President Trump on Friday appeared to make light of Russian election interference, telling President Vladimir Putin with a grin during a bilateral meeting, “Don’t meddle in the election,” after reporters shouted questions about the topic.Trump met with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit here, but he did not initially raise the topic during brief remarks in front of reporters, calling their relationship “very, very good.” He said the two would discuss “trade, including some disarmament, some little protectionism perhaps — in a very positive way.”“We look forward to spending some very good time together,” Trump said after the two sat down next to one another, flanked by their aides. “A lot of positive things are going to come out of the relationship.”Putin noted that the two had not met since their first formal summit in Helsinki last summer and said the conversation in Osaka would be a “great opportunity to follow up on that.”
Indeed it was a great opportunity to follow up on the farce of Helsinki, when Trump embarrassed himself and America before the world with display of sycophancy so pathetic that you could barely read an article about it without finding a reference to Neville Chamberlain.
You remember what happened then: Asked if he accepted the universal conclusion that Russia was behind all the help he got in the 2016 campaign, Trump said that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats "came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump then went on to explain that “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” so there you go.
The spirit in their latest meeting was similar. You have to watch the video to appreciate how Trump took the question of Russia’s potential efforts to “meddle” in the 2020 election, which actually means “Take steps to help Trump get reelected.” The little smile on his face as he says “Don’t meddle in the election,” as though the fact that he would say that is a joke the two are sharing, one they’ve laughed about before and will again, tells you all you need to know.
This comes after Trump announced in an interview with ABC News that he’s ready to accept the help of any foreign government in his reelection campaign, with the Kremlin being the one most likely to answer his call. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is making sure that no legislation that might secure the American election system against Russian intrusion will ever come to a vote in the Senate.
Given all that, it would be bizarre if Putin didn’t mount another effort to help Trump win in 2020.
There’s something else about Trump’s performance I want to call attention to, something that was even more repugnant. Here’s what he said, referring to the journalists in the room:
“Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.”
Keep in mind that “fake news” is the term Trump uses to refer to any news report that is not as favorable to him as he would like. And he’s right about one thing: They don’t have that kind of news in Russia, or at least not as much of it as we have here.
And do you know why? Because if you’re a Russian journalist and you displease Putin, you might wind up dead. Putin first took office in late 1999, and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 2000 there have been 25 Russian journalists murdered.
Trump is well aware of this fact because he has been asked about it frequently, and he always dismisses it by making two claims: First, Putin is to be admired for being a strong leader, not in spite of the authoritarian nature of his rule but because of it; and second, there are no moral standards by which murder should be considered wrong.
So for instance, in December 2015, Trump was asked by Joe Scarborough about his admiration for Putin despite Putin having his critics killed, and he replied, “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader.” Scarborough said, “But again, he kills journalists that don’t agree with him,” to which Trump said, “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe.”
So this is what we just witnessed: The president of the United States, joking with a murderous dictator about the fact that the dictator helped him get elected in 2016 and will almost certainly help him in his reelection campaign in 2020, and appearing to joke with the dictator about the fact that he has critical journalists killed.
What’s the right word to describe all this? Were we talking about a Democratic president, Trump would no doubt call it “treason,” a word of which he is rather fond. By one count he has made the treason accusation 24 times, tossing it at the FBI (for conducting a counterintelligence investigation of Russian efforts to help him become president), at The Washington Post and the New York Times (for writing stories that do not reflect well on his administration), and at Democrats (for not applauding enough at his State of the Union), among others.
I’d prefer not to use that word. But whatever one we’d choose, there is no doubt that the Oval Office is now occupied by a man who has contempt for not only the interests of the United States but also every principle that is supposed to make us what we are.
If you can watch him yukking it up with Putin and not feel sick to your stomach, you might want to take a good hard look at your own commitment to American values.