Who knows for sure why anything goes viral on the internet. There’s a bright future for the person who can figure that out. Surely, though, the reason ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann’s assessment of Donald Trump’s performance at the G20 meeting took off was that it showed Americans from the perspective of an informed outsider just how far and fast the reputation of not just the US Presidency but of the US itself is falling under Trump.
By hastening the decline of America, Trump himself is the biggest threat to the values of the West he claims to hold dear, Uhlmann said. At the G20 he isolated and diminished his nation; he confused and alienated his allies. To Americans, struggling to parse their situation amid the chaos, it might have been like walking past a shop window and being shocked that the lonely, decrepit figure looking back at you is you.
The analysis gained prescience from the week’s revelations that the President’s son Donald Trump jnr, his son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner and his election campaign chair Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer with close Kremlin ties during the election campaign, expecting to get a delivery of dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.
What did the President know, and when did he know it? This was the cut-through question asked by Republican senator Howard Black at the 1972 Senate Committee investigation into the Watergate break-in, a crime that ultimately brought down president Richard Nixon. Fast forward 45 years and it’s the pivotal question again, in relation that meeting.
Other questions arise, such as how long can the Trump presidency last? How much more damage will it inflict on the institutions of American democracy? By how much will it hasten America’s decline as a global power?
It must be hard for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to contain his glee or at least astonishment at how easily the now-evident Russian campaign to interfere in the election has messed with America’s politics, undermined its institutions and exploited a gullible president. China, too, will be paying utmost attention to the developments in Washington for their strategic implications for its global rise.
The Trump camp’s actions and its dishonesty are delivering a massive blow to trust in the US Presidency at home and abroad. What does it mean, if Americans can no longer trust their president to tell the truth, or even to put America first? What does it mean if American foreign policy is being driven by favours owed to Putin? A cavalry of distinguished American lawmen has lined up to say that Donald Trump jnr’s agreement to and attendance of the June 2016 meeting was probably illegal and maybe even treason. An ethical campaign would have immediately referred the approach for a meeting, made explicit in the email as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”, to the FBI.
The President’s lame response so far has been to declare his son a good man and dismiss digging dirt on rivals as standard practice in election campaigns. It’s almost as if he doesn’t comprehend or care about the seriousness of such an alleged breach of national security. Yet he must, because why else would he have fired James Comey, the FBI chief who resisted pressure from Trump that he drop the investigation into Russian interference in the campaign? Comey left no doubt as to his opinion in testimony to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing a month ago: “I was fired because of the Russian investigation,” he said. “That is a very big deal.”
It’s also a big deal that Donald Trump jnr earlier labelled allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government “disgusting” and “phoney”, claiming “I can’t think of bigger lies”. His father the US President told the Russians that James Comey was “crazy, a real nut job”. He’s also insisted there was no collusion with the Russians, adding, “I can only speak for myself.”
Which are the bigger lies now? What did the President know and when did he know it? It’s hard to believe Mr Trump had no knowledge of the infamous meeting involving two of his nearest and dearest as well as his campaign chair. It will be up to the special prosecutor Robert Mueller, appointed by the Justice Department to probe Russian links to the Trump campaign, to find out.
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