WILD OLIVES, France — When Redcoats landed at Boston to quell an upstart revolution, as the poem goes, Paul Revere galloped from Lexington shouting, “The British are coming!” A militia mobilized swiftly, and today Americans don't have to drink tea every day at 4 o'clock.
Imagine that now. “Fake news,” a mob mutters, piling sticks at a stake to burn a Rachel Maddow ancestor. “Quiet,” guys shout, watching the Patriots' Jedediah Brady heave a leather ball. Others fight over who gets to play the fife. A merchant raises the price of Union Jacks. Kids wait for someone to invent smart phones so that they can exchange selfies when the fun starts.
For what they're worth, here are some real-news observations from an old-crocodile reporter after what may be the most ignominious five days the United States has seen since the Civil War.
- Donald Trump has committed treason by failing to defend the United States against what, in a modern frame of reference, amounts to an act of war. Protecting elections from hostile foreign interference is fundamental to any democracy.
- He has put America in peril by not only confounding its allies but also blunting its defensive deterrent. Nuclear warfare is not possible without destroying the planet. And it is now blindingly clear that Trump is no match for Vladimir Putin at Armageddon poker.
- He has abandoned the basic tenets of American values: defense of human rights, succor for refugees in flight, opposition to tyrannical rule. Syria is just one egregious example. Bashar al Assad, now fortified by Russia, can gas his dissidents at will.
- He has removed the underpinnings of world commerce, exposing America to strong possibility of economic meltdown. His closed-border policy, worsened by racist rhetoric that inflames terrorism, reverses a world trend toward free and secure travel.
- He has driven a wedge into American society with bald appeals to a jingoist minority cult that follows him blindly. The majority, poorly informed and apathetic to a dangerous degree, might not be able to coalesce in time to stop an entrenched new reality.
Watching from a distance, it beggars belief that any citizen can accept this boorish unhinged narcissist as the personification of America to a world so badly in need of its professed commitment to stability, civility, cooperation and free expression.
Reporters look for telling detail that reflects a larger picture. Like, for instance, Trump's visit to Windsor Castle (because Londoners wouldn't have him). He kept a 92-year-old queen waiting 20 minutes in the sun and then shouldered her aside to charge on ahead. He told Angela Merkel, who far outshines him as a wise world leader, that she is in Russia's pocket.
After so much European blood spilled in Afghanistan and elsewhere, largely because of American folly, Trump reduced NATO to dollar signs. Then, with no more progress beyond what NATO partners had already promised to do, he boasted about how he made them pay up.
In one revealing exchange, a reporter asked him about Crimea, the first land grab in Europe since World War II. That, he replied, was on Obama's watch. This is our nutty president in a nutshell, why he keeps parroting, “NO COLLUSION.” The presidency is only about him.
No one still reading this needs a lesson in American civics. But if anything is to change, we need to come to grips with what we are up against. The president takes Americans for imbeciles, and too many of them are proving him right.
Back in Washington, seeing the reaction, Trump said it was simply an inadvertent double negative. He meant to say he didn't see how the election meddling couldn't have been Russian. This, after extolling Putin's convincing denial. That is: believe me, not your own eyes and ears.
If comparisons to Hitler's Big Lie are apt, increasing police excesses hardly approach his paramilitary Schutzstaffel. Instead, we have a different sort of SS, insidious to a functioning democracy: the supercilious smirk.
CNN's news team rose to the occasion, declaring Trump's Helsinki performance a disgrace. Then the camera shifted to a Republican shill. At each assertion of fact, her smirk said it all: My mind is made up. If Trump machineguns people on Fifth Avenue, I'll find a way to explain why that makes us richer, greater and more respected in the world.
In a Fox interview, Tucker Carlson's supercilious smirk never dimmed. “Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it?” he asked Trump. Well, Montenegrins went to Afghanistan to defend us. But the main point self-focused tyros like Carlson overlook is that invaders conquer territory slice by slice until allies stop them. Perhaps he might read a history book.
In five decades as a correspondent, I can't remember anything more unsettling than that Helsinki press conference after a two-hour secret meeting with neither witnesses nor a transcript for history. No official said a word to reporters, even off the record, on the long flight home.
It was like two Mafia capos meeting to decide who controls cement deliveries to which parts of Manhattan. And it seemed pretty clear which of the two was capable of dumping the other into the East River with cement blocks over his Gucci shoes.
Can America survive intact if citizens don't start — today — to use every legal means its Constitution allows to rid itself of this existential threat? Fuhgeddaboudit.