Russia’s success in undermining 2016 election no laughing matter


By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

Andrews McMeel Syndication

After special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians for undermining the integrity of the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump tweeted: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”

For once, Trump is absolutely correct. They are indeed “laughing their asses off in Moscow.” But their hilarity is caused by the president, not Congress. They are guffawing at Trump, not with him. They are positively giddy with the realization that the American president is swallowing Moscow’s propaganda line. And instead of “making America great again,” he is weakening our national security and damaging our democratic system.

Moscow is laughing because the president denies what his own national security adviser calls “incontrovertible evidence” that the Russians tried to manipulate the election in favor of Trump.

Moscow is laughing because the president accepts the word of Vladimir Putin, a ruthless dictator, over his own intelligence and military advisers.

Russian tampering

Moscow is laughing because the president refuses to take measures that could protect future American elections from Russian tampering, even though that tampering is certain to happen.

Moscow is laughing because the president’s obtuseness leaves America’s allies confused and alarmed. The Washington Post reports that German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has no idea where to look for guidance on Trump’s true intentions: “Is it deeds?” asks the German. “Is it words? Is it tweets?”

So it’s not surprising that when two political scientists asked 170 of their colleagues to rank the 44 presidents in terms of “greatness,” Trump came in dead last, scoring 12 out of a possible 100 points. (Lincoln was first, with 95.) Sure, many academics are liberals, but even Republican scholars ranked Trump in the bottom five.

No issue is more central to American democracy than the right to vote, but Trump has long stood for eviscerating that right, not protecting it. He insisted that fraud cost him the popular vote against Hillary Clinton when no evidence of fraud existed. Then he appointed a committee to investigate those fallacious misdeeds, which was so ill-conceived that it dissolved in disarray.

The president appointed as attorney general Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate’s prime critic of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that protects black voters throughout the old Confederacy. When a key section was gutted by the Supreme Court, Sessions hailed the ruling as “good news ... for the South.” And as attorney general, he has reversed longstanding Justice Department positions challenging congressional districts that dilute the voting power of minorities.

Indictment

When special counsel Mueller issued a 37-page indictment that detailed numerous examples of Russian electoral mischief, Trump said not a single word – not one – criticizing the Russian campaign or vowing to protect the American system against future incursions, which are certain to occur.

His ego is so large and so fragile that he could focus on only one thing: defending his electoral victory against any hint of illegitimacy. The integrity of the American system never seems to have crossed his mind.

“What is it we’re going to do about the threat posed by the Russians?” James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, asked on CNN. “He never talks about that. It’s all about himself.”

Himself and Putin, who seems to hold some sort of weird spell over Trump. Last November, the president lamely accepted the Russian’s assurance that he had not meddled in the election, an assurance so removed from reality that it sent Sen. John McCain into a fury.

“There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community,” fumed the Arizona Republican. “Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.”

Placating Putin

Trump continued to placate Putin last month when he refused to implement sanctions against Russia that had passed the Senate by a vote of 98-2. The point of the sanctions, says Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., was to send Putin a “clear and unmistakable sign” that Russian intervention in American elections would not be tolerated. Instead, Trump sent a clear and unmistakable sign that he’ll place our security at risk before he’ll confront the Russian tyrant.

There’s only one word to describe Trump’s attitude toward Putin and Russia: crazy. And that’s no laughing matter.

Husband and wife Steve and Cokie Roberts are veteran journalists who have covered national politics for decades.

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