Imagine that your local Bank, the one you and all your friends and neighbors use, is robbed.
The police immediately identify the bank robbers – Martha and Sly, notorious bank robbers since long before they robbed your Bank – but they’re unfortunately in the wind, on the lam, and it’s not clear they’ll ever actually be apprehended.
In the aftermath of the robbery, a new Bank Manager is appointed, Donny. Now Donny had a strange, sketchy history with the robbers, Martha and Sly, and so do many of the people who helped him get the Bank Manager gig, and Donny sort of got the Bank Manager gig because Martha and Sly robbed the bank in the first place, and it’s possible some of his buddies may have helped with the robbery … all of which is definitely troublesome.
But, what with the presumption of innocence and all, you give Donny the benefit of the doubt. Heck, every previous bank manager has been decidedly anti-bank robber, so you have to think Donny will be too, right?
Then Donny takes over as Bank Manager, and continues to say weird things like that Martha and Sly couldn’t possibly have robbed the bank. This is weird, because Donny knows it was Martha and Sly. He’s talked to the police, he’s seen the security footage – Martha holding up the teller while Sly empties the cash drawer, Martha and Sly dancing in the safe, tossing around $100 bills –but he keeps saying things like “well heck, it could’ve been anyone” and “are we really so sure the bank was actually robbed?” And that’s pretty weird for, you know, a bank manager, but who even knows anymore in this crazy world?
And then it comes out that, since he became Bank Manager, Donny has been on the phone with Martha and Sly many times, but he’s been working really hard to keep those calls a secret. Donny’s son-in-law Dick even went so far as to try to set up a secret phone line in his office, so he and Donny can call them without anyone else knowing! Turns out, the only reason you find out about many of those secret conversations is because Martha and Sly put out a statement, from an undisclosed bunker, saying that, sure, they’ve been talking secretly to Donald, but it totally wasn’t about robberies or anything like that, so chill out peeps!
Then it comes out that Donald may or may not have given Martha and Sly some top-secret Bank information, because the last bank manager wasn’t so nice to Martha and Sly (both notorious bank robbers, mind you), and Donny wants to turn over a new leaf. Plus Martha and Sly are such a charming couple and gosh darn it, Donny wants to be liked! Which is really weird, but Donny’s definitely a weird guy, so who knows?
And then we learn that Martha and Sly are planning another bank robbery, that they may have been continuing to siphon more money from the Bank all along, but Donny, the bank manager, is not concerned.
When Leslie the security guard corners Donny and says, “hey Donny, you’re the bank manager, shouldn’t we do something to prepare for those bank robbers coming back and robbing us again?,” Donny shrugs and says “nah,” and tells Leslie to keep a close eye on the dark-skinned guy over at the ATM.
When Leslie, worried about another bank robbery, raises the alarm publicly, Donny fires Leslie, and screams and yells that Leslie is corrupt, probably a criminal, lock her up. When the police investigation into Martha and Sly turns up very strong evidence that Donny and his associates may well have helped Martha and Sly with the robbery, Donny screams and yells that the police are corrupt, probably criminals, lock them up – by now you know the drill.
Now the Bank’s Board of Directors are very patient with Donny: after all, he’s new at this, he’s learning on the job, and he’s very sensitive about people accusing him of being in cahoots with Martha and Sly, so give the little guy a break would ya?!? And oh by the way, the bank robbery kind of sort of helped the Board, and Donny’s been making the Board nice and rich, so they can only give him so much grief …
But one day, the Board does say to Donny, “hey fella, we’re worried about Martha and Steve robbing us again. Any chance you could please take a few minutes and install a new vault and new security codes, maybe freeze their bank accounts, do something so they think twice before they rob us again?” “Nah,” says Donny. “We’re good. But let’s keep a careful eye on that cluster of angry women over there filling out deposit slips. And where the hell is that dark-skinned guy from the ATM?!?”
