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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.”

Michael Gerson mug

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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(46) comments

Jobaba

Patriotism is an outmoded, obsolete word to republicans.

crank

Patriotism...? One my reasonably make the same claim about Democrats. Gerson starts the column with, “One of the puzzling aspects of Donald Trump’s hyper-nationalism is its consistent denigration of the nation itself.” It occurs to me that Democrats frequently are vocal critics of our nation, it’s policies, our constitution, etc. to the point of violent demonstrations. While many want to focus on ‘Russian’ troll farms, they are willing to ignore the fact that these troll farms are merely exploiting the trolling and vitriol which has become standard in political discourse in this nation. You cannot blame one side for the division when the other side loses an election and immediately takes to the streets declaring, “Not my president!” While we may not always be happy with the result of elections, but do we cease to be Americans? Do we opt simply to burn it all down in a tantrum after? What ultimately weakens the nation? I would suggest it is the partisanship we see among citizens who ‘automatically’ oppose policy because it comes from the other side of the aisle. One issue comes to my mind, specifically, are the words from Democrats regarding illegal immigrants from Mexico and immigration reform before Trump was President who now contradict themselves by calling those same words and reform proposals from a Republican “racist”. What will certainly follow my comment are the usual denials and trolling from those who will automatically disagree with me because I am conservative. If illegal immigration was a crisis before Trump, what besides partisanship, is the reason Democrats (Pelosi, Schumer, Feinstein and others) contradict their previous words (while Obama and Clinton were president) on this matter?

oldhomey

No, crank, I and other liberal posters on these boards don't automatically disagree with you because you are a conservative. We disagree with you when you are making false statements, which is most of the time. And we, armed with actual evidence, point out your lies and your misconceptions, which you acknowledge by running away hiding. Did the Democrats previously advocate separating thousands of immigrant children from their parents and hold them in cages for months? Did the Democrats previously advocate taking congressionally approved and earmarked defense spending away from the military to build hundreds of miles miles of fencing that is pointless and ineffective, destined to became instantaneously a macabre, rusting joke of a White

Elephant that will be the one lasting monument to the worst president in U.S. history?

martian2

what ultimately weakens a nation you ask. A fair question I will admit. I would say when our elections are up for sale, when the richest Americans and corporations are allowed to swamp the voting public with lies, half truths and constant made up conspiracies, then our democracy is not strengthen but eroded. Little by little those with the most wealth are crafting ways to divide America in ways that produce results favorable to them. Couple that with voter suppression laws and you have a toxic mix of political corruption. You have a system that no longer is designed to allow the working class to have a say. When the richest among us are allowed to bribe and extort favors from politicians, we no longer have a democracy. I doubt this is what our founding fathers originally envisioned for this country. Unless we get rid of citizens united , there will be more division and corruption. And there will be more extremism, especially by the bought and paid for GOP with a good chance of another Trump being elected. You talk about one issue of immigration being divisive. That is the result, not the cause of our democracy being eroded by citizens united.

oldhomey

agreed, Jo. It seems to be all about party loyalty, hoodwinking working people and maximizing profit for the One Percenters, but certainly not about duty and country any more.

DMoney

Yet, no negative results/outcomes. Lots of babbling, no substance. We're as great as we were in 2016. Less troops are dying, more people are working. If Trump was 1/4 as bad as these fools claim, the results would be catastrophe. Yet, no negative results. How is that possible?

martian2

its only possible D if you have blind loyalty and your only measure of success is your 401k. You attempt to defend the indefensible is laughable. Since when is it acceptable to with hold foreign aid or manipulate trade talks by insisting foreign governments dig up dirt on your political rivals. Only in your small mindedness is that ok. For the rest of us who hold our politicians to higher standards of decency and legitimacy, it is not, and never will be. chew on that for awhile. Your argument is just a repeat from the watergate era when Nixon's supporters claimed the same thing.... look what a great job he is doing!! Didn't work then, still doesn't work now.

