David Remnick in The New Yorker:
In dictatorial states, a failure to applaud the Leader has often been a matter of treason. Last February, following the State of the Union address, President Trump flew to Blue Ash, Ohio, for a rally and accused the Democrats in Congress of that very crime. Their crime was a failure to stand and applaud sufficiently for the President of the United States. “You’re up there and you’ve got half the room going totally crazy, wild—they loved everything, they want to do something great for our country,” Trump said. “And you have the other side, even on positive news . . . they were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
It’s unlikely that anyone remembers that moment in Blue Ash—a moment that would be an enduring stain on any other President—and the reason is obvious: Trump’s penchant for bald deception and incoherence is not an aberration. It is his daily practice. The vague sense of torpor and gloom that so many Americans have shouldered these past two years derives precisely from the constancy of Trump’s galling statements and actions.
And yet what happened in Helsinki on Monday will not be so easily forgotten. Just as the President’s comments following the torchlit white-supremacist march last year in Charlottesville made it clear that racism was at the core of his character and his political strategy, the contemptible remarks he delivered alongside of Vladimir Putin seemed to mark a turning point, even for some of his most ardent defenders. In the course of a single European journey, Trump set out to humiliate the leaders of Western Europe and declare them “foes”; to fracture long-standing military, economic, and political alliances; and to absolve Russia of its attempts to undermine the 2016 election. He did so clearly, repeatedly, and with conviction. Republicans in Congress (but not enough of them) and a selection of commentators on Fox News declared that Trump’s performance in Helsinki had been disgraceful.
The President’s attempt to reverse the damage—clearly the result of a panicked White House staff—only worsened the matter. Speaking from the White House Cabinet Room on Tuesday, Trump tried to take his listeners for fools as he explained that he had merely been misunderstood by the press. This was one of the most shameless walk-back attempts in the history of the American Presidency. Reading from prepared notes, which always lends to his delivery a hostage-like cadence, Trump tried to half-apologize to the American intelligence community for equating its analysis with that of Putin and the F.S.B. And, with that, the lights suddenly went out. The President sat in darkness. Even before the worldwide commentariat had a chance to voice its incredulity, the White House electrical system had called bullshit on Trump. Or was it a higher power?