Then Donny says he wants to hire Martha and Sly to help him with security at the Bank. And that’s pretty weird, since they’re, you know, bank robbers, and he’s a bank manager.
Now, you may be one of those bleeding heart types who still believes in American ideals, in the presumption of innocence, and God bless you, that’s wonderful. But all the presumption of innocence means is, Donny gets his day in court; we don’t just get to lock him up based on a sequence of events and actions that are pretty darn weird and suspicious, we’ve got to prove it all adds up to something more nefarious.
But you do keep all of your damn money at that Bank; you do rely on that Bank when you need a little loan to put a new roof on your house, or to send your kid to college. So it’d be pretty bad if the Bank collapsed, or if, say, Martha and Sly kept on robbing it, right?
And that’s the rub: maybe you have faith that, in the end, “the truth will out.” Maybe you truly believe Donny should stay bank manager – even though it’s batshit crazy for the Board of Directors to not fire him – until we know once and for all, 100%, beyond a reasonable doubt, if he’s actually in cahoots with the bank robbers. But in the meantime, Donny just keeps doing weird things, inexplicably suspicious things, where the simplest explanation is that he is in cahoots with Martha and Sly.
So until we know for sure, hasn’t Donny done enough that it might be wise to keep an eye on him? Shouldn’t we be telling him “no Donny, no more secret phone calls with the bank robbers,” and carefully monitoring the vault keys, and following up, again and again, with “hey fella, how are things going on improving security so we don’t get robbed again?”
And when Donny and his cohorts tell us “oh no no no, Donny’s not in cahoots with Martha and Sly, he just acts this way because he’s really insecure and unstable and stupid,” shouldn’t we be just a wee bit dubious? Hasn’t he done enough already that we should at very least stop giving him the benefit of the doubt?
It’s an inexact metaphor, but in the shadow of the latest revelations from Bob Mueller – indictments against Russian operatives that clearly and definitively detail a massive campaign to undermine American democracy – this is what we’re up against in America right now.
In times like these, it is essential to “express things plainly”: the President of the United States hasn’t just been derelict in his basic obligation to protect our country from foreign invaders, he’s given us an alarming number of reasons, by his very actions as President, to suspect that he is, in fact, loyal to that foreign invader, Russia.
The Bank Board above would have been batshit crazy (or corrupt as hell) not to fire Donny immediately; I would submit that Congress is in the exact same boat. Even setting our dispiriting political reality aside though, we need to at very least start treating the possibility that the President of the United States is compromised with the seriousness it deserves, because everything this President does suggests that that’s the case.
Some things that have happened, since Donald Trump won the 2016 election, with regards to Russia:
- Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and closest advisor, attempted to set up a “back channel” line of communication between himself, Trump and the Kremlin. Kushner proposed setting up a Russian-controlled line, via the Russian embassy, that would intentionally hide those conversations from the American government (U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials), and accordingly from the American people.
- This turned out to be a pattern: in July of 2017, Trump met with Putin secretly at an international conference, for roughly an hour, joined only by Putin’s translator. Again, no American ears were in this meeting, other than Mr. Trump’s. News of this meeting came out eleven days after it occurred, and the White House only acknowledged the meeting after it had been widely reported.
- And ever since Trump took office, we’ve seen an alarming pattern where the American people only ever learn that Trump and Putin have had a conversation when Russia sees fit to release that information. We’re learning what our President is up to with regards to Russia, from Russia, and its state-controlled media.
- This all echoes, of course, the story from early in Trump’s presidency, when he met with high-profile Russian agents in the Oval Office – cheesing and mugging with the shady guy, Ambassador Kislyak, at the center of the Russian investigation at the time – and only invited Russian state media to attend and photograph the meeting, excluding American press altogether.
- At that same meeting, Trump bragged to the Russians about firing Jim Comey, and also revealed highly classified information to the Russians, in an apparent effort to impress his honored guests, and to the direct detriment of American interests, as well as our allies.
