Ah, Mother Russia. As in the mother of all scandals.
I’m inclined to think Donald Trump’s guilty of something here, but it may not be because he likes the Russians or wants to do them any favors.
It's probably not treason. And, while it may be obstruction of justice, Trump probably doesn’t view it that way.
What Trump is most likely guilty of doing is following through on exactly what he said he was going to do: Running the government like a business. Or, more precisely, how he would run a business.
That means a lot of back-room bargaining that will, he’s probably sure, result in a "great deal." This is, after all, the guy who wrote a book called The Art of the Deal. He expects to get the best of any rival in the course of negotiations and, if somehow he doesn’t, he counts on being able to cut and run, as he did when various businesses enterprises failed. (Bankruptcy, anyone?)
Getting things done
Many of Trump’s supporters voted for him because they were sick of government gridlock. They wanted a president who could “cut through the red tape” and “get things done” in a government that too often seemed mired in the quicksand of obstructionism.
Who can blame them? Do-nothing Congresses have become the rule, rather than the exception, and each of the two major parties seems more interested in discrediting the other than in accomplishing anything of substance.
California voters put Arnold Schwarzenegger in office for the same reason, but Schwarzenegger, for all his Governator posturing, ultimately worked within the system.
And was, too many, a disappointment.
Trump isn’t doing that. He’s trying to work around the system, the same way he did as a businessman – by finding loopholes, making deals and avoiding responsibility if and when things go wrong.
A lot of people worried, before he took office, that Trump would fail because "you can’t run a republic like a business." You have to cut deals with Congress, make compromises and play the political game. But that was never the issue. Cutting deals is supposed to be Trump’s forte. But here’s the rub: Even if you could run the country like a business, you can’t run it like a bad business … which is what Trump seems to be doing.
Bad business, bad governance
A good business is accountable to its shareholders; a good government is accountable to the people. There’s at least a superficial parallel there, but Trump’s throwing it all to hell by ditching the issue of accountability entirely.
Shunning the media is bad government the same way ducking a financial audit is bad business. The media’s job is to reassure the public that everything’s running smoothly, in much the same way an independent auditor’s task is to reassure shareholders there’s no funny business going on with the company’s books.
Inviting the Russian media to an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials is like inviting your biggest corporate rival’s bookkeeper to examine your finances while telling your own shareholders to take a hike.
Seriously? This is how you run a business? Not any business that I’ve ever heard of – at least not a successful one.
The problem may be that Trump is simply so cocky about his ability as a dealmaker that he thinks it’s fine to be careless; that it will all come out in the wash. But government doesn’t work that way. We are a nation of laws, and circumventing those laws won’t overcome gridlock, any more than a business can “get things done” by cheating on its taxes.
Accountability is the answer
In an era where “working across the aisle” and “finding common ground” has become next to impossible because of partisan obstruction, it’s tempting to do whatever it takes to restore some level of responsiveness to government. There are elements of the system that clearly cry out for reform. Gerrymandered congressional districts that discourage flexibility and compromise come to mind.
Here’s the problem: Most of the dysfunction in Washington stems from a lack of accountability. Safe congressional seats. Entrenched “red” and “blue” lawmakers answerable only to think-alike constituents. An increasingly politicized Supreme Court. These problems can be resolved only by increasing accountability, not by undermining it – which is exactly what Trump’s back-room shenanigans succeed in doing.
And here’s what’s worse: Overconfidence is perhaps the biggest breeding ground for failure there is. Trump may have experience in real estate, but he’s got none in foreign relations. Ergo, inviting veteran Russian officials to make some sort of under-the-table deal (if that’s what he was doing) is akin to a college debate champion representing himself in court against Perry Mason. And thinking, because he's always won before, that he'll win there, too.
If this were a real estate deal, Trump might be able to declare bankruptcy and start over. Starting over after you’ve handed over intelligence to a foreign power is a lot harder to do.
If that’s what he did. As I said at the outset, I'm inclined to think Trump's guilty of something. This, and probably other things, as well. But we don’t know that yet, and as Senator Rubio says, this is a nation of laws. Even if Trump doesn’t appear to be respecting those laws, he’s still innocent until proven guilty.
I'll give him that. But it's also precisely why the current investigation must be allowed to take its course. An investigation he doesn't want.
It's worth asking why.