DMoney

That hasn't happened. Trump didn't force them to dig up dirt. He didn't withhold aid. He has every right to request help looking into possible corruption. You are making it up. The left made up the collusion claim. You make things up because you have nothing else to work with.

martian2

um, yes he did withhold aid. You better get with the latest news, new things are being revealed almost hourly. Yes there was quid pro quo. Gee D, I thought Trump's mottos is America first! So why is he asking foreign governments to dig up dirt on his political opponents? Why doesn't he use our good old American intelligence agencies? I wonder if Trump and you believe in those Chinese commies more than American agencies. Gee it is starting to reek of false patriotism here. Stop trying to defend the indefensible.

capedcrusader

BS.

martian2

"All that matters is Trump. And sadly his backers are willingly helping him slowly tear away the moral and constitutional fabric of this country. The comparisons with Nixon are uncanny and spot on. Trump's talk of tearing this country apart with a civil war rightly compares with Hitler and his talk of destroying his country. These truths obliterate the right wing fanatics attempts to normalize Trump, and squirm at the very mention of them." And you are welcome!

PhysicsIsFun

There are treatments for echolalia.

PhysicsIsFun

Oh by the way Mr. No Quid Pro Quo, the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Trump has turned up a major new trove of evidence: text messages. The texts are ugly. They reveal that top State Department diplomats worked with the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to try to get Ukraine to commit to politicized investigations demanded by President Trump into the gas company Hunter Biden served on the board of as well as into Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. The texts reveal that the pressure campaign was presented this July as a quid pro quo — if Ukraine committed to these investigations, the US would agree to a White House meeting with President Zelensky. The texts get even uglier in late August and early September. That’s when Trump’s decision to hold up $400 million in military aid for Ukraine entered the discussion. Kurt Volker, the special representative to Ukraine who recently resigned, provided the texts to Congress in advance of his closed-door testimony Thursday.

PhysicsIsFun

Dmoney if you follow your logic the person who drives drunk should be considered a safe driver until something bad happens. Adults try to look at reckless, uninformed, and ill conceived policies, procedures, and behavior and do things to stop it before something bad happens. Apparently you and many Republicans don't operate like adults.

martian2

"ask not what your country can do for you, rather ask another country to make up dirt on your political rivals." most likely the Donald.

oldhomey

This column proves to me once again that Gerson is one of the smartest political observers in the world today. He is superbly informed and superbly rational. I see George Will, the conservative pundit who many consider to be the best in the business is coming to speak at UW-L. He is awfully, awfully good, but Gerson and David Brooks, also conservatives, certainly are his equal. I never miss any of them, nor do I pass by a column by Thomas Friedman, whose liberal thinking is more to my liking. But none of these guys is an ideologue, and reading them is always an education.

martian2

" A world without rules and ideals is a world without limits on his instincts and whims." Wow, Gerson nailed it again. Like a gifted surgeon he wields his literary scalpo with perfect precision and truth. Trump would love to be Like Putin or NK Kim or any other dictator not restrained by any law or morality. That much is irrefutable. Trump could care less about the fundamental ideals of America, like fair elections, responsible government, independent branches of government, checks and balances, rule of law etc.. All that matters is Trump. And sadly his backers are willingly helping him slowly tear away the moral and constitutional fabric of this country. The comparisons with Nixon are uncanny and spot on. Trump's talk of tearing this country apart with a civil war rightly compares with Hitler and his talk of destroying his country. These truths obliterate the right wing fanatics attempts to normalize Trump, and squirm at the very mention of them.

PhysicsIsFun

The same could be said of much of the Republican Party itself. Look no further than our own state of Wisconsin.

DMoney

You did it again! Unreal...

crank

LOL! Reductio ad Hitlerum... [rolleyes]

PhysicsIsFun

Yeah it sucks when people make credible comparisons of your guy with Hitler.

