The herd will wise up

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - GENE LYONS Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and coau­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­[email protected]­

Some years ago, I watched a herd of nine mares stam­pede across a pas­ture on a friend’s farm. It was an im­pres­sive spec­ta­cle, like lean­ing on the rail at a race­track. Be­cause I fed them reg­u­larly, I knew them well. As they thun­dered by, the two youngest an­i­mals at the rear kept look­ing back­ward and mak­ing eye con­tact as if to say, in hors­es­peak, “What the hell are we run­ning from?”

About the time the strag­glers pulled up, I watched the head mare gal­lop into a run-in shed. Ap­par­ently the whole herd was flee­ing a big bit­ing fly on her rump. (Horse­flies avoid mov­ing into shad­ows.) Any­way, that’s how horses work. When one runs, they all run. Un­til the ones at the rear no longer sense dan­ger. Then ev­ery­body set­tles down.

Hu­mans aren’t so dif­fer­ent. The 19th-cen­tury Scot­tish au­thor Charles MacKay put it this way in his clas­sic book, “Ex­traor­di­nar y Pop­u­lar Delu­sions and the Mad­ness of Crowds”: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only re­cover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

An­other way of putting it is that the po­lit­i­cal fig­ure des­ig­nated as “In­di­vid­ual 1” in Michael Co­hen’s guilty plea for ly­ing to Congress last week prob­a­bly has all the sup­port­ers he’s ever go­ing to have. By now, smart Repub­li­cans have to be catch­ing each other’s eyes. Af­ter enough quit gal­lop­ing, the stam­pede will peter out.

No­body knows ex­actly how the stor y’s go­ing to end, but it’s surely sig­nif­i­cant that White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders has switched from say­ing there was no col­lu­sion with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign to em­pha­siz­ing that the pres­i­dent wasn’t per­son­ally in­volved.

Big dif­fer­ence. And she’s said it sev­eral times, so it’s no ac­ci­dent.

Mean­while, In­di­vid­ual 1 has taken his cus­tomar y pre­var­i­ca­tion to op­er­atic heights. Fol­low­ing Co­hen’s plea bar­gain for ly­ing to Congress about his scheme to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, the pres­i­dent called it com­mon knowl­edge. “This deal was a very pub­lic deal,” he said last week. “Ev­ery­body knows about this deal. I wasn’t try­ing to hide any­thing.”

Oh re­ally? Both dur­ing and af­ter the 2016 cam­paign, while Michael Co­hen was se­cretly ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Putin gov­ern­ment on In­di­vid­ual 1’s be­half, he re­peat­edly de­nied hav­ing any Rus­sian busi­ness in­ter­ests what­so­ever.

Wash­ing­ton Post re­porter Meg Kelly has com­piled an en­cy­clo­pe­dic list. For ex­am­ple, al­though he’d signed a let­ter of in­tent to pro­ceed with the Moscow plan dur­ing the GOP pres­i­den­tial de­bates, he tweeted a cat­e­gor­i­cal de­nial in July 2016: “For the record, I have ZERO in­vest­ments in Rus­sia.”

Stung by Hil­lary Clin­ton’s de­pic­tion of him as a Rus­sian pup­pet, he told an Oct. 26 cam­paign rally that “I don’t know Putin, have no busi­ness what­so­ever with Rus­sia, have noth­ing to do with Rus­sia.”

Even af­ter the elec­tion, In­di­vid­ual 1 said at a Feb. 16, 2017, press con­fer­ence that “Rus­sia is a ruse. I have noth­ing to do with Rus­sia. Haven’t made a phone call to Rus­sia in years. Don’t speak to peo­ple from Rus­sia. I have noth­ing to do with Rus­sia. To the best of my knowl­edge, no per­son that I deal with does.”

None of these state­ments was even re­motely truth­ful.

Rep. Adam Schiff, in­com­ing chair­man of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, puts it this way: “At the same time can­di­date Trump pub­licly urged sanc­tions re­lief for Rus­sia, he was pri­vately putting to­gether a busi­ness deal in Moscow that re­quired lift­ing U.S. sanc­tions. Then Pres­i­dent Trump and his con­fed­er­ates mis­led the countr y about it, in a way that left him com­pro­mised.”

You swat the fly on In­di­vid­ual 1’s back, he swats yours.

Some­body who wasn’t mis­led, how­ever, was Vladimir Putin, more ac­cu­rately de­scribed as the boss of an or­ga­nized crime car­tel than the law­ful pres­i­dent of Rus­sia. Co­hen, see, was ne­go­ti­at­ing di­rectly with Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s per­sonal as­sis­tant. So Putin had In­di­vid­ual 1 by the short hairs all along. All the Rus­sians ever had to do was re­lease “Trump Tower” doc­u­ments in their possession to do In­di­vid­ual 1’s cam­paign griev­ous po­lit­i­cal harm.

And In­di­vid­ual 1 def­i­nitely knew it, as his ob­se­quious­ness to the Rus­sian dic­ta­tor has shown. In­stead, Putin put the Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus to work at­tack­ing Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton. Alas, soon af­ter Rus­sian op­er­a­tives met in Trump Tower se­cretly promis­ing to “in­crim­i­nate Hil­lary” as part of “Rus­sia and its gov­ern­ment’s sup­port for Mr. Trump,” the scam fell apart.

On June 14, 2016, The Wash­ing­ton Post and Crowd­Strike, an in­ves­tiga­tive firm hired by the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, re­vealed that Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives had hacked DNC com­put­ers. Moscow scut­tled the Trump Tower pro­ject that same day.

The press first learned of the deal’s ex­is­tence in Au­gust 2018. But Vladimir Putin still had the pres­i­dent by the short hairs, and acts as if he still does.

And that’s just one of the things In­di­vid­ual 1 is flee­ing from.

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