Donald J. Trump’s reaction to charges that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election tells us something critically important. It tells us that Trump does not think as a president of the United States should and in fact must think, and that he may not be capable of doing so.
Ask yourself: What’s the single most important duty of a president? The most important duty of the president is to protect the country. In this case, a president guided by that sense of duty would immediately recognize that Russian intervention into our electoral process — regardless of which side it takes — constitutes a foreign assault on the integrity of our democratic systems. It is, as Sen. John McCain describes it, “a form of warfare.”
Even if you’re not fully convinced of Russia’s guilt, as president the mere possibility of such foreign intervention would require you to take the claim seriously, undertake an in-depth investigation and then take action if that investigation proves conclusive. There can be no other responsible course, and yet Trump has chosen to take another direction entirely. From the beginning, he has dismissed these claims as groundless and ridiculous and not even deserving of further notice. And he has done so despite the fact that government agencies and top private-sector cybersecurity experts are all telling him that he is wrong. (Another private assessment of the evidence is here, and Wired has a compendium of evidence here.)
In other words, Trump has treated this not as a potential assault on the country, but as an assault on something that he considers far more important, which is his own ego. It is all about him. Every action, every response coming from the Trump camp has been motivated not out of concern for the country but out of concern for protecting Trump’s self-image.
And in rushing to defend the Trump ego, he and his staff have done even greater damage to the country.
For example, by lashing out and attacking the patriotism and professionalism of our intelligence community, Trump has opened a gaping breach with those who must serve as his eyes and ears on the rest of the world once he takes office next month.
He had already been deeply dismissive of their work, refusing to receive the daily intelligence briefings that are standard for presidents-elect because, as he explained it on Fox News this weekend, he’s already “smart” and doesn’t need to sit through the briefings. However, he has now put the intelligence community and everyone else in government on clear notice: As president, he will not react well when bad news is brought to him; he will attack those who do so and he only wants people who will tell him what he wants to hear.
And of course, there’s no shortage of people eager to play that role. Take John Bolton, who is apparently in line for a top job at the State Department. Over the weekend, Bolton defended Trump by suggesting that the hacking of both the Democratic and Republican parties was a “false flag operation” conducted by American intelligence at the orders of the Obama administration, with the goal of falsely implicating the Russians as the culprits.
That’s just an extraordinary plummet down into the rabbit hole.
Bolton would rather believe, based on no evidence whatsoever, that his own country perpetrated the crime. If the evidence points to Russia, that’s proof that the evidence was planted because again, the possibility of Russia intervening to elect Trump cannot be tolerated.
And in case you are tempted to take Bolton seriously for even a millisecond, don’t. His whole notion collapses upon even a cursory examination:
Bolton’s theory requires you to believe many wacky things, most notably that as a key part of this “false flag operation,” the Obama administration not only hacked the email servers but also arranged the leaking of emails damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In essence, he needs you to believe that Obama threw the election in order to later point the finger at Russia and Trump.
It is madness, pure and undiluted madness. And yet those engaging in this madness are being given the keys to immense power. We screwed up, America, and it appears that we are going to pay a helluva price for doing so.