Gene Lyons

I see where Glorious Leader has begun demanding apologies from journalists he derides as "enemies of the people." Fat chance. The poor man appears to have a serious case of Putin-envy. In Mother Russia, offending journalists get thrown into prison, shot dead in the street, flung off hotel balconies or poisoned.

These things help keep criticism muted.

Meanwhile, if the recently released Mueller report proves nothing else, it confirms that almost everything Trump derided as "fake news" regarding his campaign's conniving with Russian operatives during the 2016 election has proven to be remarkably accurate. Indeed, it appears that the single biggest reason nobody named Trump has been charged with conspiracy against the United States is that their putative co-conspirators remain unavailable to investigators. They're all sitting tight in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Putin's not making them available.

As the Mueller report was careful to point out, its investigators' inability to bring conspiracy charges "does not mean there was no evidence." There was plenty. Writing in the Lawfare blog, Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic succinctly summarize its principal findings: "(I)n excruciating detail and with relatively few redactions," the report depicts "a candidate and a campaign aware of the existence of a plot by a hostile foreign government to criminally interfere in the U.S. election for the purpose of supporting that candidate's side. It describes a candidate and a campaign who welcomed the efforts and delighted in the assistance. It describes a candidate and a campaign who brazenly and serially lied to the American people about the existence of the foreign conspiracy and their contacts with it."

Whether or not it was a criminal conspiracy, it was certainly "collusion," to use Trump's favorite (legally meaningless) word.

It also depicts a president who did his level best to thwart the special counsel's investigation. He was prevented from doing so only by the refusal of White House aides to follow what they believed to be illegal and/or politically catastrophic orders from Trump himself.

"Fake news, folks. Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story," Trump said in January 2018 about a report that he'd ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, but backed off when McGahn resisted. But the Mueller report, backed by McGahn's sworn testimony and contemporaneous notes, shows the Times got it right.

And then there was Trump's groveling performance at a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin in July 2018. Face-to-face with the Russian dictator, the president of the United States professed himself quite convinced by Putin's half-smirking denials of interfering in the American election. We now know that both men were lying.

And also that each of them knew it. That's collusion too.

Writing in Time, the National Review Institute's David French nicely summarizes Trump's appeal to his most fervent supporters:

"It's difficult to overestimate the extent to which Trump's appeal to his core supporters is built around the notion that -- regardless of his other flaws -- he possesses a core strength, a willingness to 'fight' and an ability to strike a degree of fear in the hearts of his opponents. I live in the heart of Trump country in Tennessee, and I have consistently heard the same refrain from his most loyal supporters. Trump, as they say, "kicks ass" ... (he's) the ultimate alpha male."

But as Helsinki dramatized, it's never been anything but an act. What the Mueller report depicts is a classic junior high school bully: blustering but conflict-averse. A thin-skinned, flabby blowhard, Trump constantly threatens drastic actions he almost never follows through on.

He couldn't even fire James Comey to his face. He waited until the FBI director traveled to California, and then had a letter sent to his office.

Trump's going to close the border!

Except, oops, no, he's not.

Unlike Putin, who is ruthless and highly competent, Trump would be useless in a crisis. Low cunning can only take somebody so far. To date, he and the nation have been lucky, although the chaos and incompetence depicted in the Mueller report are alarming all the same.

You'd think some of Trump's less deluded supporters would begin to notice. If anything, however, the reception given the report by most Republicans vindicates Putin's (and Trump's) cynical belief that a critical mass of voters are as credulous and stupid as professional wrestling fans, easily manipulated through mass media appeals to their imbecile bigotry.

If that hurts your feelings, tough.

As for the Democrats, they must start with the understanding that almost everybody who's going the read the Mueller report already has. Truthfully, most of the president's supporters can't parse a 448-page legal document any more than Trump himself can. And wouldn't if they could.

Bickering about impeachment is premature. If they're looking to alter the political balance in any serious way, congressional Democrats are first going to have to put on a TV show.

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