Even those who’ve only had a casual interest in politics since the election have probably still heard about Trump’s ominous ties with Russia.
It’s Trump this and Putin that. White House this and Kremlin that. As we speak, the FBI is investigating the relationship between the two leaders, and stories highlighting the two nation’s shadowy dealings are breaking by the day, including a Washington Post exclusive on Wednesday reporting two pre-election conversations between now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian Ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak — a direction contradiction of what he told Congress during his confirmation hearing.
Sessions has, as of tonight, announced he will recuse himself from any future Justice Department investigations into Russia.
But the overarching question from casual observers and even serious political junkies is likely to be: Why? What does it matter if Trump talks with Russia? How does it affect me and why should I care?
The answer to that is complex. But the bottom line is that it does matter. A lot.
All explanations must begin with the Cold War. Russia never wanted the Cold War to end. If they had it their way, they’d have pedaled their interests and influence all over the world, forming one giant Soviet Union. The United States was their direct adversary in preventing that from happening.
In the decades following World War II, there was no greater threat to America than the expansion of Soviet influence. It’s why we fought wars in North Korea and Vietnam. It’s why we performed a secret coup in Iran. It’s why we expedited our space and nuclear arms programs. Nearly all foreign policy from 1950 to 1990 revolved directly around the Cold War.
Since it’s been about 27 years since the collapse of the USSR, most millennials probably don’t appreciate this history. But in reality, it has shaped the way these two countries exist and operate.
And even though the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia, in no way, shape or form, represents American interests. The country shares a deep mistrust of the U.S., and takes great pleasure in discrediting western values. Vladimir Putin grew up during the Cold War and is a former agent of the KGB, the Soviet secret police.
To believe that he still doesn’t possess Soviet values – the ones that were instilled in him throughout his entire childhood and adult life — would simply be naïve. He does not like the U.S., and he hated the Obama regime for being particularly tough on Russian overreach, particularly in the Ukraine and Syria.
So there’s your context. There’s very little to gain by warming up to Russia.
The question, then, is why has Trump appeared to be so buddy-buddy with Putin? Why has he failed to say anything negative towards the Russian leader?
Therein lies the question, and the motivation for news outlets to continue digging.
The ties between the Trump team and Russia are vast. His first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was dismissed because of his ties to Ukraine’s former president, who was basically a Russian shill who was later ousted after protests by the Ukrainian people.
Security advisor Michael Flynn was fired following his clandestine conversations with Russian officials.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had numerous business dealings with Russia, and it’s well documented that his former employer, ExxonMobil, would benefit significantly if Obama-imposed sanctions against Russia were lifted.
Trump himself has admittedly tried to do business with Russia. And we still haven’t seen his tax returns. Thus, we do not know the extent of his involvement with the country. The fact that he is refusing to release them only adds to the speculation.
And this is all in the backdrop of what we already do know – that Russia purposefully interfered and aimed to influence our presidential election.
As in most cases, the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. Perhaps the alleged ties between Trump and Russia are harmless. But the more he denies them, and the more his administration officials deny them, the more he compromises himself.
Lying under oath is what could bite him in the end. Presidents have been kicked out of office for less.
Furthermore, coziness between the U.S. and Russia also serves to destabilize our relationships with eastern European countries who are not friendly with Russia. The more complicit our president is with Putin — even simply from conjecture and hearsay — the less trustworthy we become in their eyes.
And finally, the elephant in the room is the leaks. There are tens of millions of employees in the United States government, all of whom are privy to more information about the U.S. and Russia than we are.
There are continuous reports of widespread disarray within government departments under this inexperienced regime. Trump has already shown an indifference towards heeding the advice of our leading intelligence officials.
If these employees feel concerned enough that our government is not functioning properly that they have no choice but to leak information to the press, then that is deeply troubling. They are in a unique position to evaluate the state of this current regime, and if their assessments lead them to believe that leaking is the best option to protect American interests, then that to me is as much of a warning sign as anything.
In the end, this growing scandal has the potential to compromise the motives of our leaders, weaken American sentiment worldwide, and as a result, threaten our standing as a global power and our sovereignty as an independent nation.
So yes, one administration official speaking with the Russians is not altogether that troubling.
Trump’s inability to repudiate Putin is alarming, but not overly scandalous.
The appointment of a secretary of state who, with his previous job, went against U.S. interests to forge a relationship with Russia may be controversial, but not necessarily disqualifying.
All of these things together, given the past and recent history between the United States and Russia … it’s not a red flag.
It’s a freaking five-alarm fire.