Let’s say you were a president embroiled in one of the greatest scandals in American political history. You are accused of taking secret meetings with a rogue state adversary–let’s call this state “Prussia”–who offered to release campaign communications stolen from your opponent’s campaign in an electronic burglary exponentially dwarfing Watergate. It is widely speculated that you greenlighted the release of the communications through a mutually agreed third party in exchange for a variety of policy concessions. Among these concessions, supposedly, were easing up on sanctions against the rogue state’s kleptocratic leaders and mob-connected friends, withdrawing from conflicts in which American and Prussian interests were at odds, fracturing western international coalitions set up in part to mitigate Prussian influence, and advancing Prussian interests on the world stage despite continued malevolent actions from annexations to election interference.
Assume for a moment that at least half of your country believed that you were guilty of this monumental high crime, a spiritual if not literal treason against its people, that the Justice Department was actively investigating you and your associates in connection with it, and that the investigation had already produced multiple indictments, guilty pleas and turned state’s witnesses.
One would imagine that if you were the president at the center of this firestorm, you would do everything in your power to dissociate yourself from Prussia and act whenever possible and practicable against its strategic interests on the world stage. Assuming you were innocent, of course. And assuming you cared about public opinion.
But that would be you. Donald Trump is not you. Donald Trump is Donald Trump, a man who is almost certainly guilty of all of this and more with a very real country called Russia. And Donald Trump continues to openly promote Russian interests like a Manchurian candidate from an improbable, poorly written B-grade political farce:
President Donald Trump on Saturday doubled down on his call for Russia to be readmitted into the G7 and blamed his predecessor for Russia’s aggression in Crimea.<
“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in,” Trump said during an impromptu press conference at the summit. “I think it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for Russia. I think it would be good the United States. I think it would be good for all of the countries of the current G7. I think the G8 would be better.”
Russia was suspended from the group — then known as the G8 — in 2014 after the majority of member countries allied against its annexation of Crimea. It was the first violation of a European country’s borders since World War II.
Trump suggested that Russia be allowed back into the global group despite their continued occupation of Crimea.
One has to ask how this situation would look any different if Russian president Putin and his cronies were actively giving marching orders to the president on a regular basis. Trump has done everything possible within the context of remotely reasonable American public policy to give away the store to Russia, from weakening NATO alliances to refusal to implement Congressional sanctions to orienting energy policy around fossil fuels to pro-Russia actions in Syria.
If Russia had a literal agent planted in the White House, it would be be difficult to envision what this hypothetical agent could reasonably do that Trump isn’t already doing.
That’s all the more remarkable, because in a Manchurian Candidate or Homeland-style fictional plot, the clandestine agent tends to be unsuspected. Trump, by contrast, is being watched like a hawk for his compromising position on Russia, and he’s doing these things anyway. Even though his every action only reinforces the certainty that something is deeply wrong and that American has a big problem on its hands. Even though if there is anything like a “deep state” about which Trump-era Republicans continually complain, seeing the American government repurposed for Putin’s ends would certainly steel its resolve to inoculate the country against the invasive infection.
Self-preservation, in other words, should lead Trump to avoid this sort of behavior. But he doesn’t. He doubles down.
Is it ideological? Is it blackmail? Is there a compromising tape of Trump more politically damaging than his Access Hollywood remarks? Is Trump in massive debt to figures in the Russian mob? We don’t know any of these things for certain.
But whatever is going on, the most reasonable explanations also tend to be the scariest ones. That isn’t a good place for the president or for the country for to be.