doesn’t have at heart?

Discussing the ongoing probe into Russian interference into the election that put Trump into the White House, the president called the Justice Department investigation “a disaster for our country” that has damaged U.S.-Russian relations.

But the true disaster for the United States has been Trump’s pugnacious, aggressive and suspicious behavior in his representation of America to the rest of the world. Monday’s performance was just the latest example. It deserves denunciation and censure in the strongest possible terms.