Keeping ahead of all that’s not normal a week before Donald Trump becomes the nation’s 45th president is almost too much to wrap your arms around.
Start with Trump’s approval ratings, which are currently at about 37 percent of Americans. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Most incoming presidents float into office on a bed of well-wishes from a solid and bipartisan majority of our citizens. Not this time.
Consider the president-elect’s disgraceful performance at his press conference Wednesday when he insulted journalists. All presidents have a contentious relationship with the press; that just goes with the territory. However, most if not all have enough respect for the office of the presidency and the First Amendment to not personally attack reporters when the cameras are rolling. Not this time.
Presidents don’t get into public spats with U.S. intelligence agencies. They don’t liken our intelligence agencies to Nazis, as Trump did on Wednesday. They don’t brag about spurning intelligence briefings. Not this time.
And then there is Russia. It is led by Vladimir Putin, a tyrant who harasses, jails and kills his enemies. It’s clear that Russia and its hackers interfered with the 2016 election in a way intended to help Trump win the presidency. Further, recent unconfirmed reports suggest Russia may have incriminating evidence it can use to blackmail Trump.
We would note (a.) the degree to which the outcome of this fall’s presidential election was influenced by Russian hacking of prominent Democrats’ emails is unknown and (b.) the scandalous charges that give Russia plenty of dirt on Trump are as of now unproven.
However, given all these unseemly connections between Trump and Russia, it would seem a good idea for the president-elect and his team to distance themselves from the Kremlin. That is not happening.
Instead, Trump can hardly say a cross word against Russia and its leader. “If Putin likes me, I consider that an asset, not a liability,” Trump said Wednesday.
Even when admitting Russia was behind the hacking of the 2016 election, he deflected by adding “other countries and other people” engage in cyber-espionage and that Democrats had a weak cyber-security operation.
The same day as Trump’s news conference, his appointee to head up the State Department, Rex Tillerson, was asked about Putin.
“Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil.
“I would not use that term,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson, who received the Russian Order of Friendship from Putin in 2013, refused to budge even after Rubio described at some length the atrocities carried out in Syria and elsewhere by soldiers under Putin’s command.
“I would want to be fully informed before advising the president,” Tillerson said, acting as if the brutal civilian body count caused by Putin was not already fully and publicly documented.
This is not normal.