Solveig Torvik

We’re used to Donald Trump’s pitiful chest-thumping claim that he’s a strong leader. Which is why we never expected him to disprove it with the whole world watching.

But last week Trump stood mano a mano in the glaring spotlight on the global stage with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin in Helsinki and showed us, bigly, just how weak Trump really is.

Who would have thought Trump, who so viscerally hates “losers,” who always has to “win,” would agree to such a thing? Was he hoping we wouldn’t notice?

But we did. “People are saying,” as Trump himself likes to say, that his dismissive response to the Russian government’s attack on our election system – the very essence of our national sovereignty – constitutes criminal behavior.

At the press conference with President Putin, a canny former KGB operative, Trump refused to choose between evidence provided by American government intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the election and Putin’s denial of that evidence.

Trump’s dereliction of his constitutional duty to defend the nation “rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’… It was nothing short of treasonous,” said former CIA director John O. Brennan.

“Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you?” Brennan added.

Indeed, wars have been fought on far less worthy ground than this.

But instead of calling Putin out for interfering with our 2016 presidential election, Trump cast doubt on the integrity, and conclusions, of the intelligence services of the United States of America.

Asked by an Associated Press reporter whether he believed U.S. intelligence officials or Putin, Trump waffled. And he refused an invitation to warn Putin to never again interfere with U.S. elections. 

Standing in an empty suit next to Putin, Trump asserted: “I don’t see any reason why” Russia would interfere with our election. Such abysmal cluelessness alone disqualifies him from the presidency.

Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s role in the election is a “disaster for our country,” Trump added. Besides, he said, Putin’s denial was “extremely strong and powerful.” Well, that surely settles that.

Trump told CBS News that he “hadn’t thought of” asking Putin to take action against the indicted Russians. And in an uncharacteristic acknowledgement, Trump admitted weakness before meeting with Putin. “What am I going to do?“ Trump asked. “He may deny it. All I can say is ‘Did you?’ and ‘Don’t do it again.’” Sad.

Scary, actually. This is our Commander-in-Chief? Hello?

Out-maneuvered

Putin knows how to out-maneuver Trump. He cleverly offered to let Mueller’s investigators come to Russia to help question the accused agents – if the United States turns over our intelligence agents to Russia for questioning about their alleged crimes on its soil. “Incredible offer,” an enthused Trump initially responded.

What could possibly go wrong?

Twelve Russian GRU military intelligence agents were indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as Trump flew off on his disastrous European trip. Split TV screens showed the announcement of the indictments as Trump was meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of England. Discharge of this duty, too, proved beyond Trump’s reach: He violated protocol by being late and walking in front of the 92-year-old queen. His buffoonery and craving for center stage remain boundless.

Director of national intelligence Dan Coats, former Indiana Republican senator, meanwhile likened ongoing cyber threats from Russia to those seen during the run-up to Sept. 11, 2001. “I’m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again,” Coats said. “We are just one click on a keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.”

The next election is shortly upon us, people, yet we’re little better prepared to safeguard its integrity than we were in 2016. Thank the Republican Congress.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are detecting Russian government entities targeting American energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors, according to Coats. Plus, “We are seeing aggressive attempts to manipulate social media and to spread propaganda focused on hot-button issues that are intended to exacerbate social-political divisions.”

Mueller put a great deal of unusual detail into the indictment he released. He appears to have deliberately disclosed that American intelligence agencies may have the ability to expose much more of what Putin is up to, according to some espionage observers. “American intelligence agencies rarely tip their hand in this way by disclosing so much in an indictment; clearly they did so here to send messages,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who added: “… it’s a shot across the Kremlin’s bow.”

Mueller has charged 32 people, Russians and Americans, including Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; he’s in jail awaiting trial.

Big unanswered questions remain: Is Trump merely Putin’s needy, “useful idiot”? Is he in thrall to Putin’s demands due to blackmail, debt, greed? Or does he simply just prefer to align with tyrants?

During his trip Trump attacked NATO. This benefits only Putin, not the United States; a strong NATO serves our self-interest, not Putin’s. And Trump pushed for Brexit, which will weaken England but benefit Putin.

Why is Trump carrying these buckets of poisonous geo-political water for Putin?

We don’t know why Trump so abjectly abased himself before a tyrant and chooses to endanger the United States by ignoring warnings from its intelligence agencies. But he made his choice publicly.

And he didn’t choose the United States of America.

Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.