The revelation that President Donald Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his, um, hard fought re-election has set off a firestorm of criticism — from a Twitter scolding by Sen. John McCain on the right to reproach by foreign policy experts connected to former Vice-President Joe Biden on the left.
That a further detail about that call was leaked to the press is an outrage that must be addressed: Officials familiar with the President’s call to congratulate Putin told reporters that in doing so Trump ignored briefing materials that read, in all caps, “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”
To be clear, most conservatives agree that Russia conducted a sham election and there’s nothing worth congratulating. Do we congratulate boots when they crush ants? There’s nothing “special or pleasant” about Putin’s winning, there’s no “achievement” in winning a rigged election, and there’s no “pride” or “satisfaction” to feel from a predetermined outcome (these are all the reasons the dictionary give for “congratulating” someone).
But the fact is the President can call whomever he wants and should be able to do so with the expectation that his staff won’t leak the contents of the call. That someone in the national security apparatus was apparently willing to leak sensitive documents and information to reporters about the President’s calls to other world leaders lends credence to President Trump’s theory that there is a “deep state” working to undermine him. It isn’t the first time it’s happened.
The President’s opponents call him crazy when they hear that term — deep state — but how can you look at a leak like this and not wonder if there is at least a kernel of truth?
Recent polling indicates more Americans are coming around to Trump’s view. A Monmouth University poll reported that when the “deep state” was defined to respondents (63% said they were not familiar with the term) as “a large bipartisan majority who feel that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a “Deep State” of unelected government officials,” nearly 3-in-4 said they believed it existed.
While most Americans want to believe that all government actions and authority are vested in those we elect, there’s at least some chance that Trump is right — that unelected officials with concerns about his foreign policy choices are leaking against their commander-in-chief to embarrass him, alter his behavior, or bring about his political demise.
This would be destructive behavior no matter who is in the White House. Every President deserves to set policy and make choices based on the authority conferred by the voters during an election, and free from interference of unelected government actors within his own ranks.
For instance, when President Barack Obama congratulated Putin in 2012 for “winning” an election, there was no uproar, nor did the “deep state” leak over it — against the commander-in-chief — the way it is leaking against Trump today.
If you work for the government and hate Trump’s choices so much that you feel the need to reveal secrets to the news media, you should resign in protest and make your concerns known as a subject matter expert. Participating in some sort of policy vigilantism undermines not just the current commander-in-chief but the overall trust Americans have in institutions.
Do Americans feel their votes are of a higher or lower value if they believe that no matter who wins, those duly elected will be undermined by, as the Monmouth pollers defined it in their poll query, “unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy?” Leaking against the President in this way undermines the rule of law and the very fabric of a democratically elected government.
As to Trump’s posture toward Russia, it is true his rhetoric isn’t as hard-hitting on our enemy as most conservatives want. But his administration has, of late, been extremely tough on the Russians via the implementation of sanctions over election meddling and through Nikki Haley’s actions condemning them in the British spy poisoning attack.
Based on these recent aggressive moves against Russia, it is clear that even if the President’s words sound softer, his government is moving to stand up to egregious Russian activities.
Those in the “deep state,” if that’s what you want to call it, need to take stock of their own (possibly illegal) actions and ask whether they, in a misguided attempt to circumvent Trump, are doing long-term damage to the institution of the presidency and to the standing of the American president in the eyes of other world leaders.