Daily Maverick

Donaldus, a Borg, assimilated

Forgive us, Locutus, the Borg

Unlike The Apprentice, Donald Trump did not come up on top from his three-nation trip. In a disastrous European journey where he had hissyfits in Brussels at Nato, then embarrassments galore in Britain, the president did his level best to grovel before the feet of Vladimir Putin. Some, like Republican Senator John McCain, are expressing their horror and embarrassment over Trump’s flights of fancy or, worse, over Trump’s fealty to the master of the Kremlin. Some are calling his behaviour treasonous.

Well, okay. It is now finally clear. Donald Trump has been totally and completely assimilated into the hive. Any resistance would have been futile.

If you have read Donald Trump’s tweets, absolutely everything wrong with US-Russian relations is entirely America’s fault. And Vladimir Putin is just an innocent bystander to the mess. The Crimea annexation by Russia was former President Obama’s fault, and the downturn in relations thereafter – the sanctions, the troubles in eastern Ukraine – was all his fault as well. And that cyber interference with the US election, well that was also the Democrats’ fault, if it is even true that anything had happened, which it didn’t, but, in any case, it was all concocted by that dastardly deep state in order to wreck his presidency and destroy bilateral relations. Or something.

James Hohmann, writing in The Washington Post, wrote:

… in an interview that aired Sunday, CBS’s Jeff Glor asked Trump at his golf course in Scotland to identify the ‘biggest foe globally right now’. Trump named the European Union, which includes many of America’s closest historic allies. ‘Well, I think we have a lot of foes,’ the president said. ‘I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe. Russia is foe in certain respects. China is a foe economically … But that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive.’”

Trump also continued his pattern of blaming the American victim, not the foreign attacker. The president attacked the Democratic National Committee for allowing itself to get hacked and Barack Obama for not more forcefully responding, rather than the Russian government for conducting the hacks.

We had much better defences. I’ve been told that by a number of people. We had much better defences, so they couldn’t,” Trump said on CBS, referring to his campaign and the Republican National Committee.

I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defences and they were able to be hacked.”

Many eyes have been rolling heavenward ever since.

Oh, and then there was that fake witch hunt into Russian interference that is making it all worse (Is there a different kind of witch hunt that would be a real one?). This is despite his very own administration’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers as individuals actively and deeply engaged in the cyber hacking that, per Trump at least, had never happened. And anyway, the hacking and electoral interference that didn’t happen didn’t give him the 2016 election anyway. Good golly, Miss Molly! This whole thing would have been rejected as too bizarre for words if anyone had come into a pitching session with a Hollywood producer. And would Bollywood or Nollywood been any more receptive to such arrant nonsense? And we haven’t even mentioned the nerve toxin attack/s in Britain.

Now, of course, Donald Trump has been meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Presidential Palace in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, on Monday. Trump was in Finland after rampaging through the annual Nato meeting where he berated allied leaders for not yet reaching the level of spending 2% of GDP on defence by 2024 – and sandbagging them with a public demand they aim for double that – a.s.a.p. (Just for comparative sake, that 4% figure is actually higher than the generally accepted level of US spending on defence.) And then the Trumpster took to re-raising the familiar canard that the US pays 90% of all Nato costs. Along the way, he also picked snit fights with his favourite international target, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, among various others.

Then it was off to Britain for a pomp and ceremony-filled visit with the British prime minister, whom he then thoroughly and completely sandbagged – there is no other way to describe it – Theresa May with his interview in The Sun newspaper. On tape, he praised the just-resigned, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson – the well-known British bull in a political china shop archetype – as a potentially great future prime minister. And then, just for some extra marks, he explained that Prime Minister May had totally mishandled her Brexit negotiations. This interview was already on the newspaper’s website while the two heads of government were sitting down at a formal dinner together. Pass the arsenic?

When this guy wants to give you a smack across the chops, he really smacks you, even if he is so thoughtless in doing so that he doesn’t realise he is doing it.

Thousands of demonstrators were in London, meanwhile, to protest against the visit, including those flying a big orange balloon of Trump as a diapered baby. The queen probably was not amused with his bad boy-bully boy behaviour either, but she has seen so many do so much, maybe she just shrugged it off and went back to the great-grandchildren and her beloved corgis.

