President Donald Trump’s statements following the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin were nothing less than extraordinary. President Trump openly placed greater trust in Putin’s denials of wrongdoing than in American intelligence agencies and other governmental bodies. His statements the following day offering “clarification” were far from convincing. But more troubling still is that this performance was simply a continuation of a pattern of behavior from the President. The Helsinki summit again shows that President Trump is guided more by self-interest than national interest.
President Trump frequently touts his eagerness for “bold” action. He wants to be seen as a President willing to go where predecessors were not. For Donald Trump however, this means a pursuit for personal glory. His meetings with Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin were ego driven affairs. Trump wants to maintain his image as a “dealmaker,” even, or perhaps especially, if that means meeting with tyrants. This quest for personal glory can also be seen in his remarks on NATO, particularly in the last week. He continues to insist that it was through the sheer force of his personality that NATO members were convinced to raise defense spending, stating in a tweet on the 17th that the spending increases were “only because of me”. Nevermind the fact that the recent NATO summit resulted in little more than an affirmation by members to commit to a 2014 agreement to raise contributions.
But this isn’t really news now is it? We have known for a long time that Donald Trump is arrogant and ego-driven. That’s why so many of the White staff members have been fired: he cannot take criticism. The real question is, how much longer are we going to let that ego endanger national interests? At what point is Congress, particularly Trump’s fellow Republicans, going to say “enough”? A nation cannot be ruled by a single man’s vanity. And Trump’s seeming inability to separate the election meddling issue from collusion allegations is but one of many examples of how that vanity is having a direct, detrimental effect on American democracy and national interest.
There are a number of concrete steps that Congress can take to put the President in check. First, and perhaps most importantly, Congressional leaders can directly rebuke President Trump, by name, for disparaging our allies and governmental agencies. Congress can issue legislation to sanction Russia for its actions and to remind the world that President Trump is not the sole political power in the United States. Furthermore, Congress can work to restrict the ever-growing scope and power of executive orders (admittedly a concern that began well before the Trump presidency). Action is needed, and Congress must show that it is up to the task.