I'm a lifelong political junkie.
In eighth grade, I remember being the first name in a Hines-Hart poll that asked my fellow classmates whether they thought we were heading for a nuclear war, the poll being taken in the first part of 1962, six months or so before the super-scary Cuban missile crisis involving Russia and the United States.
(Most thought a war would happen. Thankfully, it didn't.)
But I can't recall any presidential action that comes close to the treasonous behavior Donald Trump exhibited at his press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin today.
Treason is a shocking word to direct at the president of the United States. I've never heard it used by serious political commentators. But Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, spoke of treason in his opinion piece, "Trump and Putin vs. America."
My fellow Americans, we are in trouble and we have some big decisions to make today. This was a historic moment in the entire history of the United States.
There is overwhelming evidence that our president, for the first time in our history, is deliberately or through gross negligence or because of his own twisted personality engaged in treasonous behavior — behavior that violates his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Trump vacated that oath today, and Republicans can no longer run and hide from that fact. Every single Republican lawmaker will be — and should be — asked on the election trail: Are you with Trump and Putin or are you with the C.I.A., F.B.I. and N.S.A.?
What Trump did was deny the firm conclusion of federal intelligence agencies that operatives of the Russian government worked to aid the 2016 election of Trump by hacking into Democratic computer systems and using social media to peddle pro-Trump and anti-Clinton propaganda.
It's astounding that Trump stood beside Putin and defended Russia while denigrating our intelligence agencies. Both the New York Times and Washington Post published "news analysis" stories that marveled at what Trump hath wrought today.
The Times piece is called "Trump Sheds All Notions of How a President Should Conduct Himself Abroad." That's a fairly mild headline, given Trump's treasonous behavior, but the story is more hard-hitting.
President Trump, who gleefully defies the norms of presidential behavior, went somewhere in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday where none of his predecessors have ever gone: He accepted the explanation of a hostile foreign leader over the findings of his own intelligence agencies.
Mr. Trump’s declaration that he saw no reason not to believe President Vladimir V. Putin when he said the Russians did not try to fix the 2016 election was extraordinary enough. But it was only one of several statements the likes of which no other president has uttered while on foreign soil.
He condemned the Justice Department’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia as a “disaster for our country.” He suggested that the F.B.I. deliberately mishandled its investigation of Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee. And he labeled an F.B.I. agent who testified about that investigation before Congress as a “disgrace to our country.”
In the fiery, disruptive, rules-breaking arc of Mr. Trump’s statecraft, his assertions during a news conference with Mr. Putin marked a new milestone, the foreign policy equivalent of Charlottesville.
Just as Mr. Trump flouted the most deeply held traditions of the American presidency in equating the torch-wielding white nationalist marchers and the activists who fought them last summer in Virginia, he shredded all the accepted conventions in Finland of how a president should conduct himself abroad.
Rather than defend the United States against those who would threaten it, he attacked his own citizens and institutions. Rather than challenge Mr. Putin, an adversary with a well-documented record of wrongdoing against the United States, he praised him without reservation.
His statements were so divorced from American policy goals, so at odds with the rest of his administration, so inexplicable on so many levels that they brought to the surface a question that has long shadowed Mr. Trump: Does Russia have something on him?
The president’s motive, it seemed, was to fight, tooth and claw, for the legitimacy of his victory in the 2016 election. In the process, he impugned the nation’s law enforcement agencies and publicly undermined the consensus view of its intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the campaign.
The Post piece is called "The moment called for Trump to stand up for America. He chose to bow."
When the history of Donald Trump’s presidency is ultimately written, July 16, 2018, will have a special entry. On a day when the setting called for a show of strength and resolve from an American president, Trump instead offered deference, defensiveness, equivocation and weakness.
If anyone can recall a performance by a U.S. president that rivaled the one seen around the world Monday, let them come forward. In the meantime, Trump’s extraordinary joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin will stand on its own, for sheer shock value and for the reality of an opportunity lost.
Here was a president turning his back on the collective work of U.S. intelligence agencies, looking the other way at indictments returned last week by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III against 12 Russian military intelligence officers who sought to undermine American democracy during the 2016 election, and falling back as he so often has on attacks against Hillary Clinton, criticism of Democrats and boasts about the size of his electoral college victory.
In reality, he did more than turn his back on the evidence of Russian attacks on the U.S. electoral process. He all but rejected it. In an attempt to say both sides have their views of what happened during the last presidential election, he proffered that his own view is that he can’t bring himself to accept that the Russians did it. “I don’t see any reason why [Russia would interfere],” he said.
Today I heard a commentator talk about what would have happened if, during the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy had done what Trump did today: say that he believed the leader of Russia (Khrushchev, at that time) rather than his own intelligence agencies.
Calls for impeachment would have come from Republicans, and likely Democrats also.
Yet I suspect that few Republicans will do anything more than mildly criticize Trump's treasonous behavior today, before they go back to salivating over the near-certainty that Trump soon will have appointed two deeply conservative members of the Supreme Court.
Shameful? Yes. But this normal political behavior is not nearly as disgusting as President Trump kissing up to the leader of Russia, putting his own shallow personal interests above the deep national interest.