The Rus­sians are com­ing!

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

In his re­cent tes­ti­mony on Capi­tol Hill, for­mer spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller is­sued a warn­ing that echoed the 1966 movie com­edy, “The Rus­sians Are Com­ing! The Rus­sians Are Com­ing!” Ex­cept he wasn’t jok­ing. Far from it.

“Over the course of my ca­reer,” said the long­time FBI di­rec­tor, “I have seen a num­ber of chal­lenges to our democ­racy. The Rus­sian govern­ment’s ef­fort to in­ter­fere in our elec­tion is among the most se­ri­ous.” Asked if those ef­forts were con­tin­u­ing, Mueller snapped, “They’re do­ing it as we sit here, and they ex­pect to do it dur­ing the next cam­paign.”

So how did Pres­i­dent Trump and his acolytes re­spond? By deny­ing and de­nounc­ing the un­var­nished truth Mueller had stated. By plung­ing their heads deeply into the sands of self-delu­sion.

Within days of Mueller’s ap­pear­ance, Trump had en­gi­neered the de­par­ture of Dan Coats, his di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, who had earned a rep­u­ta­tion for coura­geous can­dor by re­fut­ing the pres­i­dent’s prej­u­dices and em­pha­siz­ing Mos­cow’s ma­lign machi­na­tions.

A year ago, after the pres­i­dent ea­gerly em­braced what he called Vladimir Putin’s “ex­tremely strong and pow­er­ful” de­nials that Rus­sia had in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion, Coats fired back: “We have been clear in our as­sess­ments of Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion and their on­go­ing, per­va­sive ef­forts to un­der­mine our democ­racy.”

An­other Trump ap­pointee, FBI Di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray, made a sim­i­lar point at a Se­nate hear­ing the day be­fore Mueller tes­ti­fied: “The Rus­sians are ab­so­lutely in­tent on try­ing to in­ter­fere with our elec­tions.”

Ev­ery Repub­li­can on the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee signed a bi­par­ti­san re­port doc­u­ment­ing the “grow­ing vol­ume of ma­li­cious ac­tiv­ity” tar­geted at U.S. elec­tion sys­tems. And while the se­nior Repub­li­can, Richard Burr of North Carolina, said some progress has been made in pro­tect­ing those sys­tems, “There is still much work that re­mains to be done.”

The pres­i­dent has turned a deaf ear to all these ex­tremely loud alarm bells. His choice to re­place Coats, Rep. John Rat­cliffe, is an ob­scure Texan who seems to have only one qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the job: a slav­ish de­vo­tion to Trump and a rav­en­ous ap­petite for dis­cred­ited con­spir­acy the­o­ries em­braced by the pres­i­dent and his cheer­lead­ers in the rightwing me­dia.

At the same time, prac­ti­cal bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion aimed at bol­ster­ing the abil­ity of elec­tion of­fi­cials to ward off Soviet sub­ver­sion was blocked by the Se­nate’s Repub­li­can leader and Trump’s Chief En­abler, Mitch Mccon­nell.

“A whole-of-govern­ment ap­proach is im­pos­si­ble to achieve when the head of govern­ment is hos­tile to any mean­ing­ful ac­tion,” ed­i­to­ri­al­ized The Wash­ing­ton Post. “Pres­i­dent Trump ap­pears to in­ter­pret any de­fense against or even men­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence as an at­tack on the va­lid­ity of his elec­tion.”

Trump’s relentless re­fusal to ac­knowl­edge Rus­sia’s role in his vic­tory sym­bol­izes a much larger flaw in his ap­proach to the pres­i­dency: re­ject­ing any in­for­ma­tion that con­tra­dicts his view of the world.

Take just one ex­am­ple: After Coats tes­ti­fied last Jan­uary that Iran was liv­ing up to their nu­clear agree­ments, an en­raged pres­i­dent tweeted that his own in­tel­li­gence team should “go back to school.” Then he added: “They are wrong!”

There it is. Pure Trump. I am right and they are wrong. He de­rides and dis­misses cli­mate sci­en­tists who doc­u­ment global warm­ing, econ­o­mists who prove that tax cuts won’t pay for them­selves and de­mog­ra­phers who demon­strate that im­mi­grants are es­sen­tial for the na­tion’s eco­nomic health. And that ap­proach makes ra­tio­nal de­ci­sion-mak­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing im­pos­si­ble.

How can the na­tion re­spond to the toc­sins tolled by Mueller, Coats, Burr and Wray (Repub­li­cans all) if there are no ac­cepted facts, no com­mon ba­sis for de­lib­er­a­tion, no re­spect for the pro­fes­sional re­searchers and an­a­lysts whose life works are to study, mea­sure and de­scribe re­al­ity?

The an­swer is clear. Amer­ica can­not re­spond and the pub­lic knows it. In the lat­est Abc/ip­sos poll, only 17% said they were “very con­fi­dent” that “the U.S. can ef­fec­tively de­fend it­self” from for­eign in­tru­sions into next year’s cam­paign.

It’s en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate for law­mak­ers to dis­agree on poli­cies and pri­or­i­ties. But the whole process of de­ci­sion-mak­ing is se­verely crip­pled when those law­mak­ers can­not even agree on the na­ture of the prob­lem they are try­ing to solve.

As Dou­glas Wise, a for­mer CIA of­fi­cer and deputy head of the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, told The New York Times: “In­tel­li­gence has to be can­did, truth­ful and ac­cu­rate even if it is un­pleas­ant and does not con­firm to the bi­ases of the pres­i­dent.”

The Rus­sians are in­deed com­ing. And Trump is not build­ing a wall to keep them out. He’s open­ing a door to in­vite them in.

•••

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by

email at steve­[email protected]

COKIE ROBERTS

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