President Trump’s authoritarianism, narcissism and racism threaten our democracy, but his gullibility threatens our national security. A man so uneducated and incurious about the world is willing, like his followers, to buy any crackpot conspiracy theory that makes its way to him via the Infowars-“Fox & Friends” pipeline. On the world stage, that makes him a sitting duck for slick manipulators and experienced flatterers.
All that was much in evidence on Saturday. CNN reports:
“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew from Da Nang to Hanoi in Vietnam. Trump spoke to Putin three times on the sidelines of summit here, where the Russia meddling issue arose. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,'” Trump said. “And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.” “I think he is very insulted by it,” Trump added.
Could Trump actually believe that the ex-KGB operative is insulted by the accusation he pulled off a masterful plot, at very little cost, to tip the scales in an American presidential election and get the candidate of his choice? Certainly, Trump is not only gullible but also running scared as special counsel Robert S. Mueller III breathes down his neck.
The strands connecting Russia and the Trump campaign — via Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. — are numerous and robust. The evidence of a sophisticated social media plan to sway American voters has come to light. What do Trump allies do about the mountain of evidence of Russian meddling in favor of the presidential candidate who invited Russian hacking and who fixated on the WikiLeaks email dump in the final days of the campaign? What to do about the unanimous verdict of the intelligence community? Just wish it away, I suppose. And Trump shows how. “There was no collusion. Everybody knows there was no collusion,” Trump declared. “I think it’s a shame that something like that could destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are really important countries.”
Trump is very much like the devoted Fox viewer who sits mesmerized in front of the screen, searching for evidence to support his prejudices, baseless suspicions and grievances against elites. See, there’s another crime by an immigrant. See, they’re all murderers. See, Sean Hannity found someone to say the Democrats hacked themselves! See, the Russia investigation is a hoax. Soaking up the brew of innuendo, hoaxes, lies and paranoia, Trump and his followers come to believe it all — and disbelieve the facts under their noses.
Trump and his followers are willing to believe anything because they want to believe anything that confirms their counterfactual world. Anyone who sides with their alternative universe (Sebastian Gorka, Vladimir Putin, Bill O’Reilly, Roy Moore) is a hero and a victim of those pro-immigrant, globalist, anti-Christian elites. Anyone who presents cold, hard facts (the mainstream media, scientists, allied governments, Democrats, #NeverTrumpers) that explode their dearly held myths is an enemy of the people.Yes, that’s the mental universe in which Trump and his ilk reside. It renders Trump susceptible — eager, even — to believe our enemies, even — especially! — at the expense of American values, security and interests. He’s putty in the hands of wily autocrats. He’s therefore the type of target that counterintelligence operatives dream of — an arrogant fool. Clinton Watts, a former FBI special agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, earlier this year explained:
Russian influence of Trump most likely falls into the category of what Madeleine Albright called a “Useful Idiot” – a “useful fool” – an enthusiast for Putin supportive of any issue or stance that feeds his ego and brings victory. Russian intelligence for decades identified and promoted key individuals around the world ripe for manipulation and serving their interests. Trump, similar to emerging alternative right European politicians, spouts populist themes of xenophobia, anti-immigration, and white nationalist pride that naturally bring about a retrenchment of U.S. global influence. By spotting this early, Russia could encourage Trump’s ascension and shape his views via three parallel tracks. First, Russia led a never before seen hacking and influence campaign to degrade support for Hilary Clinton and promote Trump among a disenfranchised American populace. As a “useful idiot,” Trump not only benefited from this influence effort, but he urged Russia to find Hilary Clinton’s missing emails – a public call a “Manchurian Candidate” would not likely make. Trump even fell for false Russian news stories citing a bogus Sputnik news story at a presidential rally – a glaring and open mistake that would reveal a true “Manchurian Candidate.”
What’s more, the Kremlin now has useful idiots in the persons of Fox News hosts, right-wing American bloggers, talk show hosts and Stephen K. Bannon (who is out recruiting like-minded Senate candidates) to buck up their pet U.S. president. Most of all, the Kremlin can count on the Republican tribalists in Congress who will explain away evidence and savage the president’s accusers to protect the GOP tribe and its leader — who just so happens to be an easy mark for our most formidable international foe.