Call it the politics of “I know you are, but what am I?”
It is a form of “reasoning” that could not be more puerile, infantile, juvenile. So it very much appeals to Donald Trump.
You got an example in last year’s final presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton called him a “puppet” of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “No puppet,” snapped Trump. “No puppet. You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.”
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That exchange illustrated the degree to which a (then) 70-year-old man can be indistinguishable in temperament from a 7-year-old boy while also showcasing Trump’s reflexive instinct to turn every jab back against his opponent. It takes a rather testicular temerity to accuse someone else of your own sins, but that’s what Trump does.
Indeed, as seen in the 2016 campaign, it’s his go-to move. Trump, the favored candidate of David Duke, challenged Hillary Clinton to address her “racist” 2008 campaign. Trump, king of the ad hominem insult, complained of opponents being “nasty” and “angry” toward him. Trump, who bragged about being a grabber of pudenda, condemned Bill Clinton’s abuse of women. And so on.
Once you get that this is his favorite tactic, you get why last week’s announcement that the Justice Department is considering a special counsel to look into Clinton’s supposed collusion with Russia was predestined.
After all, Trump has long chafed at the fact that his campaign is under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly conniving with Putin’s regime as it interfered in the 2016 election. And the drip-drip of the headlines can only have added to his discomfort, what with reports of frequent, friendly contact between his people and the Russians and the indictments of three former aides (two for alleged money laundering unconnected to the campaign).
In response, Trump has repeatedly invoked Clinton’s supposed crimes and chided his Justice Department for failure to investigate them. So last week’s news reads, unavoidably, as an attempt by beleaguered Attorney General Jeff Sessions to save his job by giving his boss what he wants. Not incidentally, it also reads as a troubling attempt to turn Justice into a political missile, a weapon to punish Trump’s enemies.
You see, there’s no obvious crime here. The allegation is that Clinton, as secretary of state, approved a deal for a Russian firm to purchase shares in Uranium One, a Canadian mining company with operations in the United States, in exchange for a more than $140 million donation to the Clinton Foundation.
But Clinton didn’t green light the deal; she had no power to do so. Rather, it was approved unanimously by a nine-agency committee of which State was a member. As for the supposed quid pro quo, the vast majority of the money – over $130 million – came from a single Uranium One investor. He says he had no connection to the company at the time, having sold his shares 18 months before Clinton even took office.
What we apparently have here, then, is another “nothing burger” in the mold of Whitewater and Benghazi – not to mention superfluous proof of Trump’s juvenility. The man who said, “No puppet – you’re the puppet” now desperately wants to say, “I didn’t collude, you colluded.” In other words, he wants to distract and deflect.
But the evidence of Team Trump’s plotting with Russia grows more alarming with each headline. I, for one, refuse to allow baseless accusations about Hillary Clinton to make me lose sight of that. Or, to put that in terms the child president might better understand:
She’s rubber, he’s glue.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s email is email@example.com.