After a weekend golfing at his financially troubled branded golf club in Scotland, it was off to Finland. As the minutes ticked by to the summit, or meeting, or casual chat, or whatever spin the White House was ultimately reduced to sending out, the best guesses about what will be discussed were flying fast and furiously.

Key among them were that Syria (extricating US troops in the eastern part of the country now that IS was all but finished, gaining some pressure to get Russia to nudge Iran to withdraw its forces, getting recognition of other actors’ interests such as Israel in this conflict, and winding down the civil war without yet more chaos); a number of nuclear accords that soon need renewal or renegotiation; rolling back western sanctions on Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine; normalising the bilateral relationship more generally; and getting some sort of acknowledgement of electoral meddling were all supposedly to get some airtime. Some of these will get real discussion, but others, like electoral meddling, may not.

Of course, Putin immediately did his own version of a Trump speciality, being the big guy by arriving late, even though he had the shortest distance to travel. (Trump apparently was holding back at his hotel until Putin was en route to the agreed-upon meeting site.) And Putin was being borne aloft to the meeting via a massive motorcade, a veritable battalion of staffers, and his own version of “the Beast” presidential limo that reportedly is slightly bigger and more brutal than the one the US gives its president. At this moment, the whole thing was looking rather like one of those nature documentaries that highlight the boisterous, show-offish mating habits of the East Brobdingnagian Woolly Mammoth.

Michael McFaul, US Ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, describing Vladimir Putin on the very day of the summit, wrote in The Washington Post:

Putin is extremely confident — some might say arrogant — in his views about international affairs. He was not always this way. Putin was an accidental president, chosen by Russian President Boris Yeltsin as his successor in 1999; the Russian voters simply ratified Yeltsin’s choice. Back then, Putin was unsure of himself in foreign policy. He listened to others, both in his government and to other heads of state. But now, he has been on the job for two decades, save for a brief interregnum when he switched posts with his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. Today, he listens to no one; not his national security advisers, not Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and most certainly not to Trump. Putin knows it all.

In fairness to Putin, he is well-versed in international issues by now, especially after overseeing Russian military interventions in Ukraine and Syria, cyber interventions and propaganda operations in the United States and ties to autocrats in North Korea and Iran now for nearly two decades. His theories are flawed; his prescriptions are dangerous. But he knows the details of these issues way better than Trump, or indeed almost any other head of state in the world. That’s why the extended one-on-one meeting with Trump planned for the summit gives Putin a huge advantage.”

And so, the two men went into their man-on-man meeting and came out in late afternoon for a media moment to say, well, close enough to spit nothing. Nada, virtually. Damn-it-all nothing, just about. Except that, as The Washington Post reported just as the two men’s media conference wrapped up:

President Trump refused to support the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying at the end of his summit here Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the autocrat privately gave him an ‘extremely strong and powerful’ denial.

After Putin claimed his government played no role in trying to sabotage the U.S. election, as the Justice Department charged last Friday in indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democratic emails as part of a broad subterfuge operation, Trump offered no pushback. He went on to condemn the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as ‘a disaster for our country’.”

Trump’s warm embrace of Putin throughout a lengthy news conference was an extraordinary capstone to their first formal summit here Monday, where the two presidents spent two hours speaking alone, joined only by their interpreters. The U.S. president’s failure to directly confront his Russian counterpart stunned Washington’s national security establishment and drew stern rebukes from leaders of both political parties.”

Trump himself went on to say:

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. . . . I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

The Post went on to add:

Putin later confirmed that he did want Trump to win in 2016, ‘because he talked about normalising relations’ between Russia and the United States. Yet Putin did not answer directly when pressed on whether the Russian government had compromising information on Trump or his family members, dismissing it by saying that ‘it’s hard to imagine greater nonsense’. He told reporters, ‘Please throw this junk out of your head.’”

Well, okay then. We really don’t know what deals the two men made. We do know that Putin now confesses he was rooting for Trump to win. The intelligence agencies in the US all agree there was cyber intervention and the Feds are busy indicting Russian intelligence officers.

Meanwhile, a US president insists Russia is not an enemy, while America’s close European allies are competitors. Like we said right at the beginning of this little essay, Donald Trump has been totally assimilated, and there is no crew of the Enterprise to fix things. DM

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