After a weekend of our always insecure egomaniacal man-child Twitter-troll-in-chief Trump lashing out over Russia probe in an angry and error-laden tweetstorm, a remarkable series of opinions appeared in newspapers on Monday.
Max Boot wrote at the Washington Post, Trump is ignoring the worst attack on America since 9/11:
Imagine if, after 9/11, the president had said that the World Trade Center and Pentagon could have been attacked by “China” or “lots of other people.” Imagine if he had dismissed claims of al-Qaeda’s responsibility as a “hoax” and said that he “really” believed Osama bin Laden’s denials. Imagine if he saw the attack primarily as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. Imagine if he threatened to fire the investigators trying to find out what happened.
Or if you would prefer, imagine if this was the response to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, as cartoonist Steve Benson does.
That’s roughly where we stand after the second-worst foreign attack on America in the past two decades. The Russian subversion of the 2016 election did not, to be sure, kill nearly 3,000 people. But its longer-term impact may be even more corrosive by undermining faith in our democracy.
The evidence of Russian meddling became “incontrovertible,” in the word of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, after special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted 13 Russians and three Russian organizations on Friday for taking part in this operation. “Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (‘Trump Campaign’) and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” the indictment charges.
Yet in a disturbing weekend tweetstorm, President Trump attacked the FBI, Democrats, even McMaster — anyone but the Russians. He sought to minimize the impact of the Kremlin’s intrusion, tweeting: “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” Actually, there’s plenty of evidence of collusion, including the infamous June 2016 meeting that Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager held with Russian representatives who promised to “incriminate” Hillary Clinton.
There is also considerable evidence that the Kremlin impacted the election, which was decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states. Trump must have thought the Russian operation was significant because he mentioned its handiwork — the release of Democratic Party documents via WikiLeaks — 137 times in the final month of the campaign. On top of that, Russian propaganda reached at least 126 million Americans via Facebook alone.
The onslaught did not end in 2016. Russian trolls have continued promoting hashtags such as #ReleaseTheMemo to sow dissension and division. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats just testified that Russia “views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” Yet Trump has never convened a Cabinet meeting to address this threat and has resisted implementing sanctions passed by Congress.
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The most benign explanation is that he is putting his vanity — he can’t have anything taint his glorious victory — above his obligation to “protect and defend the Constitution.” The more sinister hypothesis is that he has something to hide and, having benefited from Russia’s assistance once, hopes for more aid in 2018 and 2020. Either way, we are at war without a commander-in-chief.
Which leads directly to the Post’s Ruth Marcus pointing out the elephant in the room that too many in the media have been too cowardly to state clearly and succinctly: Trump’s staggering dereliction of duty:
So it is appropriate to take, as this column’s theme, the title of H.R. McMaster’s book on the Vietnam war, “Dereliction of Duty.”
McMaster was writing about military leaders’ failure to stand up to presidents who insisted on pursuing an unwinnable war. Now, in the White House in which McMaster serves, the dereliction of duty starts at the top. And, as the past several days have shown, President Trump’s failure is dereliction on a grand, unprecedented scale: We find ourselves at war without a commander-in-chief; in national mourning without a consoler in chief; and in political gridlock without a negotiator in chief.
The first is the most appalling and most terrifying. “Incontrovertible,” McMaster said, and so it is for anyone who bothers to read the indictment of 13 Russians for running a massive operation not only to disrupt the election but to do so to Trump’s benefit. But of course Trump never has and apparently never will be able to accept this. Is it his fragile ego that cannot tolerate the implicit challenge to his legitimacy? Is it something more sinister?
This much is clear: For whatever reason, Trump is unwilling to accept the reality of what happened in 2016 and, more alarming, unwilling to do his duty to seek to prevent it from happening again. We are at war with an enemy plotting to undermine our democracy, and our supposed leader, far from working to halt this, seems determined to ignore it. Where is Trump’s outrage now that the evidence against Russia is public, not that he needed to wait for that? It is invisible.
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“Dereliction of duty” is not a strong enough term to describe this man’s abysmal performance.
