President-elect Donald Trump. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters
In 1964, when Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson, a man named John A. Stormer self-published a book called, “None Dare Call It Treason.” It accused America’s left-leaning elites of paving the way for a Soviet victory in the Cold War. The book sold seven million copies, but Johnson crushed Goldwater in the election.
Now that the C.I.A. has determined that the Russians intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win, the Cold War politics of left and right have been flipped. If Stormer rewrote his book for 2016, its thesis might go like this:
Beware of Donald Trump. Witlessly or willfully, he’s doing the Kremlin’s bidding. Anyone who enables him – on his payroll or in the press, by sucking up or by silence, out of good will or cowardice – is Vladimir Putin’s useful idiot. This is a national emergency, and treating it like normal is criminally negligent of our duty to American democracy.
Trump as traitor: I can just imagine the reaction from the Tower penthouse. Lying media. Paranoid hyperbole. Partisan libel. Sour grapes. A pathetic bid for clicks. A desperate assault on the will of the people. Sad! (Note to Tweeter-in-Chief: You’re welcome.)
As a kid in a New Jersey household where Adlai Stevenson was worshipped, I thought Stormer was a nut job, so I won’t pretend that accepting the modern inverse of his case is a no-brainer. I’m also not trying to recast my political differences with the president-elect as a national security crisis. Trump won. Elections have consequences. I get that.
I may not like it, but I’m not surprised that Trump tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a crusading climate change denier and an advocate of dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, to run the E.P.A., presumably into the ground. Anyone who interpreted Al Gore’s meeting with Trump as a sign of his open-mindedness on climate change got played, just like Gore got played.
Similarly, I’m cynical, but not shocked that Trump’s picks for treasury secretary, National Economic Council and chief adviser – Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon – are alumni of Goldman Sachs. A billionaire managed to hijack Bernie Sanders’ indictment of Wall Street and brand Hillary Clinton as the stooge of Goldman Sachs. The success of that impersonation isn’t on Trump, it’s on us.
I’m infuriated, but not startled that Trump refuses to disclose his tax returns, divest his assets, create a credible blind trust, obey the constitutional prohibition of foreign emoluments or eliminate the conflict between fattening his family fortune and advancing American interests. That’s not draining the swamp, it’s drinking it.
It’s abysmal that Democrats didn’t have a good enough jobs message to convince enough Rust Belt voters to choose their economic alternative to Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. It’s disgraceful that the media normalized Trump, propagated his lies, monetized his notoriety and lapped up his tweet porn. It’s maddening that the Electoral College apportions ballot power inequitably. But as enervating as any of that is, none of it is as dangerous to democracy as the C.I.A.’s finding that Putin hacked the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. Without firing a single shot, the Kremlin is weeks away from installing its puppet in the White House.
Within days, Trump is expected to name Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil’s CEO, as his secretary of state. Putin bestowed the Order of Friendship, one of Russia’s highest civilian honors, on Tillerson, after Exxon signed a deal with Rosneft, the Russian government-owned oil company, to jointly explore the Black Sea and Arctic. The plan died when the U.S. and E.U. sanctioned Russia for annexing Crimea; Tillerson, whose Exxon shares’ value will skyrocket if sanctions are lifted, favors lifting them.
The Tillerson appointment is the latest dot in the pattern of Trump’s Putinophilia. When 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails, Trump – who’s refused most of his security briefings – rejected their conclusion, claiming at one point that it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” at another that “it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” I knew that Trump is a serial fat-shamer, but I didn’t know until now that being a Newarker puts me in his crosshairs, too.
It’s entirely conceivable that Russia has something on Trump. They may hold hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump debt. They may have spousally unsettling video of him – a K.G.B. specialty, and a plausible Trump susceptibility. Surely the Kremlin has mapped his character disorder. In the third debate, when Trump said Putin had no respect for Clinton, and she shot back, “Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president,” Trump’s interruption – “No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet, no, you’re the puppet” – sounded like a third-grader. Actually, it was a confession, what clinicians call projective identification. Putin’s psy ops must know every such string on him to play.
Before the election, when both parties’ congressional leaders were secretly informed that Russia had its thumb on the scale for Trump, Republican leader Mitch McConnell torpedoed a bipartisan plan to decry their intervention. Now that the news is out, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that the intel “should alarm every American,” and they called for a bipartisan investigation to stop “the grave threats that cyberattacks… pose to our national security.”
Trump’s response? “I think it is ridiculous. It’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”
As we don’t know. Trump’s Electoral College margin will rank 44th among the 54 presidential elections that have been held since the 12th Amendment was ratified. Nate Silver called Trump’s “landslide” claim “Orwellian.” The Washington Post gave it Four Pinocchios. Why not just call it a lie?
Trump blew off the Kremlin’s intervention in our election the way Putin denied Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Do we call that a lie, too?
Maybe there’s a better word we should dare to use.
Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.