- A few months after that, President Trump – despite having all the relevant intelligence necessary to assess that Russia attacked the United States via a sophisticated computer operation – tweeted that: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..”
That’s right, the President of the United States, faced with an attack on his country, announced he’s excited to be working jointly with the fox – its teeth still stained with blood – to protect to the hen house.
- A short time later, President Trump thanked Putin for instituting sanctions against the United States, expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomats from Russia. F.A.T. backtracked and said later he was being sarcastic (and he’s an honest guy, so who knows?).
- We’ve since learned that the President’s daily intelligence briefings often do not include intelligence about Russia, for fear that it will upset F.A.T.
- And just last week, America’s intelligence chiefs affirmed that (i) Russia very likely will target the coming 2018 elections, and (ii) the President has not showed any interest in that likelihood, or ordered any kind of effort to actively prevent a looming attack on the United States.
- Indeed, the Trump administration announced just last week that it would defy Congress by not implementing the sanctions against Russia required by an almost unanimous bi-partisan bill.
- And the nominal steps required by the sanctions bill that the White House did ostensibly take – circulating a list of oligarchs connected with Putin – involved no more work or analysis than cutting and pasting a list of rich Russians from Forbes magazine.
Rather than even pretend to take seriously an effort to push back on Putin, the Trump White House presumably devoted 15 minutes of intern time to developing the list.
- Diplomatically, the Trump Administration – which still thankfully includes voices who treat the Russia threat seriously – has sporadically butted heads with Russia, but it has also given Putin a range of diplomatic gifts, it has ceded an extraordinary amount of power and control to Putin in various diplomatic dialogues around the world, and the President himself has appeared hellbent on giving Russia what it wants: relief from sanctions, including those specifically instituted by the Obama Administration in response to the election attack.
- And all the while, there are these armies of Russian trolls continuing to attack our country. When the clamor over the corrupt Nunes memo was at its most intense, Russian bots gave an enormous boost to the “Release the Memo” crowd.
That’s right, the White House and its Republican allies working hand in hand with Russian bots to attack our law enforcement professionals.
All of this fits with everything else we’ve seen from President Trump since he took office, with regards to Russia. He has, from the pulpit of the presidency, minimized or outright denied Russia’s attack (despite knowing differently) dozens of times since the election. He has flagrantly obstructed the investigations into Russia’s attack. He has been bolstered by Republican efforts to wage an outright war on American law enforcement professionals, and Russia has joined in those attacks. He and his hangers-on have lied, again and again and again, about not just contacts with Russia, but contacts in which the intent to conspire with Russia could not have been more clear. And despite picking fights with damn near everyone over the past two years, Donald Trump has still not expressed any anger towards Vladimir Putin.
The indictments announced Friday by the Department of Justice, secured by Mr. Mueller, were notable because they spelled out, in dramatic and authoritative detail, what we already knew: that Russia, a foreign adversary, engaged in aggressive information warfare against the United States, and that one of its key goals was working to elect Donald Trump. None of this was truly news to anyone with even a passing interest in Russia’s attack on the United States, and it certainly was not news to the President of the United States. All of which makes the President’s inaction for the past year so striking, and so horrifying.
Indeed, even I’m writing this post, the President of the United States is engaged in an epic Twitter meltdown, lying his bulbous ass off about his previous, myriad denials of the Russian attack, and blaming the FBI, the American people, Democrats, for the attack. Conspicuously missing, as always, are any blame or recriminations against Vladimir Putin or Russia, or any promises to make them pay for their actions, or to protect the United States from future attacks. F.A.T. is shamelessly lying that he never denied Russian interference – but makes no effort to explain why, if that’s the case, he hasn’t done a fucking thing about it in the 13 months he’s been President.
What troubles me is that the Narrative surrounding Trump and Russia seems to be coalescing around the notion that we need to hold off on judgment, that there’s “lots of smoke, no fire,” and “let’s let the process work, let’s let Mueller do his job.” Not only is that demonstrably false (there is a shit ton of fire), but it also absolves everyone with the power – Republicans in Congress, a smattering of weak-kneed Democrats, the Media – from taking any responsibility from what could be an ongoing national security breach that reaches the presidency itself.
