The high point of Donald Trump’s presidency to date — the moment when those who desperately wanted to close their eyes and imagine a normal president standing before the country got something resembling their wish — came during his late-February speech to a joint session of Congress. Trump managed to read his address without narcissistic digressions, and the message he delivered (“Nationalism with an indoor voice,” as one White House official put it) would have been obvious to any casual listener. Over and over, Trump blamed America’s problems on foreigners or the willingness of past leaders to accommodate them: “We’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries”; “We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross”; “America must put its own citizens first”; “Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States”; “My job is to represent the United States of America.”
The display of overt, bellicose nationalism presents a morbid contrast with the unfolding Russia scandal, which exposes the president’s boasts of domestic loyalty as containing all the irony of the title of the television show The Americans. The scandal is spinning off in multiple directions, but at bottom it suggests a betrayal of American sovereignty by Trump that is unprecedented in the history of the republic.
For a still-unclear combination of reasons — greed for power, greed for money, vulnerability to blackmail, or motivations unknown — the incoming administration cooperated with the undermining of American democracy by a hostile foreign power.