This week’s Washington news narrative focused mostly on Russia.
But Soviet shadows reappeared, too.
Just ask U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. The Wisconsin Republican accused President Donald Trump’s trade tirade of moving the U.S. toward U.S.S.R.-like central planning.
“This is becoming more and more like a Soviet-type economy here,” Johnson said of the administration’s announcement of a $12 billion bailout for farmers on the front lines of an escalating trade war. “Commissars deciding who’s going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they’re going to sprinkle around benefits.”
Other Republicans rejected the plan, too, agreeing with U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who rightly called the subsidies “golden crutches.”
Another Soviet-era rhetorical reference came not from Moscow, but Washington, as Trump tweeted of his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.”
The Stalin-era phrase “enemy of the people” was nixed by his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, who said it “was specifically introduced for the purpose of physically annihilating” those who disagreed with the supreme leader. It’s not the first time Trump has used it. And the more modern moniker “fake news” is ubiquitous, with Trump applying it to the fourth estate seven times in just one week, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Trump’s tweet continued: “I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear……..”
What actually was discussed at the Helsinki summit was a key topic during this week’s testy testimony by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who appeared at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Once again fellow Republicans were among the most skeptical, if not scathing, in assessing the nontransparent Trump-Putin meeting.
“You come before a group of senators today who are filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct of American foreign policy,” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the committee, said to Pompeo. “From where we sit, it appears that in a ready-fire-aim fashion, the White House is waking up every morning making it up as they go.”
And sure enough, the White House soon supplied ammunition to Corker’s assessment by announcing it was postponing a second summit with Putin until “after the Russia witch hunt is over,” according to John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser.
Never mind that last year Bolton called Russia’s attack on America’s election “a true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate.” Now he’s parroting the president’s favorite phrase to describe the investigation into the matter that has already resulted in charges against three companies and 32 people, including four advisers to the Trump campaign and a dozen Russian intelligence officers.
Indeed, some Republican representatives are calling for impeachment — of Rod Rosenstein, that is. But so far, it appears that the House Freedom Caucus can’t come up with sufficient support to proceed on the five articles of impeachment against the deputy attorney general who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller (who’s now investigating Trump’s tweets as part of an obstruction-of-justice probe).
Americans seem more focused on Russia’s conduct than Rosenstein’s anyway: 70 percent believe there was Russian interference in the 2016 election, with just 23 percent saying there was not, according to a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist survey. And 64 percent believe “Trump is not tough enough on Russia,” while only 8 percent say he is too tough. Closer to home, 56 percent of Minnesotans believe Mueller’s probe is a “fair investigation,” while 31 percent agree with Trump (and now, Bolton) that it is a “witch hunt,” according to a new NBC News/Marist poll.
Soviet-era information was limited to state news. America, of course, has always had multiple media sources offering different perspectives, but the president’s preference for a single source, Fox News, is well-established. And it was well-tested when Trump boarded his flight to Europe and a TV was tuned to CNN. That caused Trump to “rage at his staff,” according to the New York Times, which further reported that the channel-changing culprit on board was none other than First Lady Melania Trump.
On Wednesday, Bill Shine, a former Fox News exec fired by the network but then hired by the White House, barred CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins from an open press event because officials reportedly said her questions to Trump were “inappropriate” (which the White House now denies).
In other words, she did her job — a fact admirably backed up by Fox News President Jay Wallace. “We stand in strong solidarity with CNN for the right to full access for our journalists as part of a free and unfettered press,” Wallace said.
But Trump, unlike his favorite network’s president, doesn’t seem to value freedom of the press. Speaking Tuesday at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, Trump addressed vets who fought for the First Amendment among other cherished American values.
With an Orwellian aura, the president said, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not happening.”
But it is happening, it’s real, and journalists need to report it.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.