“What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?”
(Senator Padme Amidala, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)

The above snippet of dialogue was one of the most thought-provoking to be found in this series of science fantasy films that, for all its success, people all too often tend to dismiss as (in the words of a friend of mine who never has warmed up to the Star Wars movies) “mindless brain candy.”

Although the film it comes from is now 13 years old, this particular quote sprang immediately to mind when I saw the news reports about Donald Trump’s joint press conference with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Monday following their so-called “summit” in Helsinki.

Fair word of warning: If you count yourself among those who still support the current occupant of the White House, you may want to stop reading now. If you don’t, you’re only going to get angry.

During Monday’s press conference, the president was asked if he would denounce Putin’s actions and “warn him to never do it again.” Well, we got the answer: not only did he NOT condemn the cyber attacks that all United States intelligence agencies agree originated from the Russian government, Trump went so far as to say that he believed Putin over his own intelligence agencies. 

“I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump told America. And America reacted. 

Boy, did it ever!

The first response that I personally came across was that of former CIA director John Brennan, who called the president’s performance at the press conference “nothing short of treasonous”  and that Trump’s comments “exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’”

Naturally Democrats were quick to pounce. House Foreign Affairs member Eliot Engel of New York and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren both categorized Trump’s comments as disgraceful. Adam Schiff of California, a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Trump’s attack on intelligence agencies would be taken as a “green light” by Putin to “interfere” in the 2018 midterm elections.

And Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer - never one to shy away from hostile confrontation with the opposing side, whether warranted or not - openly questioned whether Trump’s deference to the Russian leader is the product of compromising information about Trump that Putin is hanging over his head. 

“Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump,” Schumer said. 

But the criticism proved truly bipartisan in nature this time.

Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Stating that Trump “has been ostracized on the world stage,” Corker added, “I just don’t know what it is about the president that he continues to deny that it occurred. I get the feeling, firsthand actually, that sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally.”

GOP Congressman and former CIA officer Will Hurd echoed Corker’s sentiments. ”I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people over my professional career,” Hurd said. “I never would have thought that the U.S. President would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands.” And Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse took exception Trump’s assertion that both countries are responsible for the deteriorating U.S.-Russia relationship, calling it “bizarre and flat-out wrong.”

But it was U.S. Senator John McCain - a man I have admired for his service to his country despite the fact that I have disagreed with him far more often than not over the years - who issued what, in my mind, was the most eloquent denunciation of Trump’s comments. Calling the summit in Helsinki a “tragic mistake,” McCain said the press conference was a low point in the history of the American Presidency.

“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said. “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are - a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad.”

In fact, the only GOP lawmaker I personally know of to have defended Trump was Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin, who issued a statement saying he believes Trump “has America’s best interest at heart.”


While I did not expect some of the criticism that came from the president’s own party, I will state for the record that I was heartened by it. 

All too often since the election of 2016, I had found myself believing that the GOP had so thoroughly deluded itself into thinking that they are the “only true Americans” that they truly could not see so much of what has happened since then as being wrong. Over the past quarter of a century there has been the mindset among many of them - thanks in no small part by the propaganda spewed on a regular basis by a certain TV “news” network in particular - that they have been the good guys in a new Cold War, not against a foreign adversary but against fellow Americans whose only “evil” is that they belong to the other political party.

For these Republicans, losing to the Democrats - or to certain Independents - is no longer simply a matter of politics. It’s a scenario that runs counter to their fantasy narrative that the other side is simply out to destroy “True American Values.”

Let me state for the record that I do not, and have never, believed that ALL Republicans think or act this way. There are Republican candidates that I have supported, despite my being a lifelong Democrat. 

But during my lifetime I have witnessed enough of that particular type of Republican come into power that I’ve found myself fearing for the future of this great country of ours. Perhaps the bipartisan nature of the overwhelming disdain for Monday’s presidential pandering is evidence that there is still hope, that we can find a way to work together and make things better.

And if I’m wrong - if whatever Trump apologists still remain somehow manage to keep shouting over everyone else - well, then, perhaps the Founding Fathers’ grand experiment in democracy truly has run its course. Which, unfortunately, brings to mind another quote from Padme Amidala in Revenge of the Sith that may prove all too prophetic: 

“So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause.”

Lord, let us hope not.

(Column copyright © 2018 by John A. Small)