WASHINGTON -- Before this hare-brained and reckless administration is history, the nation will have cause to celebrate the public servants derided by Trumpists as the supposed “deep state.”
The term itself is propaganda, intended to cast a sinister light upon men and women whom Trump and his minions find annoyingly knowledgeable and experienced. They are not participants in any kind of dark conspiracy. Rather, they are feared and loathed by the president and his wrecking crew of know-nothings because they have spent years, often decades, mastering the details of foreign and domestic policy.
God bless them. With a supine Congress unwilling to play the role it is assigned by the Constitution, the “deep state” stands between us and the abyss.
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Witness, with horror and shame, Trump’s disgraceful performance on the world stage during the past week. The lowest of several low points was his joint appearance Monday in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who smirked with obvious glee as the president of the United States soiled himself. Metaphorically, I mean.
Trump said that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other officials had told him “they think” Russia meddled with the 2016 election. But Putin issued an “extremely strong and powerful” denial when the two leaders met privately, and Trump concluded that “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia. Coats fired back within hours, issuing a statement that reiterated the intelligence community’s consensus view, which is not “we think” but “we know.” Trump’s ridiculous claim Tuesday that he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would” amounted to nothing more than a moment of comic relief.
Thanks to a New York Times story published Wednesday night, we now know that the nation’s top intelligence officials briefed Trump in detail about the Russian meddling on January 6, 2017 -- two weeks before his inauguration. According to the Times, the officials shared with Trump powerful evidence that the interference, meant to boost Trump’s chances of winning, was ordered by Putin himself.
So we know that when Trump casts doubt on Russia’s culpability, he’s not speaking from a position of ignorance. It’s not that intelligence officials have asked him to take their conclusion on faith. They’ve shown him the goods. He’s just lying.
Who were the anonymous sources for the Times story? I have no idea. But if I had spent a career fighting for my country in the secret world, and I heard my president give more credence to the former KGB officer who rules an undemocratic Russia than to his own intelligence chief, I would be angry.
And if I also heard my president welcome what he called an “incredible” offer from Putin -- that he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to observe questioning of the 12 Russian spies he indicted last week if Russian authorities were also allowed to interrogate Americans they speciously accuse of crimes, including a former ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul -- I would be furious and alarmed. I would have to wonder about the loyalty of my commander in chief. And I would have to think about my duty to the nation.
Russian officials have said publicly that they are ready to begin implementing agreements reached by Trump and Putin during their two-hour private meeting, which only one Russian and one American translator were allowed to attend. But according to The Washington Post, in a story also published Wednesday night, high-ranking U.S. diplomatic and military officials did not know what those agreements were.
Did they reach some sort of understanding about nuclear arms? About Syria? About Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea? If you worry, as I do, that Trump may have intentionally or unintentionally given away the store, you have to root for the “deep state” to find out what transpired in that room -- and find ways to reverse or at least mitigate the damage.
Is Trump so obsequious to Putin because his ego will not allow him to acknowledge that the Russian strongman helped him beat Hillary Clinton? Or does Putin have something on him? We will get answers at some point, but we can’t ignore what we appear to be seeing right now: ongoing collusion, between Trump and Putin, to impede and denigrate the Mueller investigation. It’s happening before our eyes.
Democrats in Congress are powerless; the Republican leadership, spineless. Experienced government officials know that their job is to serve the president. But what if the president does not serve the best interests of the nation?
In this emergency, the loyal and honorable “deep state” has a higher duty. It’s called patriotism.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.