That was fast. Donald Trump moved to defuse the bombshell Sun interview he gave last night, which was recorded, by calling it “fake news” in his press conference with Theresa May this morning, who wore but apparently did not see red over his remarks. But even by the vertiginous standards of Trumpworld, this reversal set a new bar for redefining reality to comport with whatever suits the president’s needs. What might seem momentous when Trump utters it is really only the expostulation of a moment.
The same rules will surely apply to his upcoming summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin. A diligent press corps is trying to force Trump to say what he will do or say when he meets his Russian chum. But Trump himself may not really know. In seeking to extract definite answers from Trump, the media is attempting to perform a task that his own staff cannot. In a remarkable piece in the New Yorker, Susan Glasser notes that Trump has not prepared for his meeting with Putin apart from sending his national security adviser John Bolton over to Moscow for a few hours. According to Glasser, “Beyond the allure of aggrandizement and the mystery of President Trump’s affinity for the Russian strongman, why the meeting is taking place now remains a mystery. Is the purpose to discuss arms control? Syria? Ukraine? To rehash the 2016 election? Remarkably, it’s not clear, and that in and of itself marks this as a most unusual summit.”
Trump himself says Helsinki is a “loose meeting.”
It is more than likely that Trump will duplicate, or even surpass, his performance in Singapore where he came bounding out of his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to deem him “funny,” “smart” and a “great negotiator.” After all, Trump has been panting to become best friends with Putin for over a decade and apparently referred to his more cautious advisers as “stupid people” who are intent on sabotaging great relations between Moscow and Washington. Glasser reports that one former State Department official likened Trump to an amateur boxer going up against Muhammad Ali. Edward Luce of the Financial Times predicts that it will be the end of the West. Robert Kagan, writing in the Washington Post, sees a “world crisis.” Stuff and nonsense, responds Melinda Haring of the Atlantic Council. In her view, the summit will resemble the administration’s previous high-profile diplomatic efforts: “apocalyptic predictions from the pundits, jarring soundbites from the participants, and much ado about nothing as the outcome.”
Trump, who said that “surprising things” may emerge from his meeting, alluded once more to his Uncle John at MIT who tutored him on nuclear issues that he understands with the best of them: “I understand nuclear.” He certainly knows how to go nuclear.
Thus Trump took another shot at Obama today, reiterating his contention that had he been president, Putin would never have dared invade Crimea. “This was an Obama disaster. I think if I were President then, he would not have taken over. I don’t think he would have done that with me as President.” When it comes to Russian election meddling, Trump indicated that he would raise it but—dating himself by referring to a television series that ran from 1957-1966—indicated that “There won’t be a Perry Mason here — I don’t think. But you never know what happens, but I will absolutely firmly ask the question, and hopefully we’ll have a very good relationship with Russia.”
Good relationship? The Financial Times says that Russia is preparing to invest $50 billion into Iran’s energy industry. But no matter what is said or done in coming days, one thing is certain: Trump will define the summit as he pleases.