DMoney

There's no such thing as a credible comparison to Hitler. To attempt to do so is childish and incredibly insensitive.

PhysicsIsFun

Thanks Dmoney. When I need your advise on issues of character, I will know I am in trouble.

PhysicsIsFun

Crank and Dman can rationalize all the garbage Trump does. It is perfectly fine with them, but one must not compare Trump to Hitler. That is just a bridge too far.

oldhomey

I think Trump's physical presence and mannerisms are more credibly compared to Mussolini. His thinly veiled appeals for ethnic and religious purity, his appeals to genuinely aggrieved masses of working people that he alone can solve their problems, his efforts to use The Big Lie to distract people from his actual intent is definitely more credibly compared to Hitler in the early 1930s. His actual intent, however, seems mainly to enhance his own financial well-being, to feed his enormous ego, to hide from his very visible insecurities and to ensure that he will never have to answer to his criminal activity and his malfeasance as president. He is the same, but he is also his own, unique and unfortunate model of a fascist-leaning leader, but that makes him no less danger to our country, its democratic institutions and to the world as a whole.

martian2

ok, then let's compare Trump to NK Kim. They are buddies in love he says.

PhysicsIsFun

When Trump is compared to Hitler, all Dmoney and crank think about is the mass genocide of Jews and others perpetrated by Hitler. Certainly Trump has not done that. He has also not invaded other countries or started a world war (yet!). However Trump has many other similarities. He has denigrated minorities (Hispanic immigrants) and incarcerated them in camps. He incites his followers with calls to violence on those who disagree with him. He uses economic uncertainty to ramp up feelings of racism. He uses the government to punish enemies. He constantly lies. He calls out the press as "enemy of the people" and calls his political opposition (Democrats) unpatriotic. Trump is a demagogue just like Hitler was.

Jobaba

A good column. The only problem is that the list of what Trump doesn't understand is very long and difficult to prioritize. He does not understand government. I cannot remember who. said that a government without the support of the people will not last, but it describes Trump accurately. He has NEVER actively courted Democrats, never asked over half the population to come along on his wild ride. That is part of his authoritarian side in which he believes that he rules over the American people. Those that fall in line with his insane doctrines are patriots and those that don't are enemies of the state and Trump is the state.



I said "never", but I am aware that during the Inauguration and state of the union addresses he pays lip service to the inclusion of Americans because those are the times you say nice things. Usually less than 20 minutes later he is off tweeting his disdain for over half of America. How does he expect to rule? Things aren't going his way and he's angry about a situation he created? He and his supporters should let a tiny ray of reality into their lives. The resistance to Trump will never end as long as he vilifies over half the population.

Climatehoax

Half the population wants to tear apart what we’ve built in this country, thank God for what Trump is doing, he gets my vote

oldhomey

As the old saying goes, Climate, that goes without saying. Simply by reading your chosen screen name we know who you are voting for.

PhysicsIsFun

Yes the half you represent wants to tear apart the government institutions that our nation have built to serve and protect its citizens. Please stop it.

DMoney

The resistance to Trump began the morning after election day and hasn't ceased, despite utter failure towards it's goals. I vividly remember the dialogue of that day. I saw the need and drive for vengeance. That's why all of these feeble attacks are so obvious.

Jobaba

And yet that is not an argument against an impeachable offense. The Democrats found one and it is difficult to argue against. What does it mean that Democrats have been resisting since day one? Nothing. Ask Obama.

martian2

like Jo said, ask Obama what it was like to have attacks the day he took office. They attacked his citizenship, his religion, his qualifications, even his race. And you whine like a two years old about the resistance to Trump. Get real!

