It’s time we give Donald Trump some credit on Russia.
Yes, we are 15 months in to his presidency. And yes, his record is still overshadowed by his obsequiousness to Vladimir Putin. But after Syria’s chemical weapons attack on civilians, Trump blamed the Russian leader by name (as well as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) for the “mindless” attack on many, including “women and children,” and he threatened a “big price.”
Coming on the heels of new U.S. sanctions on Russian oligarchs, officials, and state-owned businesses, this is a significant change. And it strikes me that there are two things worth noting here.
First, although it’s impossible to know what might ultimately come out of the Mueller probe, Trump’s recent words and deeds could serve to quiet speculation about kompromat. As Commentary magazine’s John Podhoretz (no Trump booster) observed, “If the Russians have blackmail material on Trump that could destroy him, they should probably let it out pretty soon before his sanctions turn on everybody in Putin’s orbit.”
Second, is the fact that sometimes it is worth giving credit when credit is due.
Now, in fairness, even for a conservative (especially for a conservative?), praising Trump is almost always something you live to regret. There is always a question of “when will the other shoe drop?”
The president has hinted that he’s going to get tough on Russia before, only to revert back to his deferential form. Likewise, there a tax reform bill, followed by a ridiculous spending bill—and the decimation of onerous federal regulations, followed by the impending implementation of new tariffs. You get the point.
Still, I may be in the minority on this one, but my position on politicians is similar to my position on prisoners: Rehabilitation is better than revenge.
Not all of my friends and colleagues see it this way.
Many #NeverTrumpers wouldn’t compliment Trump for saving a kitten from a tree. Likewise, many in the media have preconceived notions about Trump that cloud their coverage and result in a sort of “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t” style of journalism.
Case in point: Trump finally imposed sweeping new sanctions on Russian oligarchs, and NBC News informs us that, “Sanctions for Russian oligarchs [are] unlikely to seriously impact Putin, experts say.”
If Trump is for it, after all, it must be bad, right?
To be sure, if Trump wants to prove that his newfound tough talk on Putin is not just a one-off in a knee-jerk response to a Fox & Friends segment, he must answer some important question soon, including: How will he protect the midterm elections from Russian interference? What should the extent of his involvement be in Syria? Should he take steps to dissolve the brutal Putin-backed dictatorship? And does the recent chemical warfare attack mean Trump should renounce talk of leaving Syria altogether? Whether Trump’s actions can mirror his new rhetoric is another case entirely.
Regardless, political observers should be willing to dole out praise for good behavior, just as we dispense heaping doses of criticism for scandals. And we should be able to recognize those instances in which our preconceived notions may have been offbase—that Trump’s showdown with Mexico may, in fact, result in a new NAFTA deal; that his brinkmanship with China could, in fact, compel that country to actually lower tariffs.
We are not infallible. And we should be honest and consistent in our analysis. This is true because the public deserves to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly, but also because the politicians are more likely to behave properly if they believe that there is some correlation between the coverage and comportment.
Now, I suffer no illusions that Donald Trump hangs on my every word or even cares what I think of him. But I do know that, in psychology, there’s something called the “pleasure principle,” which essentially says that we all want to seek pleasure and avoid pain. (The pleasure principle is the guiding force of the id, and Trump is most certainly the living embodiment of the id.)
Donald Trump is finally showing some moral leadership in the struggle against Russia. It has been a long time coming, but even baby steps must be applauded if we expect our baby to grow up one day.
If you want to win converts, then converts should be welcomed—not crucified.