Writing for the Wall Street Journal, reporter Janet Hook describes the growing resistance to the legitimacy of a Trump presidency, most recently challenged by Democratic Congressman from Georgia John Lewis in a television interview and further called into question by Democrats across the spectrum, including many within the Clinton camp. The argument against his legitimacy rests on voter discrepancies that handed Clinton the popular vote win (thanks to a small number of densely populated counties in the Los Angeles and New York City areas) despite Trump’s winning the electoral college as well as a claim that the FBI’s James Comey may have conspired to undercut Clinton’s campaign through selective links and eleventh hour meddling. And, of course the ever fertile assertion that Vladimir Putin’s government orchestrated an election season effort to discredit Hillary Clinton by tapping and releasing damaging emails from her campaign staff and the DNC. certainly release of these roiled the political waters in the last weeks of the presidential race.
The Putin charge is among the most serious because it suggests foreign interference and all that that entails — even if there is no evidence that Russians actually influenced vote tallies across the country. The insidious notion that troubles so many is that Putin’s carefully calibrated leaks, through Julian Assange’s compliant WikiLeaks site, were enough to change some voters’ minds in a closely contested election. If so, a prospective President Trump might not really be America’s choice but Putin’s.
Against this, many Trump backers have rightly pointed out that Trump has actually been staffing up his government with credible hard liners where Russian (and other global) threats to America are concerned. If Trump were truly Putin’s boy, why would the Russian president expect to benefit from that?
But the answer may not lie there at all. Whether Trump comes into the White House intending to be tough or gentle with the Russian strongman, the potential benefit for Putin remains. As Hook writes
“. . . when he takes office Jan. 20, Mr. Trump will be facing some of the most virulent opposition ever to confront a new president. His approval ratings, while on the rise, are still the lowest of any president-elect in recent polling history.” In other words, Trump is a figure who has inspired (and continues to generate) a unique kind of antipathy among his erstwhile political opponents.
As Hook further notes:
“Michael Moore, a filmmaking rabble-rouser and Robert Reich, former Labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, are calling for ‘100 Days of Resistance’ to Mr. Trump.”
This is the real point of any Putin meddling. It would have been less about harming Clinton than sowing unprecedented discord in the American electorate.
So, if anyone wants to know why Putin might have preferred Trump in the White House (as the evidence suggests he did) to his Democratic opponent, this is why. It’s not that the Russian strongman had, or could have, a President Trump in his pocket, or that he could blackmail a President Trump once in office. Trump is too self-assured, even arrogant, to succumb to blackmail about any part of his life because he believes he can get past anything (as he seemed to demonstrate to himself and the rest of us during the campaign). And he’s too thin-skinned to take any personal (or perceived personal) jabs lying down. He will always, as he likes to say, “punch back” (perhaps even including the use of nukes, heaven help us).
In other words, Putin would likely have had something else in mind, something demonstrated by Hook’s article. He would have wanted Trump to win the election precisely because the man is so polarizing inside the American body politic. Trump, with all his crudeness and bullying ways, his polarizing persona, is like a virulent pathogen injected directly into our national bloodstream, producing in our social corpus a raging fever. If not staunched it could well cause us to experience dangerous cultural and political seizures.
Trump can’t help himself, he can’t help being Trump, and that can only enrage and inflame those parts of this nation which cannot accommodate themselves to such an element in their midst, at our very core in Washington, heading up the country. Like an infected beast, we struggle to find a way to accommodate this seemingly invasive element, to neutralize and incorporate it in some healthy way so that this entity now commencing to trouble and irritate our various parts can be effectively absorbed and made benign.
The question before us now is whether we have enough antibodies left in American society to combat this kind of virus which Vladimir Putin seems to have helped nurture within us — and whether we can emerge from our present fever stronger and healthier than before. When diseases strike, especially virulent ones, recovery isn’t always guaranteed.