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One of the puzzling aspects of Donald Trump’s hyper-nationalism is its consistent denigration of the nation itself.

In a 2017 Oval Office conversation between Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the president did more than boast that the firing of FBI Director James Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him. Trump also, according to a recent report in The Washington Post, appeared to White House officials to be “forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him,” while noting that America engaged in such election manipulation itself.

Citing one former administration official, the Post article added: “The president and his top aides seemed not to understand the difference between Voice of America, a U.S.-supported news organization that airs in foreign countries, with Russian efforts to persuade American voters by surreptitiously planting ads in social media.”

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Michael Gerson

This is not the first time Trump has asserted a moral equivalence between American and Russian roles in the world. In his 2017 Super Bowl day interview with Fox News, he dismissed criticism of Vladimir Putin as a “killer” by musing: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think, our country’s so innocent?”

If such a statement were made by an Ivy League college professor, conservatives would have had all their suspicions about the anti-American tendencies of tenured radicals confirmed. Yet Republicans seem to have no problem rallying around a politician who looks at the Russian/American relationship and sees equal and opposite amorality.

The assertion of moral equivalence between the Voice of America and Russian troll farms is particularly ignorant and galling. The VOA does actual newsgathering and journalism in countries without a free press. The Russians deliver lies on social media to encourage division and hatred among Americans. Trump seems incapable of understanding the difference.

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For all his flag waving, Trump seems to lack the instinct for patriotism.

It is one thing — as the president does with regularity — to throw people who work for him under the bus. This displays the absence of downward loyalty. But in his 2017 meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, Trump effectively threw his country under the bus — endorsing the Russian perception of American hypocrisy on election tampering. This indicates a lack of upward loyalty. It doesn’t seem to matter to Trump that American “meddling” in foreign elections generally consists of promoting regular and fair elections, encouraging the protection of minority rights and speaking up for press freedom.

None of these objectives holds much appeal or urgency for Trump. He calls for the renewal of nationalism, but in a manner that has little to do with our national values. He wants us to take pride in blood and soil rather than in a set of universal ideals. His calls for loyalty are based on geography not morality. He urges us to love America because it is powerful, and because it is ours, not because it is good.

In this sense, Trump seeks to normalize American nationalism — to make it more like the Russian or Chinese varieties. He invariably defines national goals in terms of exercising military dominance, or controlling access to resources, or maintaining national sovereignty, or achieving trade surpluses. And he seems to view this as an expression of realism about the nature of power. America may claim to be a new order for the ages, but we kill people too. We interfere with elections too.

Trump appears to find this kind of moral relativism liberating. A world without rules and ideals is a world without limits on his instincts and whims. This may be why he has offered praise for the leadership styles of Putin or Xi Jinping, while generally ignoring democratic activists in Moscow or Hong Kong. Trump would rather view himself as the embodiment of the national will, rather than as the steward of American ideals. His sympathies lie with the powerful because he imagines himself in their company.

Despite this pretense, Trump manages to look small and silly on the global stage. He has been tricked and exploited again and again by North Korea’s murderous man-child. At the Helsinki summit last year, standing next to Putin, Trump was cringing and pathetic. When it comes to foreign policy, he is not sitting at the adult table.

But the most alarming spectacle is this: an American president who doesn’t understand the meaning of America.

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Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson can be reached at michaelgerson@washpost.com.

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(20) comments

bolake

Hive - You mentioned the constitution being on the line. That’s why Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were so important. IMO

bolake

Hive - I love Colin Powell and wish he would have run many years ago. However, he is now 82, way older than Bernie, Biden, Hillary, Trump or Romney. Pick someone younger.

Hive

If only Colin Powell would run...is politics so bad only devious dingers run?

Hive

I can see it now: rat resigns, avoiding much, figures Pence will be dumped, and runs again...

The "Humpity Dumpity Horror Show!"

bolake

Hive - All you had to do was click on the link I provided. There are too many for me to list and you would find fault with each and every one anyway.



I will list my top two.

Gorsuch

Kavanaugh





Wait, I thought you wanted Mitt Romney to save the a Republican Party from Trump. Now you want Democrats to be careful and nominate someone that can beat Romney???



Hillary has now declared Trump as an illegitimate President and is now considering another Presidential run. Perhaps she should get the Democrat nomination. Lol

Hive

Dems need to be cautious...need to dump Himself, yet put up a candidate that can beat Romney, who selfish republicans will look to for saving-face etc.

Hive

Bo wrote, "not even a single one of Trumps many obvious accomplishments." Mind listing them, or a few.

Here is one fact. Exec orders are not so permenant or mean squat to us. Only Congressional and prez's signature approaches the idea of long-long term Law, but even that can be altered later.

