Yesterday was the Friday before the 2016 meeting of the Electoral Congress. It was already a substantial news day with pictures from Aleppo of executed toddlers with single bullet wounds in the middle of their foreheads; China brazenly fishing US Navy drones out of the South China Sea; a suicide bomber killing more than a dozen people in Turkey, and the president of the Philippines bragging about cleaning up the country by summarily executing drug addicts. Just prior to Obama’s hastily organized press conference about Russia’s interference in the election, the FBI joined the CIA in expressing high confidence that it was the Russians who were responsible for the cyberattacks that left the DNC slowly hemmoraging private emails never written for public consumption, like your diary entries, like your soppy love letters to the best girlfriend you ever had.
Obama’s press conference made it clear that Russia’s Putin directed the interference with the goal of benefitting Trump’s campaign in the election. Given the gravity of the issue, Obama appeared excessively casual. Maybe it was to keep the tension in the country low, or maybe he has already mentally checked out of presidency. I had expected a more explicit announcement about the retribution the US would visit upon Russia for the cyberattack, but was disappointed.
I was surprised by what DIDN’T follow Obama’s press conference. There was no dismissive and personally denigrating tweet from president-elect Trump. A thundering silence. It may be that Trump decided it was best to avoid discussing Russian interference. Trump had derided the CIA’s statement on the interference as a political attack. I think he was surprised when Congressional Republicans publicly contradicted him. It almost surprised me. I thought maybe there were no longer any red lines in US politics.
But maybe Trump’s silence was something more. Could Trump have suddenly caught a glimmer of how really serious the presidency is; that the presidency is not just about doing even bigger business deals? This afternoon’s Alabama stop on Trump’s victory tour seemed different. Trump was off somehow. Normally, Trump revels in the adoration of his core enthusiasts. Normally, he throws complements at them and casts dispersions on all adversaries, real and imagined. Was he actually bad mouthing their angry, violent and foul behavior, suggesting they were now going to be nicer? It wasn’t particularly well received and seemed confused. Could it be the fog of the political war was lifting and the thrilling adrenaline of the fight is subsiding for Donald Trump? Did he suddenly feel the tug of the gravity of his new position?
Putin seems emboldened given Russia’s developing role in Syria, the role that enabled Assad’s butchers to go door to door and execute children. Did Trump suddenly realize that Putin is more than just a billion dollar business deal? Lives are a very different currency than money. Might he have suddenly realized that not everything in the world can be conceptualized as a business opportunities, that those pictures were real, actual children?
The great irony of Trump’s acension to power, the cornerstone that allowed Trump to grow and flourish, to develop his own independent self-reliant style leading to his fantastic business success, was the fertile ground of a liberal democracy that had a reliable rule of law and an infrastructure upon which to build.
Our guarantee of rights and rule of law has been rock solid throughout all of Trump’s life. So rock solid that it was as invisible as the air we breathe. Invisible, but as essential to Trump’s business success as oxygen is essential to life. It is what enabled Trump to presume everything in the world is some type of business deal. Through the lens of “the business deal” misinformation and propaganda was just smart marketing. Overblown promises to voters was just a sales pitch to get your product sold. Hillary was just his product competition. Putin and Russia the next opportunity.
But not all billionaires like Trump operate secure in the rule of law. In Russia, Yukos Oil CEO and one of its wealthiest billionaires, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, publicly criticized Russia’s state corruption and, in short order, was arrested. He was directed to sign over his Russian business interests to the government and go into exile, like a prior businessman did. He refused. He was convicted and sentenced for tax evasion in 2005 and, in December 2010, he was found guilty of stealing oil and laundering the proceeds. His oil company was sold at auction to a shell company whose capitalization was $300. The company immediately turned around and sold the company to the State. Here is the Vanity Fair article describing the long sad story of Khodorkovsky.
It was the rock solid American political and legal system that permitted Trump to live in a bubble that perceives everything as a business deal. It is substantially responsible for Trump’s hubris in undermining our sovereignty by publicly calling on Russia to hack Hillary’s emails, and wittingly or unwittingly using the ill-gotten intelligence to his advantage. It was integrated into the most emotionally inflammatory misinformation-based political campaign in the history of the United States, where much of the misinformation dissemination was also courtesy Putin. Trump continues in corroding the legitimacy of our system by accusing the CIA and FBI conclusions as fabrication that is a politically motivated attack on him.
After the thrill of victory subsides, as Trump rolls over, has a proverbial cigarette, and watches the sun rise on a new country, will he clearly see who he brought into his house and bed? Even if he does, Russia is that crazy bitch from “Fatal Attraction”. She isn’t just going to disappear. She thinks she owns a piece of him. Trump isn’t going to like it. Trump and Putin are not going to be happy dance partners, even if they both stand to make a fortune off of oil deals. Both of them are going to want to lead. And Trump’s bullying business tactics aren’t going to work. Putin will laugh at him. I am terrified of how quickly this will escalate as Trump knows no other way than to double down on threats and aggression as he did in business. But this is no longer business. For forty years, we were perched at three minutes to worldwide nuclear holocaust during the Cold War conflict. Nukes are still there, folks. And as president of the United States, nothing stands between Trump and the big red button.
This Monday the Electoral College meets and votes, and I am not holding my breath for some kind of miracle. I wait to hear the final declaration to end this purgatory. Sadly, the great complexities that are now foisted upon us, I am not sure whether the world will start to spin again or it irrevocably grinds to a permanent stop.