Which leads Thomas Friedman of the New York Times to sound the alarm: “Our democracy is in serious danger.” Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now:
President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.
That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.
In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander-in-chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system — a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.
Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution. Here’s an imperfect but close analogy: It’s as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: “No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it’s all the Democrats’ fault — no need to hold a National Security Council meeting.”
At a time when the special prosecutor Robert Mueller — leveraging several years of intelligence gathering by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A. — has brought indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups — all linked in some way to the Kremlin — for interfering with the 2016 U.S. elections, America needs a president who will lead our nation’s defense against this attack on the integrity of our electoral democracy.
What would that look like? He would educate the public on the scale of the problem; he would bring together all the stakeholders — state and local election authorities, the federal government, both parties and all the owners of social networks that the Russians used to carry out their interference — to mount an effective defense; and he would bring together our intelligence and military experts to mount an effective offense against Putin — the best defense of all.
What we have instead is a president vulgarly tweeting that the Russians are “laughing their asses off in Moscow” for how we’ve been investigating their interventions — and exploiting the terrible school shooting in Florida — and the failure of the F.B.I. to properly forward to its Miami field office a tip on the killer — to throw the entire F.B.I. under the bus and create a new excuse to shut down the Mueller investigation.
Think for a moment how demented was Trump’s Saturday night tweet: “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”
To the contrary. Our F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A., working with the special counsel, have done us amazingly proud. They’ve uncovered a Russian program to divide Americans and tilt our last election toward Trump — i.e., to undermine the very core of our democracy — and Trump is telling them to get back to important things like tracking would-be school shooters. Yes, the F.B.I. made a mistake in Florida. But it acted heroically on Russia. What is more basic than protecting American democracy?
It is so obvious what Trump is up to: Again, he is either a total sucker for Putin or, more likely, he is hiding something that he knows the Russians have on him, and he knows that the longer Mueller’s investigation goes on, the more likely he will be to find and expose it.
Donald, if you are so innocent, why do you go to such extraordinary lengths to try to shut Mueller down? And if you are really the president — not still head of the Trump Organization, who moonlights as president, which is how you so often behave — why don’t you actually lead — lead not only a proper cyberdefense of our elections, but also an offense against Putin.
Putin used cyberwarfare to poison American politics, to spread fake news, to help elect a chaos candidate, all in order to weaken our democracy. We should be using our cyber-capabilities to spread the truth about Putin — just how much money he has stolen, just how many lies he has spread, just how many rivals he has jailed or made disappear — all to weaken his autocracy. That is what a real president would be doing right now.
My guess is what Trump is hiding has to do with money. It’s something about his financial ties to business elites tied to the Kremlin. They may own a big stake in him. Who can forget that quote from his son Donald Trump Jr. from back in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.” They may own our president.
But whatever it is, Trump is either trying so hard to hide it or is so naïve about Russia that he is ready to not only resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy, he’s actually ready to undermine some of our most important institutions, the F.B.I. and Justice Department, to keep his compromised status hidden.
That must not be tolerated. This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.
As Brian Klass concludes at the Washington Post, “We’re in a fight to save our democracy from foreign attacks — and currently we are doing absolutely nothing to fight back.” Russia is at war with our democracy. When will we finally start defending it?
The Trump administration’s strategy of defending the Kremlin rather than defending American democracy has sent a clear signal to Moscow. Putin has no reason to stop and every reason to get more aggressive. The Russians’ last operations were effective and solicited no meaningful consequences. By enabling Putin rather than deterring him, Trump has effectively rolled out the digital red carpet for more information warfare in the upcoming midterm elections.
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What [the Mueller indictment] does make clear is that Russia wants to undermine American democracy. We are letting Russia do so. It’s time not only to fight back — but also to try to find common ground, uniting at least on this issue, to protect the democratic values and democratic system that most of us cherish, before it’s too late.
By the way, Donald Trump’s dereliction of duty in failing to defend the United States against attacks from a hostile adversary is an impeachable offense. To defend America, we should begin there.