President Trump has spent the better part of the past week stumbling from news cycle to news cycle trying to convince Americans that, despite 18 month’s worth of evidence to the contrary, he has faith in the U.S. intelligence community and has actually been very tough on Russia. First, he claimed he misspoke during his press conference with Vladimir Putin he said he didn’t see why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 election. A day later, he said he didn’t believe Russia was still targeting the United States, after which the White House said he was actually talking about something else. Since then, the president has largely reverted to pushing his usual contempt for Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation – which not two weeks ago led to the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers – and touting his relationship with Putin. On Tuesday afternoon, however, inspiration struck.
I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2018
We of course already know that Putin was actively trying to get Trump elected in 2016. The same month Trump was inaugurated, the intelligence community determined this to be the case. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump,” their assessment read. Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee concurred with this conclusion. “The Committee has spent the last 16 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work underpinning the Intelligence Community Assessment and sees no reason to dispute the conclusions,” committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr said in a statement.
If, like Trump, you aren’t too keen on taking the intelligence community at its word, take it from Putin himself.
Reporter: Did you want President Trump to win the election?
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 16, 2018
If Putin wanted Trump to win in 2016, he really wants him to win in 2020. Not only has Trump repeatedly praised Putin since taking office, he appears to be doing all he can to break down the post-war liberal order. In recent weeks, Trump has bashed NATO allies and parroted Putin talking points about Montenegro, which Russia fought to prevent from joining the alliance last year. Prior to the summit in Helsinki, Trump described the European Union as a “foe” of the United States, while refusing to label Russia as an adversary. Following their summit, Trump entertained the “incredible” idea of turning over a former U.S. ambassador to Russian authorities, prompting the Senate to rush a vote to prevent him from doing so, which they passed 98-0. Scores of former intelligence officials have suggested that Putin could possess comprising information on Trump, as there appears to be no other logical reason why Trump would cow to the former KGB officer on an international stage. “From a counterintelligence perspective, something is going on behind the scenes,” wrote Steven Hall, the former CIA chief of Russian operations. “Before Helsinki I was less sure; post Helsinki, I feel sick.”
When asked for its assessment of how the summit went, the Russian government said “better than super.”
Trump suggesting he is a thorn in Putin’s side is even more insulting to the intelligence of Americans than last Tuesday’s “would”/”wouldn’t” walk-back. This new position — that Russia is interfering, but on behalf of the Democrats — is convenient for Trump, as it allows him to simultaneously say he believes the intelligence community (Russia is interfering!) while also saying he’s tough on Russia (no puppet!). As both the midterms and Putin’s presumed visit to the White House draw near, expect Trump to continue to play this card. It’s the only one he has left after running through an entire deck of half-hearted excuses and illogical rationalizations in the week since publicly submitting himself, and the country, to the Russian president in Helsinki. Reality has become too powerful an enemy for Trump to subvert inconspicuously. He now has no choice but to challenge it directly and in plain sight.
The president best summed it up while speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon. “Just remember,” he said. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Pres. Trump says "this is the time" for tariffs: "This country is doing better than it's ever has before, economically…It's all working out. Just remember: what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening" https://t.co/rL4EQ2fRcN pic.twitter.com/MCdbwcI5BZ
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 24, 2018
If Trump’s warning on Tuesday sounds familiar, you may be thinking of what George Orwell wrote in 1984, his seminal novel imagining a dystopian future in which the public is oppressed by a manipulative authoritarian state. “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears,” Orwell wrote. “It was their final, most essential command.”
Welcome to 2018.