PhysicsIsFun

What is obvious is that Trump is clearly unfit for the office, both psychologically and intellectually. He is a moral vacuum. He is incapable of doing the job he was "elected" to do.

crank

Talk of impeaching Trump began before he was even elected or inaugurated. This article from Politico (I've linked it before) is dated April 17, 2016. It's part of the play book. Please note, it appeared in Politico and was not written by me. If you wish to bicker about the content of the article, don't bother. Citing this article only supports my statement that impeachment was considered even before Trump was elected.Oldhomey...You may copy and paste it to assuage your feelings of paranoia:

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/04/donald-trump-2016-impeachment-213817Others may simply click the link below:

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/04/donald-trump-2016-impeachment-213817

martian2

crank you idiot, impeachment is considered for about every president by the other party. considering it and actually doing it are two different things. Trump has openly given the fodder for his own impeachment. and you blind loyalists sit there and whine and cry for him. He is his own worst enemy. If he had an ounce of competence he could of easily avoided any of this. People talk all the time, its cheap and passes the time. So wipe away those crocodile tears crank, your dear leader has no one to blame but himself. Quit trying to defend the indefensible.

crank

oldhomey (martian), you idiot, the only whining and crying I'm witnessing here is from you!

Despite your insistence (you idiot) I don't believe I've ever heard, read or observed impeachment discussions about any president or presidential candidate from either political party before that person has even been elected. In April 2016 (you idiot)! There was no way our dear leader (yours AND mine) "could of" avoided it. It was in the works even before the election even though you liberals all thought you had the election sewn up. The liberal hissy-fit/tantrum began the morning after the election with the "not my president" nonsense and it has not stopped since.

I say to the Dems, sh¡t or get off the pot! They should impeach Trump if they're going to. Stop whining and crying about it and just do it. Present the case to the Senate and let them decide. From your telling of it (you idiot), it should be open and shut (you idiot). So why haven't they done it and instead just keep talking about it?

martian2

well crank you idiot, your memory is totally shot then. Obama was facing impeachment talk cause some in your party thought he was not born in America. Oh the conspiracy theorists were having a fun time with that. And that talk began even during the campaigns. Trump brought this all upon himself you idiot. When he openly and publicly asked for help from the Russians to interfere with our elections, what the heck do you think was going to happen. He did that of his own stupidity, and now you feel sorry for him. Talk about an open and shut case of stupidity, you both take the cake!

martian2

so for the record idiot crank, are you willing to go to war (civil war) for your dear leader to save his presidency? He is counting on people like you to help him out by putting your life on the line for him. Or do you have a serious case of the bone spurs?

oldhomey

crank continues to try to get posters he does not agree with to use the links he offers up in his posts. Anybody who does will soon be accused by crank of having multiple accounts and screen names on these boards. Crank has the all the sterling ethical characteristics as Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. He is a sleazeball, and he has proven it over and over again on these boards.

DMoney

I completely agree: make it official and start the impeachment. To talk about it so many times with no action just proves the theory that these accusations are made up political slander. Let's see what happens.

martian2

I don't know where you been D, but the impeachment process has begun. Your impatient youthfulness thinks it takes no time at all. On contrare, it takes time, lots of hearings, lots of evidence to filter through to build a strong and convincing case. That is the way our founding fathers designed it. As a constitutionalist I would think you would know that. And when you have a president who is trying to hide evidence from congress, then the courts get involved and that takes even more time. There is no hurry, let all the truth come forth. Let all the dirty details of corruption and ineptness shine in the public light. Let the voting public see what kind of a person they have in the white house.

capedcrusader

Patience grasshopper.

PhysicsIsFun

I thought that Trump was a piece of sh** long before his election. The whole birther thing was ridiculous and disgusting. His behavior as far as women and his wives was well known for years. He was also a pompous blowhard who would say or do anything to get attention. He is spoiled rich boy who bullies and takes advantage of others. The notion that such a person is suitable to be president tells you all you need to know about today's Republican Party.

capedcrusader

Sounds just like the line in the sand that Moscow Mitch drew when Obama was elected doesn't it? It's going to be a fun five years if Trump lasts that long.

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