Apparently deadened by the constant barrage of outrages and scandals surrounding him, Congress and many Americans don’t seem to care about any of it.
So there’s absolutely no reason to think that what happened between the president of the United States and Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Friday will make a difference or change minds.
According to Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs, who was traveling with the president to the G-20 summit in Osaka, Trump “bonded with Putin” over his scorn for journalists. She quoted their exchange in a tweet:
“Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it?” Trump said. “You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.”
“We also have,” Putin answered, in English. “It’s the same.”
They then “shared a chuckle,” she reported.
That this happened on the first anniversary of the massacre of five employees of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis probably never occurred to him — nor would his staff remind him of something as apparently inconsequential to the administration as that horror.
The rape accusation, it appears, has failed to make any dent in Trump’s reputation.
And it was largely downplayed by the cowed media — it never even got a hearing on the network Sunday news shows last weekend, just days after it hit. (The Washington Post was alone among major papers in putting it on its front page; The Post has also written a searing editorial on the subject.)
For many, if not most, the reaction can be summed up like this: We already knew that about him. Why would this matter?
He was, after all, famously caught on audio bragging about being a sexual abuser, though he explained it away as locker room talk. (More than a dozen other women have accused him of sexual misconduct.)
Trump has made no secret of his blatant disrespect for the press, which was a mainstay message of his 2016 presidential campaign — in fact, part of his appeal, apparently, to his most fervent followers.
Nor has he expressed much concern about the role of Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October. Trump looked cozy with MBS during a quote “family photo” shoot at the G-20, standing between him and Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, known for jailing journalists.
But let’s put our president’s latest remarks about the news media in context. Putin is an outright enemy of journalistic freedom, one of the world’s worst.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, 59 journalists were murdered in Russia between 1992 and this year. And the World Press Freedom Index puts Russia near the bottom of the list as a place where journalists are safe and can do their jobs. (The United States, shamefully, has dropped on the list, barely ranking in the top 50.)
In the same session on Friday, Trump also yukked it up with perhaps his favorite authoritarian ruler on the topic of Russian interference in our elections.
Here’s how the BBC, a news organization not given to wild overinterpretation, rendered it:
“U.S. President Donald Trump has appeared to make light of Russian election interference during a meeting with the country’s leader, Vladimir Putin. A smirking Mr. Trump wagged his finger at the Russian president and said: ‘Don’t meddle in the election, please.’”
It was, as the BBC noted, the first time the two had met since special counsel Robert S. Mueller III concluded his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His report concurred with U.S. intelligence agencies in concluding that Russia was behind an effort to influence the presidential election for Trump with state-authorized cyberattacks and a disinformation campaign on social media.
So, putting it plainly, Trump is joking with a foreign adversary about two of the most basic elements of American democracy: voting integrity and the role of a free press.
And he has the gall to accuse the press of treason?
Those who call themselves Americans should be disgusted by what Trump did in Osaka.
That many won’t feel that way is almost as serious a betrayal of our bedrock values as what Trump himself has done — and will continue to do.