America and Russians through the Looking Glass

When it comes to Russia in the time of Trump, our politics has finally accomplished something. We’ve gone right through Alice’s Looking Glass.

And Donald Trump Jr.’s idiotic meeting with the shady Russian lawyer Natalia in the (failed) hopes of scoring political dirt on Hillary Clinton is just some of what we find there.

In this Bizarro World, roles, positioning and attitudes have been reversed, in part due to partisanship, but also because the political establishment itself has been ill for some time, the decaying political center continuing its collapse.

One thing that has changed in the world beyond the looking glass is America’s political attitude toward Russia.

Republicans once feared and loathed the Russians. And now they talk like earnest liberals of the ’70s, hoping to get along with Boris and Natasha.

Democrats who once defended the Soviets as misunderstood, now sound like crazed tail gunners, hunting for Russkies under every American bed.

At least Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, the neo-cons who loathe Trump and have never met a war (or defense contract) they didn’t like, remain consistent.

They push for stronger military alliances with Eastern Europe, which means more profit for the American defense industry and the masters of war.

And those liberals, who were once so accommodating to the Soviet push against American power, now find themselves in league with Russo-phobes Graham/McCain.

They’re bound by the formula that the enemy of anything Trump is their frenemy

What’s required here is a pointed hypothetical question: What if the politics were reversed?

Republicans defending the Trump administration might ask themselves, what would they be saying if Hillary Clinton were president and it was Bill who met privately with the shadowy Russian lawyer Natalia, to dig up some sleaze on the Republican candidate?

Republicans would be screaming bloody murder.

And under that same scenario involving a President Clinton, Democrats might ask themselves what they would be shouting? They wouldn’t be talking of treason or impeachment. Instead, Democrats would be sounding like today’s Republicans, offering versions of "well, everybody does it."

Offering barbed hypotheticals may be considered rude, but why not consider two things. The alleged crime and the politics.

Is Trump Jr. the mastermind of some serious criminal act, perhaps even treasonous as some Democrats have suggested? No.

What’s the crime, without which there can be no collusion? Meeting with a Russian lawyer and getting nothing?

Insisting this was a crime might score you points with your tribal elders, but ultimately, it is rather childish.

But I guess it depends on your definition of partisanship.

"It is like we have this giant Rorschach test and people see whatever they want to," law professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University said on Fox News, in one of the more reasonable responses to Donald Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

"The criminal code has defined elements to it," Turley continued. "You just don’t find these ambiguous crimes. Some people have said this could be treason. For the love of God, treason is defined in the Constitution. This is not treason."

There has been talk of treating Jr’s. search for damaging information from Russian hands as some kind of campaign violation. Turley dismissed it as grasping at straws.

"You could also treat it like a panda and say it’s an endangered species violation, but courts haven’t done that. So, I think that people need to take a breath," he said.

No. We’re too busy screaming to breathe.

What of the decision by Trump Jr. and top Trump campaign officials to meet with that Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties, quite possibly an operative for Vladimir Putin?

It wasn’t merely "bad optics." It was a gift to the Democrats.

They entered that meeting like three useful idiots who’d watched a few seasons of "Homeland." Perhaps they had Cliffs Notes of a John le Carre novel, and thought they could play the great game with Putin.

It was the foolish stuff of amateurs. I’m not excusing it. Meeting with an agent of an aggressor nation is a thing only idiotic amateurs would do. And the thing about amateurs is that they often end up on the side of the road.

Trump Jr. was joined in that meeting by his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, now a presidential adviser, and Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign manager.

Kushner and Junior are family and neophytes in politics. But Manafort is not. We may see him crushed under the big orange Trump bus before this ends.

They played it like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and were played in turn, like fools.

There is also the smell of lies to this. Donald Jr’s evolving truths, and his story changing under pressure of reported facts is rather acrid.

I don’t think it was criminal. But it was stupid. And it certainly gives the Democrats what they wanted:

A tool to keep the Russian hunt going, to keep the Trump White House on the defensive, forcing the expenditure of Republican political capital, stalling Trump’s economic agenda.

Democrats aren’t alone. Trump’s enemies among the Republican establishment smirk and wait.

And so, ultimately, Donald Trump, full of hubris and endless tweets, bears the responsibility. He’s the president.

Americans voted for him to get the economy going, to cut taxes and put the forgotten working class back to work.

And time’s running out.

Listen to a new episode of "The Chicago Way" podcast with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — with guest Kristen McQueary of the Tribune editorial board–at

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