While there is nothing wrong with having a good relationship with Russia, the whole Helsinki Summit looked like Trump’s beauty pageant competition where the winner talks complacently about world peace.
I don’t know if it’s Trump’s fascination with beauty pageants, but his proclamations of world peace in Helsinki with Putin certainly made him look like he was performing at one. Instead of a tiara, Putin has given him a soccer ball, which Donald quickly passed to his poised and non-talkative wife, Melania, who was sitting in the front row. The question about in whose court the ball will fall was orchestrated and came from the main Russian propaganda channel in the US, The Russia Today, the equivalent of FOX news in terms of ideologically motivated news coverage.
On the American side of the press corps, Sarah Sanders tried for some balance, giving two questions to the wires, AP and Reuters, but FOX still got the two sit down interviews with the President. As well as the one with Russia’s Putin. This time, there were no references to the “fake news”, but the liberal cable networks were turned into mere spectators. I watched the press conference in real time and then three times on replay. Even if we factor partisan bias coming from the Democratic block, it is fair to say that the presser was at least odd. Some experts say that 80% of communications is about body language.
I have been covering Trump on a daily basis since his first press conference in Trump Tower while he was President-Elect and from everything I have seen to this day, Helsinki press conference was odd. The President was different, he was submissive to Putin, he was approving of Putin but not from the standpoint of equal power. There was something in the way President Trump acted that went beyond respect. Beyond cordiality. President Trump was not his usual, bombastic self.
Trump is afraid of Putin in some way, whether it is something that Russian intelligence has on him, or just a psychological advantage Vlad has on him. Putin was ice cold and he did not even try to be nice from the moment he stepped on the stage. As the American and Russian leaders kept the united front, what was striking was that just a few weeks ago Trump bashed the NATO members and his host in London, PM Theresa May for the way she was dealing with Brexit. While Theresa does not have the best plan for Brexit, it is still odd that President Trump criticized her with such passion and then just nodded lifelessly to anything Putin said.
What’s historically strange is that the American and Russian presidents put on a spectacle for viewers all around the world where Putin is offering that Russians step into the Muller investigation and help find the perpetrator responsible for the DNC hack. It would not be the first time to have a culprit be leading the investigation, we saw that in Scorsese’s The Departed, with the difference being that what we were watching was not something from the movie set. It’s geopolitics and what worries me the most is seeing Trump and Putin trying to seal the message delivered at Helsinki on Fox news.
Perhaps, it really is about the “politics of shared interest” Vladimir Putin announced in his opening remarks. It appears that shared interest between Putin and Trump is to dismantle the power structures of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
What is odd about this press conference was that the gloves were off, in a very subdued, power demonstrating way. “I did want for Trump to win”, said Putin making it absolutely clear that he won’t stand back. He revealed information in connection to Hillary Clinton and the “illegal dollars funding her campaign”. Why are we still talking about Hillary? Why is President Trump saying that 30 thousand deleted emails would never happen under Putin? In what ways was Putin powerfully convincing that they are not behind the hack as he did not present any evidence to us, and their meeting occurred behind closed doors with only two interpreters present.
Even if Trump was right that the Russian collusion was, as he claims to be a “witch hunt”, even if the evidence about the Russian, DNC hack was removed and cannot be proven, there is still something very odd about the relationship between Trump and Putin and the way they claim not to know each other. Maybe Trump is naive to believe anything Putin says in order to show to the world that he is legitimately elected, that he is not aware of the implications of his statements. Many say that if Hillary won the election, we would not be talking about Russia at all. But there are as many who feel uncomfortable with the way Trump interacts with Putin.
While I am typing out this entry and getting ready to file it, I cannot help but notice that the European newsrooms cover Trump-Putin relations in a much different way. Maybe they are indeed more balanced than any of us covering the president in the White House, but maybe our set of lenses are just capable of taking a closer look. While we can’t pinpoint to evidence and show it to Putin as he requested, it does not mean that the crime did not happen. We are missing something, and what we are missing is in Russa’s possession. Putin knows that. That’s why he is so confident.