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JOHN BRUMMETT: Perilous president

The small Balkan nation of Croatia did what Hillary Clinton couldn't. It beat Russia.

That gave us a final four in the World Cup that is all-NATO, exalting the time-tested alliance and defying the emerging Putin-Trump axis of ego.

You ask: Must I politicize everything? I answer: Most everything is politicized already.

A megalomaniacal American president bullies our treasured historic allies and says that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is "fine." He insists on thumbing his nose at domestic democratic accountability to meet privately with this Russian autocrat during a forthcoming summit in Helsinki. This will happen only a week or so after the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee determined that Russia interfered in our recent presidential to help Trump.

Confronted with that exponential distress, I will take decency's victories on the soccer field and anywhere else I can find them.


Let me say a mitigating word for the Donald Trump base.

I understand that it believes Trump is seeking to impose an agenda of which it approves: America-first trade, native-first immigration policy and a general assault on an American political and media culture that this base finds corrupt. I understand that it believes the Democratic Party has gone over fully to identity politics and urban-centered interest. I agree that, at the moment, there isn't a Democrat in sight with any evident new ideas or broad message or appeal.

But, at risk of rude rebuff, could I ask the Trump base for a mere moment of mitigating consideration for the rest of us?

We see great peril in a big-mouthed president who likes Putin more than he likes Angela Merkel or Emmanuel Macron. We worry when an American president says the imperialist Russian is fine while our NATO European allies are going to have to start paying us more for both trade and defense if they want us to remain their friend.

Some of us still prefer open democratic societies to strongman regimes. Some of us still are more trusting of a Trudeau than a Putin, a Theresa May than a Kim Jong Un.

Consider this verbiage over the weekend by the Business Insider: "President Donald Trump treats Russian President Vladimir Putin as a confidant while bullying and ignoring other world leaders. Putin, meanwhile, is playing to Trump's strengths and weaknesses. The two men often commiserate over how the 'fake news' and 'deep state' are against them. 'It's not us,' Putin reportedly told Trump during one recent conversation. 'It's the subordinates fighting against our friendship.'"

If you don't recoil against that as betrayal of the American ideal, or at least worry that our ego-needy president is being played, then you must either be naïve or blindly enamored of what you think Trump is or, well, worse.

Trump told a Pavlovian gathering in Montana last week not to worry. I've been preparing for this summit with the Russian all my life, he said.

No, he hasn't. He's been cutting ethical corners to make big real estate deals, good and bad. A few bankruptcies are common to big-time real estate, at least the way Trump has done it. But a single cutting of an ethical corner in foreign affairs is detestable. A single moral bankruptcy in foreign affairs can be disastrous.

Could Trump's utterly transparent eagerness to be accepted as a near-equal chum of a strongman result in his being played by a smarter man who has spent his long career in sinister global manipulation?

You think?

The latest evidence indicates Trump might have been played three weeks ago by a grinning North Korean tyro, a boy with rockets for toys who figured out it was in his dictatorial interest to make nice with this big over-eager and pliable American, this colleague in juvenility.

Trump returned from a few hours of reality-based television performance in Singapore--The Presidential Apprentice, you might call it--to declare that Kim Jong Un was an admirable man and that we needn't worry anymore about North Korean missiles.

He relied for that conclusion on a couple of vapid paragraphs in a signed statement composed merely for show.

Over the weekend, North Korean officials met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to end the playtime and begin real business. These North Korean officials came away saying that the U.S. had made "gangster-like" demands.

Apparently the de-nuclearization of North Korea was not quite fully accomplished in that recent ratings-winning episode of Presidential Apprentice.

Don't worry. Putin and Trump will talk privately in a few days and lament that "fake news" won't give Trump his due for saving the human race.

Maybe Vlad will give Donald a hug. Maybe they'll relax by shedding their shirts and going horseback riding--Putin astride up front and the American behind, side-saddle, leaning on, and with his arms tight around, this fine Russian.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 07/10/2018

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