Last month, when I wrote about the unprecedented badness of the Trump administration, I neglected to mention something else unique and terrifying about his presidency. Namely, it’s that he seems to value the goodwill of foreign autocrats above the well-being of America.
This was, of course, brought forcefully to my attention by the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions secretly had contact with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and lied to Congress about it during his confirmation hearing. And he’s not the first Trump administration official speaking to Russia under suspicious circumstances. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned after he was caught lying about it. And then there’s the complex web of Russian connections among Trump’s family and campaign officials.
It isn’t exactly news that Trump has deep and worrying ties to Russia. We saw it on display during the campaign, when he creepily expressed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, even asked Russia to help him by hacking into the e-mails of the opposing party. (And that’s assuming he doesn’t have financial ties to Russia as well, which we don’t know since he refuses to release his taxes.) The fact that this wasn’t seen as disqualifying by American voters – this shameless cozying up to a foreign power, encouraging them to interfere and break our laws for one party’s benefit – is a savage indictment of the patriotism of those who were able to overlook it.
I gave Republican voters too much credit. It’s not as if hypocrisy is new in politics: it was always obvious that the GOP’s “pro-life” rhetoric was cover for punishing women, and that their economic policies boil down to grasping at any excuse to cut taxes for the rich. But I used to believe that at least they meant what they said about national security. I honestly thought that a candidate who flirted with allegiance to a foreign power would be too much even for them to swallow. I was wrong about that.This would all be bad enough if it was a country that had historically been an ally of America, or one that had democratic values similar to ours. But Trump and the Republicans chose Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a one-party autocracy where whistleblowers and journalists are routinely murdered and the state passes brutal anti-gay laws and censors art and speech. Under Putin, Russia has waged a war of conquest in Ukraine and is still propping up Assad’s genocidal Syrian regime. That’s who Trump and the GOP look up to; those are the values they want to ally themselves with.
We all know that countries spy on each other, try to get inside information on what each other’s capabilities are and what their leaders are planning. They spend huge amounts of time and money to recruit informants. And if I were a Russian double agent passing information to America, right now, I’d be terrified. I’d be afraid, and I think justifiably so, that the Trump administration was going to blow my cover, whether inadvertently or even deliberately.
Multiply that fear by every other country in the world, and you begin to get a sense of the scale of this problem. Trump’s administration is going to do crippling, long-lasting damage to our diplomatic reputation and intelligence-gathering power. (What happens when other countries see how friendly he is with Russia and start feeding his ego in a bid to get him to give them inside information?) I really wonder what the career civil servants and military officers are thinking right now. Even in the best case, it will take years if not decades to rebuild trust.
Even what we know so far about Trump’s Russian connections is flirting with treason. I don’t use that word lightly, but there’s no other appropriate way to describe a president who seems to be giving a foreign power a steady flow of inside information and access. And if this is what we know about, what else may there be that hasn’t yet come out?