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Our “steady genius”: or getting that Helsinki feeling

Editorial

President Trump in January described himself: “as a VERY profitable businessman and TV star who won the presidency on his 1st try. I believe that would qualify as not wise, but genius . . . and a really steady genius at that!”

Earlier this week the president, who had arrived for his summit in Finland with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, had this to say, “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

When we published Mark Brock’s cartoon two weeks ago that slyly suggested that Trump would report to Putin for his regular “performance review” while they met for an alleged summit, never did I think that it would qualify as an act of prophecy. Usually, as Freud would say, a cartoon is just a cartoon.

Trump was very deferential in neutral Finland to Vlad, virtually kissing his ring, although unfortunately he didn’t stop there and his lips kept going. He strongly suggested that Putin’s views of Russian interference in U.S. elections was just as valid as our own intelligence services’ assessment, which was that the Russians were very active in trying to subvert the system, although in often ludicrous, ham-handed ways. That is also the conclusion that the House Intelligence committee reached, and is what led to a host of indictments of Russian officers by Special Counsel Mueller. Indictments that will never come to trial since those indicted are unlikely to show up in court.

We all know that Trump is hyper-sensitive on this subject because he knows that his enemies like to suggest that he knew about Russian interference in 2016 and was somehow helping it, when there is absolutely no evidence of that, and none of the Mueller indictments suggest that either. But Trump IS right that his enemies want to attack the legitimacy of his presidency over this issue, which is stupid because Russians routinely try to disrupt our elections and set us against each other. But his enemies won’t admit that part of it, and they would rather try to blame Trump for Russian interference than to attach the blame where it belongs: to the Obama administration for doing nothing to fight it.

Unfortunately, the way Trump spoke on Monday is the way that a puppet of the Kremlin would speak.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this probably won’t be one of the weeks where the president’s approval rating improves, unlike weeks where the rate of economic activity bumps up another notch or unemployment reaches heretofore historical lows. 

I say that because even some (actually most)  of Trump’s biggest boosters and virtual “ever Trumpers,” such as Newt Gingrich, called him out. Gingrich declared, “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately.” I think that even Fox News’ resident village idiot, Sean Hannity, may find it difficult to defend the pro-Putin droolings. 

We have a president who accomplishes great things while at the same time reaching abysmal lows. That Americans have a problem with accepting the fact that you can have a great leader who is also a rapscallion and a buffoon is based in part on the fact that when our nation was born we had, for a short time, leaders who were great AND good men. At the very least we had one, George Washington, for whom it would be hard to find anything negative to write or say. A few years later we also had Abraham Lincoln, whom many would regard as being close to a saint, although that may be more a testament to how good a politician he was.

For a country founded on the proposition that we wanted to banish class distinctions and make every man, if not a king, at least his equal, Americans love to hero worship. This is emphasized when politicians such as Trump, and his predecessor Obama are so obviously worshipping at their own altars that they can barely make room for their acolytes.

It’s unseemly the way we Americans elevate our leaders and it only becomes truly grotesque when we do it with someone of such evident and multiple flaws as the Orange One. 

Lord Acton is famous for his maxim, frequently misquoted and even more often misapplied that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When you first hear that quote the first reaction is “Well, duh!” What he wrote is actually more profound.

In his 1887 Letter to Archbishop Mandell Creighton Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Trump may very well be a great man. But he’s probably also very likely a bad man. Bad men do bad things and say bad things—sometimes in spite of or even because of the good things they also do. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote for them since there is no such thing as a perfect leader and we choose from among the great men (or women) who will serve our republic the best, not for those who are perfect.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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