Some things, once seen, cannot be unseen. Donald Trump standing on stage with Vladimir Putin, taking Russia’s side over America’s, promoting Putin’s lies instead of asserting the hard truths of the American intelligence community -- those things can never be unseen.
No amount of explaining can explain that away. None of the excuses after the fact or one-word changes or late expressions of confidence in our intelligence agencies can make up for this. What’s done is done, and while sadness is an appropriate response, so is alarm. Trump stood there with Putin and took his side against our side.
Trump has praised strongman leaders in Turkey, Korea and the Philippines, and he makes no secret of his desire to be one, too. But while Trump physically towers over Putin, Putin somehow made Trump look small on that stage. He even tossed Trump a soccer ball, with a grin, as if to say, “Nice play, kid.”
This time, even Trump’s usual media cheerleaders saw the performance for what it was. Fox News commentators struck hard at Trump, with John Roberts claiming, “There’s a growing consensus that the president threw the United States under the bus.” Neil Cavuto called Trump’s performance “disgusting,” saying he “set us back a lot.”
Fox’s Shepard Smith, a rare critical voice at the pro-Trump network, exclaimed, “Shameful, disgraceful, treasonous: three of the descriptions of what President Donald Trump did today in Helsinki. Asked whether he believes American intelligence or the Russian thug standing next to him, President Trump declined to stand up for his own people and instead embraced Vladimir Putin.”
A Wall Street Journal editorial said that Trump ”... projected weakness. He was the one on stage beseeching Mr. Putin for a better relationship, while the Russian played it cool and matter of fact.”
And those are his friends.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her new book, “Fascism: A Warning,” describes how Benito Mussolini consolidated power in Italy in the 1920s.
He compared it to cleaning a chicken in preparation for dinner. Mussolini said, “If you pluck the chicken one feather at a time, nobody will notice.”
Describing the events of last week, including Trump’s assault on our NATO allies and his coziness with Putin, Albright warned, “We have just plucked a lot of feathers here. And I think that it’s very important for us to make clear that Trump has overplucked.”
No matter what he says or does, much of Trump’s base will remain with him. As he once famously claimed, he could “shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue” and not lose any support. This phenomenon is common enough that the law has a term for it, calling it “willful blindness,” an intentional effort to remain unaware of inconvenient facts.
But, for those swing voters who supported Trump because they were sick of the same old politics and wanted to shake things up, this is different. What was seen last week cannot be unseen.
For whatever reason, Trump puts Trump first when it comes to Russia -- ahead of our allies, ahead of our own intelligence agencies, ahead of America.