Across the world from us, on a stage in the Finland city of Helsinki, the President of the United States stood with the President of Russia and said a whole bunch of crazy shit. The crazy shit included:
- Trump expressing the view that opposition to Russia would only be “a futile effort to appease partisan critics, or the media, or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct.”
- Refusing to directly condemn Putin for his country’s cyberattacks during the 2016 election, or at the very least ask that he stop doing them ahead of the 2018 midterms.
- Dismissing the investigation into these cyberattacks and possible collusion as a witch hunt.
- Seeming to side with Putin over his own intelligence directors on whether or not Russia was involved in these attacks in the first place.
All the while, Putin stood next to our bumbling weird-standing President and smiled. He also deflected a question about whether or not he possessed compromising material on Trump, as has long been rumored. It was really something!
The response from the American media is cataclysmic. Political Reporter Twitter immediately broke out into an low-hum of outrage-hidden-behind-the-veil-of-objectivity. A New York Times front page analysis says “Putin has already come out ahead”. Axios, never one to miss a chance to state the obvious and act like its gospel, said the event was “not normal.” Anderson Cooper surveyed the vast history of American horrors and came to the conclusion that the press conference was “the most disgraceful performance by a President of the United States in American history.”* Even predictable Trump stalwart Fox News is waging a war of mild critique against the President.
This display of stunned anger is, on some level, what should happen in a normal world. If this was any other President but Trump, today’s press conference would be so outlandish, so obviously and so quixotically a break of all presidential and diplomatic precedent, that most media observers would assume it was some kind of elaborate joke before calling for impeachment.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t any other President, it’s Donald Trump. This isn’t even a case of “saying the quiet part loud”; Trump’s been on the idea that Russia had no role in the 2016 election for months now, and he has said he doesn’t believe the intelligence community consensus several times already.
The difference today was that Trump actually said these things on stage with the Russian President. Crazy, yes, but did anyone expect him not too? A man who has never shown remorse, whose scant public admittance of possible error felt like the most painful thing he has ever endured? Was anyone really expecting him to change his tone just because Putin was next to him?
The media should not be surprised. They should be mad, and outraged, and probably even more mad and outraged than they currently are, but they shouldn’t be surprised by something like this. That cycle of outrage that Politics Twitter is currently in? That should be the standard operating procedure, and not just about Russian interference but about almost everything Trump and his government is doing. Going past the shock, past the tone-deaf pronouncements of “this is the darkest hour in American history”, and not immediately calling on Republicans who everyone knows don’t give a shit to say something, anything, will create a more agile media that at the very least would be better equipped to understand this moment in American history.
Today’s press conference was crazy and represents uncharted territory for American foreign policy. But this is the world we are living in. It’s been two, painfully long years of Donald Trump being the biggest political figure in America and destroying all ideas of how the biggest political figure in America should act. We shouldn’t be taken aback by this any more.