The best disinformation and psy-ops campaigns are supposed to leave you dazed and confused, unable to discern truth from fiction, friend from foe, right from wrong.
So those who watched Donald Trump’s extraordinary press conference alongside Vladimir Putin might well be feeling nauseous, several hours later.
Listening to Trump’s responses about Russian acts of aggression, it was hard to know who was playing the role of the American president. His performance was so nakedly, brazenly pro-Russian, you had to wonder what ranks higher on the Trumpian scale of stupidity: the president’s own intellect or his dim view of ours.
George Orwell conjured up a totalitarian regime where Ignorance Is Strength, but he surely never conceived of this. How can we know that two and two make four, or that the DNC isn’t responsible for its own hacking, or that Vladimir Putin isn’t a bigger American friend than the entire European Union and Nato alliance?
As Trump explained so clearly, when he talks about Russia as a rival, he really means it as a compliment, no matter what your lying ears have told you.
So you may have heard him tell CBS that Russia is a “foe in certain respects”. But you obviously heard wrong. Right?
“Well, actually I called him a competitor,” said Trump, flicking the gaslight on and off. “And a good competitor he is. And I think the word ‘competitor’ is a compliment.”
Whatever you say, comrade.
The man pretending to be the American president spent most of his time posing in what purported to be a press conference. He pouted and thrust his chin out in the style made famous by Benito Mussolini. He pensively nodded like Pablo Escobar in Narcos on Netflix.
It was hard to see Putin’s facial expression because his skin has been stretched so tight across his skull. Besides, underneath all that plastic surgery, there’s the face of “an intelligence officer”, as he reminded us all.
This rank-and-file Russian officer did what Moscow’s finest have done for so long. He made sure his best asset was staying on track (a remarkably easy feat; this one is almost too enthusiastic), and he continued to wage war against the real enemy: the Magnitsky Act.
Sergei Magnitsky was murdered in a Russian jail, leading to the most unfortunate regime of sanctions against the regular business types who make up Putin’s cartel. If you think the sanctions are a sideshow, you should know that the Russian lawyer in the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of the election year wanted to trade dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for lifting them.
And somehow the name of the man behind those sanctions, US-born British hedge fund manager Bill Browder, emerged from Putin’s lips on Monday, at the heart of a scandal that is so epic, and so unreported, that it surely deserves its own special counsel investigation.
Putin claimed that Browder’s associates had earned $1.5bn in Russia and donated $400m to Hillary, in what must count as the largest single donation to an American politician in recorded history.
At this point, Trump’s startlingly white eyes squinted, he puckered his lips to sour candy status, and his nodded approval plumbed new depths of unbridled admiration.
The reference to Browder – who said after the press conference that he had not donated a penny to the Clinton campaign – was part of a marvelous compromise, according to the Russian sleeper agent living in the White House, who called it “an interesting idea” for resolving this whole investigation nonsense.
As Putin explained, Robert Mueller was totally free to question the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted on Friday for hacking into Democratic emails – or rather, be present at their questioning. As long as Mueller interrogated Browder and company, in the presence of some novichok-wielding Russians. “We can meet you halfway,” said Putin, sounding as reasonable as Molotov and Ribbentrop surely did.
As the sick laughter died down at the CIA and FBI headquarters back home, Trump continued to swoon in a state known to counterintelligence as “No Puppet, No Puppet, You’re the Puppet”.
This is the Twilight Zone of Trump’s conspiracies, where all the disparate threads of disinformation weave together to make the patchwork quilt of crazy known as prime time on Fox News and Russia Today.
“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said that it’s Russia,” Trump said, referring to his own director of national intelligence. That would be the American director of American national intelligence.
“I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump continued, talking about the Russian president of the Russian Federation.
“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. I, I really believe that this will probably go on for a while. But I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone. Just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”
You know what else is missing? Elvis Presley at the chip shop. The X-files on Area 51. And the president’s patriotic duty, if not his brain.
It seemed so normal that this eruption was the first work-product of Trump’s new communications chief, Bill Shine, the former Fox News exec, jammed in just before no less than two Fox News interviews with those titans of journalism, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson.
Why take the word of all your intelligence agencies when you have the word of Putin and Fox News to outweigh them?
Now, according to some dumb lawyers at Trump’s own justice department, Putin’s intelligence agents got to work hacking the DNC on the very same day Trump himself asked them to do so.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” said a candidate called Donald Trump. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
And the rewards were indeed truly mighty for everyone involved.
“There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it,” declared Moscow’s greatest asset. “And people are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually none of it related to the campaign. And they’re going to have to try really hard to find somebody that did relate to the campaign.”
Don’t worry, Agent Orange. They are trying really hard.
“That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily,” he insisted.
After all, how do we know that Trump lost to Clinton by almost three million votes? How do we know there was collusion, just because he asked for some collusion in public? How do we know that two plus two is four?
Trump said he didn’t know Putin at the time. Putin said he didn’t know Trump was in the country when he never got all that kompromat. Nobody knows anything. Except that Pakistani guy, who knows everything.
“In general, we are glad with the outcome of our first full-scale meeting,” said Putin, after completing Trump’s semi-annual employment review. “I hope that we start to understand each other better.”
It’s not really possible for two leaders to understand each other any better. And so they literally embraced, warmly, radiating mutual admiration, if not polonium.
Looking at all those formerly sane Republicans sitting in the front row of the press conference – like Jon Huntsman, the ex-Utah governor now serving as Trump’s ambassador – you could only feel their pain.
As with all recent massacres, we must take a minute to sympathize with the victims here, who have lost so much: their credibility, their future careers, and their chance for a quiet dinner at the local restaurant.
At a time like this, have a heart for the Republican party that suffers this unpatriotic nonsense in silence. There’s nothing else we can do for them now. We can only send them our thoughts and prayers.