When we were ducking under our desks in schools all those years ago, Americans were united in the dream of a time when Russia would see us as we saw the world: needful of peace ensured by fair and democratic government.
Dictators had not worked out well. Spain, Italy, Japan and Germany were run by strongmen whose personalities were exalted by nationalists. Henchmen for the political bosses stoked up the emotions and fed the anger of patriots with rhetoric about the good old days when ethnic and national dominance of the world were within reach.
I was thinking about old newsreels of world war carnage and then the euphoria of victory in Europe and Asia and generations of dreams for an end to wars as I watched the meeting between Putin and Trump.
One is a strongman, a dictator, a ruthless, cunning, intelligent and experienced leader of a nation whose population accedes to his will. The other is an admirer and would-be architect of his own image of the greatest president of all time.
The last person in the room to see the mismatch was the American president, who repeated the assertion that it was his own nation that was negligent in world diplomacy because a few people and a fake news media had smudged his glorious election victory by suggesting that Russians had helped his campaign.
The president of the United States told the most dangerous spy in the world that American intelligence officers were without credibility, and that he would take Putin’s word for it that Russian agents had not participated in a cyberattack on American voting processes. And for good measure, he added that if it did happen, it was the fault of the Democrats for being so weak that their system could be hacked.
He went on at some length to recite the number of electoral college votes he got, and how brilliant a campaign he ran. The Russian patiently waited through the self-congratulatory speech of the American hotel builder and reality show host.
On his way to this private chat with a Russian wolf, the American leader spoke with scorn about the sheep in the European Union and NATO, who were the real enemies of world peace. He insulted the British prime minister and showed his machismo by pointing out that he told the PM how to deal with Brexit, “but she didn’t listen to me.”
Then he stood in front of the world and denied that he said the words recorded and replayed for the world to see and hear.
He met the queen and reviewed the troops, tripping over protocols as if he never heard of proper manners. It was like watching an untrained puppy piddle on the marble floors of Buckingham Palace.
As for the performance in Helsinki, reactions from Americans with more experience — and respect — for diplomacy on a national basis were candid in expressing their dismay at the spectacle of Trump caving in to the Russian leader.
Former Senator and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was his typically blunt self: “President Trump failed America today.” He went on to say that when America is not leading the world is a more dangerous place, and Trump’s actions have diminished the nation’s leadership image. “This was not a golf outing."
Sen. Bob Corker, a South Carolina Republican, said he thought Putin’s strategy was successful. Putin wanted to gain parity with the United States to show that Russia was great again, and his status as a leader and negotiator was enhanced.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan issued a strong rebuke of the president’s failure to back up the intelligence services. Well, strong for Republicans, who for the most part have been cowed by the audacious behavior of an undisciplined and unreliable president.