July 16 had all the attributes of the day when Donald Trump approached that "tide in the affairs of men" where they take the fateful step that leads on to either good fortune in life or misery. Good fortune, you sense, is not going to be the outcome this time.
It was the day that the president, with his own countrymen and the rest of the world watching, took the side of America's biggest and oldest enemy against the institutions of his own government and some of the country's proudest history. He fawned over the world's most cunning tyrant and savaged modern American presidents going back indefinitely — to ... Reagan, Carter, Kennedy, Truman? They were mainly to blame for bad relations with Russia that he and his great chum Vladimir Putin were now going to fix. He had spent the previous five days denouncing his predecessors in the White House, America's allies and the global institutions the United States had created to preserve peace, democracy and freedom.
A certain segment of the country has always found the candidate's and president's assaults on institutions and political and cultural leaders as invigorating and brave, but a week of wild episodes on the European stage seems somehow different. It may not be reflected much in the tracking polls for a while, but there is a dawning recognition that the would-be leader of the free world is never what he claims — a "stable genius," a world-class bargainer who outsmarts everyone, a shrewd man who knows history, business, economics and government like no one before him. He has finally exposed himself as none of those things, but a showman who is not adept at much of anything.
A few American leaders before Trump have faced the foredoomed moment in their affairs that Brutus captured in "Julius Caesar."
For Joseph McCarthy, it came during the televised Army-McCarthy hearings on subversion in the officer corps in 1954 when the blundering senator attacked the patriotism of a young lawyer who had joined the firm of the Army's attorney, Joseph Welch. Welch finally cut him off with the famous rejoinder: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" McCarthy's great popularity collapsed and soon afterward Sen. John L. McClellan of Arkansas led a walkout of Democratic senators from the hearings and Sen. J. William Fulbright sponsored a resolution that censured him and ended his career.
For Richard Nixon, it came the day that Judge John J. Sirica read from the bench a presentencing letter from James W. McCord Jr., who said he and the other convicted Watergate burglars had been pressured from the White House to plead guilty and perjure themselves about the involvement of higher-ups in the break-in. Sirica told the convicted burglars he would reduce their sentences if they revealed the roles of the higher-ups. The revelations cascaded and the jig was up for the president.
Trump may never face that moment, but his monstrous deception about Russian interference in American elections and global conflicts put his army of reluctant defenders, including all six members of Arkansas's congressional delegation, in impossible straits. They had to issue statements denouncing his stands.
Although the Justice Department alerted him before he left for Europe, it is almost certain that Trump never read the detailed indictments of the 12 Russian officers who directed the infiltration of computers of national Democratic organizations and election systems in key states to affect the election of the president and members of Congress. Trump counts on Republican voters not reading them either, but a degree of knowledge is unavoidable.
Trump had promised to bring up the election interference, as he did in a previous meeting with Putin, and the result was the same. Putin said someone else did it and faulted Democrats, and Trump averred that he believed Putin and not the Justice Department, his own intelligence agencies or Republican senators who investigated the hacking. Dan Coats, the former right-wing senator from Indiana whom he installed as director of intelligence, issued statements before and after the Putin summit that Putin directed the crimes against the United States and had to be punished.
Anyone who reads the indictments — it takes 30 minutes — can have no doubt about the Kremlin's crimes. If you overlay the dates of the hackings with the dates of known events, like the day Trump publicly called on Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's computer or the day his family members and top campaign officials met with Russians in Trump Tower to get "dirt' on Clinton, you come up with a strong circumstantial case for collusion, based entirely on the words of Donald Trump. His words and deeds also form an evidentiary base for obstruction of justice.
The president got a big boost from a similar sellout to the emperor of North Korea a month earlier and he was emboldened to believe that Americans were incurable suckers. Trump's mentor, McCarthy's henchman Roy Cohn, never told him how Tail Gunner Joe's tide fell.