The greatest threat to the United States right now is not terrorism, foreign or domestic. It’s not the economy or the disappearance of jobs in the coal-mining regions or the manufacturing sector. Nor is it the coming rise of the seas to lap at America’s coastal cities.
The greatest threat is the Republican Party’s nominee for president, who last week openly begged an adversary of America to violate U.S. law and hack into the electronic files of his political opponents – the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“Russia, if you’re listening,” Donald Trump said at a July 26 news conference, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to the private email server Clinton used while she was secretary of state. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Undoubtedly, one of Trump’s goals was to fan the flames of what looked to be an exploding intra-party controversy just as the Democratic National Convention was getting started. Democratic National Committee electronic files had been hacked and then publicly released, revealing that the Committee, which was supposed to be neutral in the primary campaign battle between Bernie Sanders and Clinton, actually tilted decisively toward Clinton.
Although the investigation of the hack is still continuing, federal officials and private-sector cyber-security experts quickly said it was almost certainly the work of Russian hackers directly or indirectly tied to the Russian government.
However, Trump’s hopes for a contentious convention came to naught. Democratic officials, backed by Sanders’ calls for party unity and firm endorsement of Clinton as the convention opened Monday, July 25, had quickly squelched the possibility of any significant rebellion. First Lady Michelle Obama’s powerful opening-night speech endorsing Clinton then set the tone for what became a joyous four-day event that decisively beat the Republicans’ convention in diversity of its delegates, a powerhouse lineup of speakers and celebrities and the television ratings game.
Nonetheless, one should not ignore Trump’s Russian gambit, which provoked a chorus of outrage from Democrats and across much of the mainstream media and social media. It also stunned the nation’s foreign-policy community of scholars and policy wonks and current and former government officials.
There was, of course, bitter irony in Trump, who’s proclaimed himself the “America First” and the “law and order” candidate, asking Russia to commit espionage against the U.S. Perhaps he’ll now call himself the “Russia First” candidate, who approves of lawless behavior as long as it benefits him and his “friend” Vladimir Putin, the autocratic Russian leader – whose goal has always been to “make Russia great again.”
Trump’s words didn’t constitute treason, a charge that requires action that specifically aids an enemy of America. They were constitutionally protected speech. But, as with so many things Trump has done and said during the past years, his inviting a foreign government to invade the files of American citizens and American institutions underscored his worst characteristics: his lack of ethical principles, his profound, pathological indiscipline, his boundless narcissism, his attraction to authoritarian leaders and behavior, and his determination to do anything to make a buck.
In this instance, the “bucks” he wants to reap are in the coffers of the Russian treasury and the bank accounts of that nation’s uber-wealthy class, the oligarchs. For more than a decade Trump has heavily depended on funds from the latter for his business deals, and has been desperately trying to get permission to build in Russia itself from Putin, who directly through Russian state agencies and indirectly through the oligarchs controls an immense horde of money.
The fierce torrent of criticism leveled at Trump produced another display of characteristic behavior: he claimed he was misunderstood while simultaneously insinuating there was nothing wrong with what he had first said.
The dirty-tricks aspect of Trump’s Russian gambit and bitter, raging tone of the previous week’s Republican National Convention, populated by an overwhelmingly White corps of delegates and speakers perfectly represented the grim, soulless portrait of an America on the brink of an apocalypse Trump painted in his acceptance speech. The contrast offered by the Democratic gathering’s bright, celebratory tone could not have been greater. It embodied what’s needed to respond effectively to a clear and present danger.
Hillary Clinton put it this way: “America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger … That’s why ‘Stronger Together’ is not just a lesson from our history. It’s not just a slogan for our campaign. It’s a guiding principle for the country we’ve always been and the future we’re going to build.”
Lee A. Daniels, a former reporter for The Washington Post and the New York Times, is also a former editor of The National Urban League’s The State of Black America. He is a keynote speaker and author whose books include Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He is writing a book on the Obama years and the 2016 election. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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