Thursday, December 14, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He spent more time listening to Vladimir Putin himself than to intelligence briefings about the threat Putin poses.

Trump called Putin today. Other than a generic reference to North Korea, the only detail provided in the White House readout of the call was that "President Trump thanked President Putin for acknowledging America’s strong economic performance in his annual press conference."

At a press conference in Moscow today, Putin did indeed praise the performance of the American stock markets under Trump — an oddly specific point of praise, but one that Putin was clever to emphasize. Stock markets don't say much about the strength of the economy or any given president's stewardship of it, but Trump seems enormously proud of the fact that the markets are up during his presidency. Putin also denied that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election, a claim that Trump has taken at face value, and repeated in the American media as though it settled the matter. 

Also today, the Washington Post reported on the enormous sensitivity that Trump has on the subject of Russia. His intelligence briefers have found it almost impossible to address the subject without making Trump unproductively angry. As a result, his daily briefings are "structured to avoid upsetting him," which in turn means that executive agencies are rudderless on the subject.
Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.  

Why is this a bad thing?

  • A president whose hurt feelings prevent him from addressing major national security issues is unfit for office.
  • Under no circumstances should a president take the word of a hostile foreign power over the intelligence and national security agencies of his own government.
  • A president who treats every flattering thing as a statement of fact is a president who can be easily manipulated.