“We are all in Trump’s reality show now.”
That was a statement made when Donald Trump, to his surprise, won the 2016 presidential campaign. It turned out to be a prescient remark, since what has followed that event seems to have come from the fevered imaginings of a TV writer. And Trump is the leading actor.
He is a commanding figure: stout, forceful, and quick-witted enough to entertain a crowd at great length; but deeply ignorant of economics, international diplomacy, military alliances, and the basic functions of government; and unable to listen to advice from people who know and understand such things.
As the impeachment inquiry continues on its methodical path, we have been treated to one improbable plot twist after another; things that belong in the dream world of television.
Testimony in an appeals court hearing last week is a fair example, when the president’s lawyers claimed that the chief executive cannot be indicted, or even investigated for a crime, up to and including murder. Needless to say, the judges find such a claim bizarre.
Earlier, the Leader of the Free World betrayed our Kurdish allies, handing them over to their mortal enemies while claiming that they were happy with the decision. This, as the disbelieving Kurds pelted our departing soldiers with rocks in their desperation.
Then came Trump’s claim that he had brokered a ceasefire when he was not involved in the deal. Vladimir Putin met Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, where they carved up Syrian territory between them, giving the Kurds 150 hours to vacate their homeland. Russian forces then moved in to replace the departing American troops. The president called this humiliation a victory.
Amid the talk, the fighting continues.
Through it all, the impeachment inquiry slogged on, hearing from government professionals who testified in defiance of the president’s blanket order of non-cooperation. With each witness, the proof of Trump’s bribery and extortion attempts in the shabby Ukraine affair was made stronger.
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If you are seriously interested in knowing exactly what this is all about, pick up Rachel Maddow’s new book, “Blowout” and turn to Chapter 19. All the characters are there, from Russian oligarch Dmitry Firtash to Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who has been more deeply in Russia’s Ukrainian plotting than you imagine.
The book’s main thesis is the pervasive influence and world dominance of the oil and gas industry and why and how Putin has been pushing Trump to get economic sanctions removed so that Russia can develop its resources. Without oil, Russia has no real strength.
Going through all this, you marvel anew at the hold Putin has over our president. Is it money? (Russian investments kept Trump afloat when American banks no longer trusted him.) Does he have incriminating evidence? Or has he simply found, as other world leaders have, how easy it is to play a man completely out of his depth?
There was also a moment of low comedy when some Republican House members pulled off a sophomoric stunt, barging into a closed meeting in defiance of House rules and compromising its security by bringing in cellphones: handy listening devices for attentive Russian operatives.
This was done in connivance with the president to offer visible proof of their allegiance to him. Also to advance the myth that they had somehow been closed out of the process.
The whole thing was pointless. The House is conducting private investigations to gather evidence, something they have to do because the Justice Department won’t. Once committee members -- of both parties -- have their questions answered and a basis for impeachment established, open hearings follow. Standard operating procedure.
Meanwhile, Trump keeps up his string of campaign gatherings, alternately boasting of his incredible -- and illusory -- accomplishments and whining about how badly he is being treated by the press, Democrats, and those few Republicans who dare to criticize his erratic behavior.
This is sad stuff and joyless to report. The worry is that this show may play out for another four years, ample time to destroy our democracy and reduce this nation to an international joke. The prospect is dismal and too close to call.