Nowhere is this dynamic more troubling than in the way that the Media has largely glommed on to the spin that President Trump is such a raging, insecure narcissist that all of his unsettling behavior regarding Russia can be summed up by his fear that the Russia story “delegitimizes” his great election triumph. I get it – that’s an explanation that, while logically unsound, is intuitively easy to understand: he is a narcissistic, insecure fool. But how does that explain why he keeps bending over backwards, as President, to flatter, please and appease Russia?
The impulse appears to me to be based on a need – among the Media and within each of us, our Noxious Mod instincts – to avoid acknowledging how deeply abnormal this situation is. We still can’t wrap our heads around the notion that a President could be compromised in this way, and so we latch on to a theory that makes a modicum of sense, and that is just a little less scary. But while the White House spin about a deeply insecure snowflake president just blundering his way into the appearance of treason may be true, there’s also a substantial body of evidence suggesting that it is not true, that there’s more “there” there. To ignore or downplay the equally-plausible possibility is to:
- (i) decidedly not wait for “the truth to out”;
- (ii) give more credence to the spin of a proven, inveterate liar than we do to what our own eyes can tell us (the “President’s just a narcissistic fool” theory relies on us accepting the self-serving spin offered by this White House);
- and most importantly (iii) ignore the very real possibility that the United States is in a far more dangerous national security crisis than any of us can imagine.
Mr. Mueller appears to be a remarkably competent man, and I have hope – assuming Trump and the corrupted Republican Party do not destroy the process altogether – that he will deliver a full and thorough accounting of the Russia story. But in the meantime, the President of the United States is not just acting like he’s insecure, he’s acting like he owes something to Russia.
Doesn’t it make sense to at least start from a point of skepticism in dealing with this President, rather than giving him the same benefit of the doubt we’ve given to the President’s before him? We don’t remotely hold President Trump to the same standards we’ve held previously Presidents; why is he then entitled to the same presumptions of good faith, when he’s never shown any capacity for good faith, in any venue?
There are too many crises going on right now, too many disasters, too many outrages, and it can be hard to keep our eye on any one ball at any one time. But it’s become clear in the past 48 hours that there is a very real chance that the President of the United States is operating in league with a foreign adversary, that, for whatever reason, he is doing Russia’s bidding.
We can agree to reserve final judgment until we have “all the facts” (which is a laughable and dangerous premise worth unpacking some other day). Until we get to that point, however, it would be a severe dereliction of our duty, as citizens, to not be laser-focused on the real possibility that the guy holding the keys to the vault may well be working with the bank robbers.
What does that mean, practically? It means that we need to ask each and every Republican in Congress – and every Democrat for that matter – to go on the record.
“Congressman, we’re not saying the President is beholden to a foreign adversary, and I get it, we’re waiting on Mueller before we ‘jump to conclusions’ …
But here’s a laundry list of behavior that, at very least, suggests that’s a possibility – are you comfortable with that behavior?
Can you say definitively that the President’s actions, the actions of his staff and advisers, that whole laundry list, are entirely innocent?
Assuming you can’t be 100% sure, what are you doing to protect us?”
We need to demand that our Media not get sucked into the trap of viewing every outrage in its own vacuum, we need to insist that they bring the fucking receipts, and demand that our representatives answer these most basic questions.
And we need to be prepared to scream and yell until the Narrative starts to shift, until the entire country is treating this bizarre and unprecedented situation for the very real threat that it is.
Forget “collusion” or conspiracy with Russia during the election – it likely happened on some level, and we need to get to the bottom of it, but that’s the least of our problems now. The President of the United States may well be the tip of the spear in the most stunning national security crisis this country has faced in a generation, and we need to grow the fuck up and start acknowledging that, and acting accordingly.