Sunday, July 29, 2018
Our Television President; Our Television People
The press conference after Trump’s Helsinki meeting with Putin offers tremendous insights into the myopic, television world in which we live.
Focusing solely on the press conference after the summit, consider Trump’s reactions to a question from one journalist.
Jeff Mason from Reuters asked:
Mr. President, you tweeted this morning that it’s US foolishness, stupidity and the Mueller probe that is responsible for the decline in US Relations with Russia. Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular?
Donald Trump replied:
I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time frankly before I got to office. I think we’re all to blame.
Narrowing this exploration even further, consider only two ideas, starting with:
The context of the recently renewed distancing between the US and Russia is extremely significant. It is anything but a result of the US and Russia behaving “foolishly.”
We certainly have erred in some ways, but consider just a few of the Russian government’s dark responsibilities:
They poisoned an ex-pat in the UK with a nerve agent they developed;
They invaded and incorporated the Crimea, part of another sovereign nation;
They definitively hacked into the 2016 election, recently substantiated by an evidence-based indictment of 12 Russian government agents;
They murdered several of Putin’s political opponents;
They prevent opposition candidates from running for office;
Their elections are a total sham;
Putin is literally a dictator;
They supported the Syrian government of Assad, contrary to US interests;
They conduct numerous other illegal, unethical, and literally evil actions against our country and other nations.
Turning now to:
The history of US-Russian relations is extremely complicated. We were allies, against the Nazis, with them during WWII. The cold war came next, lasted decades, and included the build-up of tens of thousands of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons ready to kill both country’s populations many times over.
One of President Obama’s interventions was to treat Russia as a regional rather than a global power—an accurate identification of Russia’s actual international status. Because of its many misdeeds, we and our European allies have slapped sanctions on Russia. These prove effective. Their economy is faltering. But for their lethal nuclear weapons arsenal, and their powerful propaganda machine, they are a third rate country.
Of course much more context and complexity exists between the two countries. These are crucial to understanding the existing situation between us and the Russian government.
Part of Senator John McCain’s tweet following the press conference addresses the simplicity of Trump’s reaction. McCain identifies Trump as:
A president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.
The world becomes ever more contextual and complicated, not less so.
The proliferation of sound byte-ish vehicles like cable news networks, twitter and the like feed the common man’s hunger for quick, simple answers.
Quick, simple answers do not exist.
They never have.
We live in the most frightening period since WWII, primarily because of efforts of leaders like Trump, and propaganda media like Fox News supporting him, to oversimplify.
Context and complexity can be addressed, but only slowly, deliberately, and by considering multiple viewpoints. History, culture, politics, philosophy, and more need to be carefully considered, one by one.
Perhaps the world will realize the crucial import of context and complexity only after an over-simplified, horribly destructive action, like invading North Korea or buddying up with Putin.
Or, perhaps, and much more hopefully, people will wake up to the attempts to dumb down the dialogue, will increase their awareness, and carefully consider the complexities of our era.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP