Littwin: Of course, it gets weirder. And the stakes so much higher
January 8, 2017
That sound you hear is alarm bells going off across this vast land of ours. Get used to them. They're going to be ringing for at least the next four years.
It wasn't so long ago that the great concern was that the press would somehow "normalize" Donald Trump by presenting him as a clearly offbeat but colorful leader whose style of governing might be eccentric and a touch autocratic but hardly a danger to the democratic project.
There was one glitch in this theory: Donald Trump himself. Trump, of course, refuses to be normalized. How could anyone have missed that?
It's easy enough to predict that the Trump years will be drama-filled. He wouldn't have it any other way. But just as predictable is the drama that will face those who bought into the lesser-of-two-evils argument when voting for Trump. How long will they stick by their guy?
I mean, Trump versus Clinton is over. Trump versus Obama will end momentarily. And soon it will be Trump versus whatever enemy he latches onto next. Nixon's enemies list will be a fond memory of a more innocent time when enemies were at least predictable.
For Trump, it doesn't have to be the intelligence agencies, although that feud certainly has legs. It could be Trump's not-exactly-presidential-sounding tweet slamming Arnold Schwarzenegger for his sad, weak ratings on "Celebrity Apprentice". It's all part of the package.
What's clear now that the closer Trump actually gets to the Oval Office, the scarier the idea of Trump becomes and the louder the alarms get. As I said, get used to them. Noise-reducing earphones won't help, unless they now come in Twitter-reduction mode, too.
On Election Day, someone asked me whether Trump could win. I said that it was quite possible, but that it was unimaginable. Now, we're seeing what unimaginable looks like. The only thing stranger than a Trump presidency is the idea that his first before-he-even-gets-to-be-president presidential crisis is the Russian hacking story.
A normalized — or normal — president-elect would have said the idea that any foreign actor, but particularly Russia, would attempt to sway a U.S. election by hacking prominent Americans is something that, you know, will not stand. He doesn't have to mean it. He doesn't have to cash in his Russian bonds or whatever dealings he has with them. He just has to say it.
Instead, in the hours after the humiliating (for Trump and those people who voted for him) Senate hearing on hacking in which intelligence chiefs said (or would have said, if entirely honest) that Trump is a paranoid loon and in the hours before his big intelligence briefing on hacking, Trump managed to tell The New York Times that this whole thing was a "witch hunt," proving at least two things:
One, he doesn't know what a witch hunt is.
Two, it doesn't matter what evidence Trump receives on this, he will not back down on his embrace of Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange.
The Putin bromance is well established. And the fact that The Washington Post revealed intelligence sources had evidence of celebration in the Kremlin on Election Day certainly only strengthened the bond. When people ask why Trump embraces a man who is America's enemy, the answer is too obvious: He's not Trump's enemy. Meanwhile, Trump is pretty sure the witch-hunting intelligence agencies are undermining him because, well, I'm assuming it's because he thinks the Russian story undermines his "landslide" victory.
I don't want to be a hypocrite here. I've got my own concerns about the CIA and the NSA and the FBI. Our history here is, to say the least, problematic.
But what about Assange? Is there anything less normal than Trump (along with Trump apologists Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter) embracing Assange?
Here's what Trump said about Wikileaks in 2010: "I think it's disgraceful. I think there should be like death penalty or something." Assange was once the poster boy for international anti-Americanism — once defended only by true lefties — and now he gets prime-time love from Hannity. As columnist Michael Gerson wrote of this kind of party-think, what he calls "political tribalism": "Trump is good. Assange helped Trump. So Assange is good."
Of course, it gets weirder. Trump, who once tweeted that we should "get on with our lives" rather than investigate any interference in the election, is now tweeting that Congress must investigate how NBC got hold of an intelligence briefing meant for him. And weirder still, and in irony beyond irony, Assange also sent out an angry tweet about, yes, the NBC leak story.
And even after his big intelligence briefing, when all the evidence was laid out before him, Trump still couldn't quite bring himself to say the Russians did it. He did say that whoever did it — Russians, Chinese, the 400-pound kid — the hacking had no effect on the election. Of course it didn't.
The real story here is not the hacking and it's not the leaking and it's not the Russians and it's not Assange. The story is all Trump, who knows more than the generals do about the Islamic State and now knows more than the CIA about hacking. And he's going to be the president in just over a week.
You may remember that Trump said last week that there were things he knew that others didn't know about this hacking issue — and about hacking in general — and that he would reveal all on Tuesday or Wednesday. There was no reveal, of course. It was just something he said, like about Mexicans paying for a wall.
This is what Trump does. It's what President Trump will do — the same assault on the truth, except with the stakes so much higher. Alarming? Very. But it's not as if we weren't warned.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.