The most jaw-dropping aspects of the Trump-Putin summit

You know you're not in Kansas anymore when a US President is willing to consider allowing Russia to interrogate a for...

Posted: Jul 19, 2018 4:26 PM
Updated: Jul 19, 2018 4:26 PM

You know you're not in Kansas anymore when a US President is willing to consider allowing Russia to interrogate a former American ambassador about fabricated crimes. This is only one of the head-spinning developments that made the Helsinki summit alarmingly unique in the annals of US diplomacy.

Whether President Donald Trump's head-exploding press conference Monday with Vladimir Putin is just another episode in the bizarre reality show called the Trump presidency -- or a more consequential tipping point in his political fortunes -- remains to be seen.

Still, there are several takeaways from Helsinki that may go well beyond temporary headlines in the 24/7 news cycle.

Will the real Donald Trump please stand up?

Trump and the White House made a half-hearted and pathetic attempt to put out the firestorm he ignited at his shameful press conference with Putin. But the wordplay cannot change what we witnessed on the stage at Helsinki: unadulterated Trump. It was choreography he stage-managed himself: a high-visibility, high-stakes summit with his favorite authoritarian leader.

What poured forth was classic Trumpian froth. Much of what he said was not new to an American audience long used to his incessant mantra of "no collusion." But in Helsinki he was, for all the world to see, a weak and feckless President kowtowing to a ruthless and manipulative adversary. What stood out was his failure to defend his own intelligence community or hold Putin accountable for any of Russia's transgressions, be it interference in American elections, his annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine, Russia's support for Bashar al-Assad's murderous policies in Syria, or suspected assassination attempts using a nerve agent against Russian operatives in the UK.

Greenlighting Putin

One can only imagine the laughter and joy during Putin's plane ride back to Moscow. The meeting drove a stake through the heart of Washington's efforts to isolate Russia, and it gave Putin airtime as an equal to the United States. The campaign to intervene in America's political system continues at alarming proportions -- that's according to Dan Coats, Trump's director of national intelligence.

Stunningly, Trump's generosity continued back in Washington, where he praised Putin and the summit, raised questions about the US commitment to defend Montenegro, a member of NATO, and seemingly denied that Russia is continuing to target America's political system. Trump is the gift that keeps on giving for Putin.

That Trump actually was willing to consider a trade-off giving special counsel Robert Mueller access to the 12 Russians the Justice Department indicted in exchange for allowing Russia access to William Browder and perhaps Mike McFaul, former US ambassador to Moscow, must be head spinning even for Putin.

Summit on substance: A show about nothing

On substance, the Helsinki summit, like the hit TV sitcom "Seinfeld," was a show about nothing.

At their joint press conference, Trump described his meeting with Putin as productive and spoke of a new era of cooperation with Russia. Normally, the President, preternaturally given to hyperbole, "alternative facts" and self-adulation, would have used more bombastic rhetoric to laud the results. The fact that Trump used boilerplate suggests that he can't put lipstick on a pig and make it fly.

The United States and Russia have an adversarial relationship. Their differences -- over Ukraine, Syria, NATO operations, election interference in Europe and America -- are profound; they can be managed but are not susceptible to easy and permanent solutions. Trying to curry favor with Putin, as Trump has clearly done, only encourages him to engage in hostile acts against the United States and the West.

The apparent decision to follow up the summit with more regular contacts and dialogues on a variety of issues, including Ukraine, Syria and even possibly extending the New START strategic arms control treaty, are positive steps.

But don't hold your breath waiting for breakthroughs on the other issues that divide the two sides.

Reputational damage for US

Trump's shameful behavior at Helsinki has inflicted even greater damage to America's already-tarnished reputation and moral authority abroad, prompting Germany's foreign minister to proclaim that Europe can no longer count on the United States.

Why does this matter? Because in spite of Trump's go-it-alone policies, there isn't a single major international problem -- climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, trade -- that can be effectively addressed without the support of allies.

Trump believes he can get away with doing whatever he wants. But leaders in democratic countries hold themselves accountable to their parliaments and publics. Trump is highly unpopular in many of these countries. Every time he does something to tarnish America's reputation further and undermine the values it has historically embodied -- rule of law, democracy, freedom -- he makes it more difficult for our democratic allies to accept US leadership and support its policies.

Will this damage Trump politically?

The summit is unlikely to do much to change the political balance in Washington. At the moment, Trump's performance has empowered the Democrats and increased worry even among conservative Republicans that Trump has gone too far with Putin.

Congress plans to hold hearings on the Trump-Putin meeting, and Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, have already introduced the Deter Act to ramp up more pressure against Putin by mandating sanctions if the director of national intelligence confirms that any foreign government is interfering in our elections.

Although Trump's performance at Helsinki is unlikely to create enough concern among Republicans to erode their support for him seriously, it might provide further insurance against his firing of Mueller and energize tougher congressional action against Russia.

Just as he did in the wake of violence last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he defended some of the white nationalist demonstrators, Trump crossed a line in Helsinki in kneeling before an American adversary. How costly these transgressions have been will only become clear at the polls in midterm elections in November and the general election in 2020.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 314509

Reported Deaths: 7247
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21626259
Hinds20359415
Harrison17934309
Rankin13634278
Jackson13447246
Madison10099217
Lee9980174
Jones8381163
Forrest7683152
Lauderdale7191241
Lowndes6401147
Lamar623086
Lafayette6200118
Washington5339134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462798
Panola4588107
Pearl River4512146
Marshall4443103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420772
Monroe4113133
Union411076
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3968110
Hancock379386
Leflore3497125
Sunflower336090
Tate334084
Pike3325105
Scott315973
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311669
Itawamba300477
Copiah297065
Coahoma295479
Simpson295288
Tippah288768
Adams286882
Prentiss279760
Marion269280
Leake268373
Wayne262641
Grenada261487
Covington259681
George248048
Newton246861
Winston227281
Tishomingo226967
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw207857
Holmes189173
Clay185454
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178841
Clarke178080
Calhoun170832
Yalobusha164338
Smith162434
Walthall133945
Greene130633
Lawrence128624
Montgomery126942
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton99525
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83823
Quitman80916
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67331
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 532895

Reported Deaths: 11001
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson771431528
Mobile41089808
Madison34837505
Tuscaloosa25810454
Montgomery24355588
Shelby23730249
Baldwin21191309
Lee15892171
Calhoun14522316
Morgan14324279
Etowah13861353
Marshall12250223
Houston10581281
Elmore10060205
Limestone9986151
Cullman9705194
St. Clair9702243
Lauderdale9441242
DeKalb8846187
Talladega8255176
Walker7246277
Autauga6938108
Jackson6815112
Blount6694137
Colbert6310134
Coffee5524119
Dale4850111
Russell443238
Chilton4308112
Franklin426282
Covington4136118
Tallapoosa4039152
Escambia393977
Chambers3578123
Dallas3557152
Clarke351161
Marion3130101
Pike311377
Lawrence300798
Winston275673
Bibb261564
Geneva251477
Marengo249664
Pickens234761
Barbour231756
Hale223277
Butler216469
Fayette212562
Henry189044
Cherokee184745
Randolph181742
Monroe178040
Washington167639
Macon159950
Clay156857
Crenshaw152757
Cleburne149141
Lamar142935
Lowndes139053
Wilcox127130
Bullock122841
Conecuh110629
Coosa107928
Perry107826
Sumter104832
Greene92534
Choctaw61124
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