All this time we’ve been waiting to see what might be uncovered about whether there was “collusion” between Donald Trump and Putin’s Russia during the 2016 campaign. And then came this trip to Europe where we all got to see such collusion enacted right before our eyes in real time.
- As an overture, we got to watch Donald Trump, with his insults and his boorishness, sabotaging the Atlantic Alliance—fulfilling Putin’s longstanding dream of subverting the unity of the free and prosperous nations that disapprove of his various crimes, domestic and international.
- Then it was off to Helsinki to meet with Putin, where we witnessed Trump’s bolstering Putin in one way after another, at the expense of American interests and credibility, including lending credence to Putin’s preposterous denials of election meddling.
- And then there was Trump waxing enthusiastic about Putin’s “incredible offer” to let Americans come to Russia to question those of Putin’s minions (whom Mueller has indicted) in exchange for Trump handing over to Putin a number of Americans whom Putin hates for their role in making the Russian kleptocracy pay for murdering a lawyer who had exposed their corruption.
The whole world watched in amazement as the President of the United States seemed consistently to be giving “aid and comfort” to Putin’s Russia — i.e. to the nation that qualifies as an “enemy” of the United States by virtue of the cyberwarfare attack Russia has been launching against the American nation Trump took an oath to defend.
Exposing the Gulf Within the GOP
In America, the reactions revealed a fundamental difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties:
On the Republican side, the base saw things one way while their elected leaders saw them entirely differently. On the Democratic side the base and the leadership were entirely on the same page. That contrast brings the issue of “integrity” into sharp relief.
There has long been evidence that Republican leaders understand how terrible Trump is, but — out of their calculations of their own political advantage– stay mute about that understanding . In response to Trump’s “Treason Trip,” the Republicans in the U.S. Senate showed by their actions just how fully they recognized what a wrecking ball their President was as he careened through Europe.
- First, the Senate passed 97-2 a set of statements affirming the essential importance of NATO, and America’s commitment to NATO– even as Trump was insulting our important allies in the Atlantic Alliance, and making them out to be “foes.”
- Next, the Senate passed by a 98-0 margin a measure that stated in no uncertain terms that turning Americans over to Putin was an idea that should be rejected out of hand, not even entertained for a moment as Trump was apparently willing to do.
Such near-unanimity showed clearly that the Republican in the Senate – who did not, of course, criticize or even mention Trump by name in these measures — recognized that Trump’s relationship with Russia was unacceptable and that his subservience to Putin needed to be countered.
Meanwhile, the Russian base perceives an entirely different world. To the great majority of them, Trump did just fine.
- The majority of the Republican voters have come to regard Russia as a friend to America, even while the (“fake”) news has been full of the breadth and scope of their attacks on American democracy. Only 15% of Republicans see Russia as an adversary.
- Most Republicans think that Trump is handling the relationship with Russia — America’s “friend” — rather well.
These people, one might say, have bought a fundamental lie about Trump. And from that lie, come so many others – the “good relationship” Trump claims to seek with Russia (on Putin’s terms, apparently), the “witch hunt” of the Mueller investigation, etc.
That there’s this kind of gap between the GOP leadership and the Republican base – exposed in their responses to the fiasco of Trump’s Treason Trip – should not surprise any close observer of the Republican Party of our times.
Over the past quarter century — from Gingrich to Rove to the Republicans of the time of obstruction and now to Trump — such a gap has increasingly characterized the Republican world, with the leadership relating to their followers with a tissue of lies.
The Republicans made their base crazy, without (most of them) being so crazy themselves. Such has been the deception and manipulation at the heart of the way the Republicans dealt with their followers that for years the culture of the Lie has opened up a gulf between leaders and followers in Republican politics.
When Power is the Only God
One more thing that this recent Trump “diplomacy” has revealed about the Republican Party of our times.
While the Republicans in the Senate voted almost unanimously to defend a couple of things from Trump’s apparently treasonous subservience to the Putin regime, those same Republicans refused to support a measure to provide protections against further Russian attacks in the upcoming mid-term elections.
So the question arises: Why do they take steps in defense of NATO, and in repudiating the idea of handing over Americans to Putin, but then also refuse to act to protect the United States from further Russian cyber-warfare attacks?
Let me propose an answer. It is but a hypothesis, but it does jibe with pretty much everything we’ve seen from the Republicans in recent years:
In all things, for the Republican Party of our time, power is their God, and it seems that no other values can weigh against it. Consistently, the Republicans choose the course that best enhances their power.
- Trump’s attacks on the NATO alliance diminish America’s leadership role in the world. That is, Trump is wantonly giving away American power. The power-loving Republicans want to be part of the world’s hegemon. And so when Trump acts to diminish the American hegemony that Putin hates, these Republicans act to repair – as best they can, from Congress – damage done to one of the chief sources of American power, which is also their own power.
- When Trump, in his apparent subservience to Putin, even contemplates handing over a former American ambassador (and others) to a murderous thug running the regime that’s the major adversary of the United States, he diminishes American dignity and standing. These Republicans did not claw their way to the top of the political food chain to have “the world’s one remaining superpower” (as the U.S. used to be called) act like Russia’s “poodle.” Hence, the 98-0 vote.
- But when it comes to enacting a measure to start protecting ourselves from the ongoing attacks, threatening the mid-terms, according to my hypothesis, they figure the Russians will be helping them against their opponents. So, being all about power, these Republicans regard that covert Russian attack on our elections as OK. Protecting America is not the point. Getting and keeping power is all that matters.
So: the Republican leadership knows the truth about Trump, but acts on it only in those instances when Trump’s recklessness, and his betrayal of the nation, brings costs that matter to them in their own lust for dominance.