In the photos, Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak are right there on center stage, yucking it up with President Trump in the Oval Office.
This might be our White House, but Russia set the meeting parameters, Russia snapped the photos, Russian media issued the press release, and Russia got our president to bar U.S. media from the event altogether.
So much for America First.
The U.S. ambassador to Qatar put it perfectly when she said, it is “increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions.”
Like the Russians mugging for pictures in the Oval, bringing in their own equipment and who-knows-what-else on their Make Russia Great Again tour, much about this presidency defies explanation.
We now know that the day after Sally Yates warned that National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was compromised and open to being blackmailed by Russia, Trump did nothing. Flynn continued to sit in on the highest security briefings.
But the next day, the president summoned FBI Director Comey to dinner, not to learn more about Flynn and his potential danger to the United States, but to allegedly pump him for information on the Russia investigation and ask him if he wanted to keep his job.
The president has had an interesting string of days.
He tried to pin his decision to fire the FBI director on Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, a man who’s held office for all of two weeks. When Rosenstein understandably balked (none of this was his idea) the White House struggled to tell a coherent story.
Meanwhile, Russia splashed their Oval Office photos all over state TV, reporting the timing of Comey’s firing as an honored gift to the visiting Russian delegation.
Hours before firing Comey, the president sat down for an interview with The Economist, after which the editors described his general grasp of economics as “unimaginative and incoherent.”
For a man who ran for office on his soaring business acumen, this is alarming. How can he create jobs, cut taxes, reform healthcare, and build massive infrastructure when he doesn’t understand the basic tenets of economics?
The Economist summed up the interview in one disturbing sentence: “The impulsiveness and shallowness of America’s president threaten the economy as well as the rule of law.”
They are not wrong. As evidenced in his impulsive decision to fire the FBI Director, after reportedly consulting with no one, this president acts first and thinks later.
This is the man with the nuclear codes.
When the president’s latest tweet-storm erupted on Friday morning, a senior administration aide was meeting with a reporter. The meeting came to an abrupt end when the aide checked his Twitter feed and uttered one word before bolting: “Jesus!”
Working for Trump must be a lot like having an abusive father: you never know what’s going to set him off or how much of your soul you’ll have to sell to fix it.
Just a year ago, Ted Cruz said, “Donald Trump is a pathological liar, a narcissist, a bully, and utterly amoral.”
We should have listened.
After less than four months in office, one thing is clear: the president’s instincts fall to showmanship and obfuscation. He is, above all else, obsessed with his own ratings and his grandiose storytelling chops (remember that most beautiful piece of chocolate cake he enjoyed during the Syrian missile strike?).
Forget alternative facts, the president lives in an alternative reality. His cabinet and his communications staff have no choice but to follow his maniacal lead and make it up on the fly.
As The Atlantic’s David Frum put it, “The White House has a communications problem: it doesn’t tell the truth.”
When a real national emergency hits, how will we believe anything the president or his staff says?
If you’re wondering how the United States looks to the rest of the world, look no further. The president’s ego and his ignorance are on daily display.
His disastrous interview with The Economist is public. The lies meted out by his staff are public. And his egocentric tweet-tantrums are lauded as goldmines for our enemies’ spies, giving them an unprecedented 24/7 window into our president’s every grievance and mood.
Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia interfered in our election, the most sacred gem of our democracy.
To punish them, the president fired Sally Yates for warning him about Mike Flynn, fired the FBI Director in charge of investigating them, and invited Lavrov and Kislyak into the Oval office for laughs. The photo op seen ‘round the world.
We got played. Putin 1, Trump 0.