White House "signing shows" are bullroar and most thinking dodgers know it. Taxes? Trade war? Obstucting Congress (us)? Duh! Bo, dear dodger, you have to do better than that!

Hive

Will we be a "banana republic" or "the democratic American republic," by Thanksgiving?

Bo boy, you must choose, selfishness or Law!

Hive

It seems somewhat an interesting metaphor, Baseball hardball to play and Congressional hardball to dim POTUS WH play...

The game is on, and win or lose Law (Constition) is on the line, not just the telephone line.

You watch, more than one "whistleblower" will show up and "all the prez's men" will stand for the law and bring politicals down...interesting conundrum, phonies versus phonies...bureaucrate brown-noses will stomp politicals playing protectors...impeachment is forgone conclusion, the question is, what Republican senators will stand for Law?

Freedom is on the line...and We, the People will have a say.

Amen!

bolake

Hive - “This boy who cries wolf”... you are talking about Adam $hittt. Right?

It’s no secret that I did not vote for Obama the first or second time. However, I did not spew criticism at him 24/7 as it appears to me that You, JD and Kill have done for three years now. Get over it. We have an election next year. You guys like Elisabeth Warrens Socialist Platform you are free to cast your vote for her. You refuse to accept or acknowledge any, not even a single one of Trumps many obvious accomplishments.



https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/the-historic-results-of-president-donald-j-trumps-first-two-years-in-office/

Hive

Bo, you are as too self-centered as POTUS and refuse to accept what is obvious.

I'd say, JD does not favor POTUS (notice the word "hate" is not used) for the same reasons a lot of people do...This "Boy who cries 'Wolf' " so often is not trustworthy and a creep, who would toss any living critter under the bus, if it advanced Himself, including family...and that's is for starters.

We elected a mirror image of us, perhaps.

Too-high of a maintenance dinger, as he verifies daily.

Hive

What's this "hate" thing?

POTUS is a dufous, by most measures and mouthings, and I, for one, wouldn't even p on him if more than his pants were afire...but that doesn't translate to "hate," which is "Trumpian turnabout" crappola from a bully and minions!

Colin (like so many other repubicans) is so right!

bolake

JD - Chill man. Hive brought up watching CNN. You brought up intelligence and always state that anyone that doesn’t agree with your opine is not intelligent. That’s just bull roar. Your opinion and my opinion are not facts. Deal with it. So you Hate Trump because of me? Lol

bolake

Yeah, reminds me of the Kavanaugh confirmation. How many false accusations did we have to endure. When will Democrat’s ever learn? Even Biden believes in truth over facts. Lol

jdinfinity

There u go, assuming crapola, talking out your arse as usual Bo. I don't even have cable, nor would I watch CNN if I did.

As for high intelligence? You epitomize exactly the reason why I wont stop hating Trump. If it frees you of your 'high intelligence' Bo? LOL! Pretty sure me and Hive like our intelligence right where it is..

Yep, for sure. Of 'coarse' we do.

LOL!!

Hive

So, now comes another, whistling...a truthy tune...and then there is the Law.

bolake

That is your problem boys, you are watching CNN and listening to the garbage Adam $hittt is spewing and has been spewing for three years.



Let me paraphrase “Adam $hittt Can Make You Believe Absurdities, He Can Make You Commit Atrocities, easily make you capable of evil..."Voltair-Hive-Bo...



Talk about lack of intelligence you guys take the cake... hanging on every word coming out of $hittts mouth and lapping it up daily. It’s gotten so bad that even Pelosi is repeating $hittts lies. Lose your hate for everything Trump, it will free you your hi intelligence for other matters. Like legalizing Pot or something.



It is so laughable to think back to the 2016 debate and remember the question and answer on accepting the results of the election. Of coarse that when Hillary and you guys of hi intelligence thought she would win.

Hive

JD, Good quote. Can I paraphrase? "Those who believe absurdaties are easily capable of evil..."Voltair-Hive.



Watching the news (CNN) Boy, is this crew a bunch of dangerous stupids, but we get what we deserve. Might wake up the slumbering majority to the fact

"Freedom Ain't Free." What a pile!

jdinfinity

"Those Who Can Make You Believe Absurdities, Can Make You Commit Atrocities" -Voltaire

That is the level of intelligence of the far right wing. Or lack thereof...

Hive

POTUS as source of bullroar (fake news - lies) offers another meaning of "orangeman." What a bozo. We better hope Russia etc fear his mental makeup enough to not start anything where US soldiers will be involved.

Seems to me, DT never could never survive his own men, he's so bad.

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