- - Tuesday, July 17, 2018


The most depressing thing about Donald Trump’s astonishing cuddle-up with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki is that it reveals how small the president’s mastery of history and power politics. Worse, he does not hear the minor chords in the music of America, a gift most Americans acquire in the womb.

Like Barack Obama before him, Mr. Trump understands only himself, and his imagined personal grandeur and the trajectory of the universe as it spins around his head, a natural phenomenon like the gaseous rings of Saturn. Why waste time learning how the world works, when he already knows how the universe responds to him.

Barack Obama never understood why his apology tour of the Islamic world — his eager bowing to the would-be kings of Arabia which he made his first order of business on assuming the presidency — so infuriated America. Donald Trump does not understand why friend and foe, the left and the right, are united in anger at his blaming America for the bad blood between Russia and the West. God is America’s faith, and America is America’s religion.

Mr. Trump, for all the good things his presidency has wrought, seems curiously puzzled by the fury he found when he returned from Helsinki and stepped off Air Force One into the hellstorm. He might usefully recall Merle Haggard’s hymn to a troubled heart in an earlier troubled time, when the world was roiled by anguish over the war in Vietnam:

“I hear people talkin’ bad/About the way they have to live in this country/Harpin’ on the wars we fight/And gripin’ about the way things ought to be/And I don’t mind ‘em for switchin’ sides/And standin’ up for things they believe in/But when they’re runnin’ down the country, hoss/They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.”

Brash and unsophisticated as the sentiments may be, that’s how most of the educated, children of first families and newcomer alike; cosmopolite and good ol’ boy, instinctively react to slight and snub of the country. These are the deplorables who cling to God, guns and faith in America, and when they hear someone runnin’ down the country these Americans usually look for a nose to punch. When the president of the United States goes abroad and says dismissive things about the land of the free and the home of the brave, even a president can’t expect to be spared the consequences.

Mr. Trump can’t hold his tongue when the subject is Russian meddling in the 2016 American election because the very idea of Russian meddling sounds like undermining the legitimacy of his election, and he imagines that criticism of Vladimir Putin is criticism of himself and his presidency. Mr. Putin flatters him (though not much) and that makes the Russian thug a good guy, deserving of a pass for interfering in our elections, for invading sovereign nations, assassinating Russian citizens abroad and working to destroy NATO.

If President Trump could have held his tongue his trip would have been hailed a triumph, even with his rough treatment of NATO, and rude scolding of German stinginess in spending for their own defense. He might even have got a little credit for bucking up British spirits in the difficult task of extricating Britain from Europe.

But the president’s performance in Helsinki casts a pall over the trip to the summit. Mr. Trump never got the late education he needed to be the effective leader of the free world (with America first, of course). And that’s what’s sad about the Donald. Loud, brash and bombastic, he has by himself broken up the grip of the dead hand of the elites, their arteries clogged by accumulated debris of the years.

Archie Bunker might advise the president to stifle himself. He has been warned. The fightin’ side of America is a risky place to be. Nobody wins there.

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