WASHINGTON — Donald Trump really doesn't care if we're living in Vladimir Putin's world. Do you?
Critics are confounded that Putin thumped Trump to the ground at their man-to-man meeting. But it's clear as can be: Putin has lived his life for this moment on the world stage. Even the World Cup flawlessly played into his plans. Extremely bright, and bitter at the United States for crowing that we "won" the Cold War, the former top spymaster is winning a new Cold War.
Spare the smelling salts for shocked pundits who cry Trump failed to be forceful at the Finland face to face, after his outlandish rudeness to NATO allies at a Brussels summit beforehand.
Our un-American president really doesn't care if the Russia president undermined the 2016 election to make him the victor — even as he lost the people's vote. If that resulted in Trump's win, great. Why would he really care about fair play in our public square? American democracy: It's just another word for nothing much left to lose, nothing to write home about in Trump's book.
Oh, Trump doesn't crack books. If he did, he could look up "evil genius" in a 1700 work by sparkling English playwright William Congreve, "The Way of the World."
We in the liberal world were loathe to admit Trump may be just that. He's crass, no fun, lacking a shred of class. He brings out the worst in wide swaths of America. And he really doesn't care when people hate him.
I saw at least one evil genius onstage at the stunning Helsinki press conference that befuddled Washington and sobered presidential historians. Many ashen "wise men" like Leon Panetta, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, are up in arms at how Trump threw government intelligence "under the bus." They saw a tragic performance on the world stage. Others conjured words like "betrayal" and "traitor."
John McCain gave the bravest denunciation among a handful of Republican senators who spoke out. But he's not present at the Senate scene, desperately ill from brain cancer.
Also offstage were the 12 Russian military intelligence officers, just indicted for election interference by special counsel Robert Mueller, the straight man with perfect timing. Until now, the White House press looked like starved orphans. Reporters cannot live on tweets alone. Here was a grand drama "lying" in plain sight.
The press corps, covering the surreal scene, had a great awakening. They got galvanized as they questioned Trump and Putin about U.S. intelligence showing Russia deviously influenced the election and public opinion in Trump's favor. It also tore the Democratic crazy quilt base that Hillary Clinton never wove together. (Putin and Trump share a Hillary hate complex.)
The demand hung in the air: Who do you believe? Trump declared he accepted Putin's word that Russia did not meddle. That was that. His own people were sold down the river.
That's exactly how he'd act if the leaders were in league, right?
Meanwhile, back in 2016, President Obama did little to alert the public to Russian hacking. Too cool to confront beyond "cut it out," the orator-in-chief played into Putin's hands.
I love the new energy, after the press fell down on the hard job of covering the ugly Trump campaign and White House career. They finally reported the two foreign leaders Trump treated worst were women, Germany's Angela Merkel and Britain's Theresa May. Coincidence?
Trump is exhausting and insulting, a strategy to wear and tear down the press as an "enemy" he is at "war" with. (If we don't defend ourselves, nobody will.) Given Trump's poison down the freedom-of-the-press well, this new spirit may have come too little, too late.
The press should shine a light on backstory. Cable pundits like David Gergen call Putin a "thug." That simplifies a complex world power and his motives. Give Putin this: He really does care about Mother Russia.
We were wrong to invite Poland and Hungary into junior varsity NATO, to threaten and circle Russia after the Cold War. That was taunting and humbling to a broken superpower.
Putin reads like a lead character in a Russian novel — far from finished.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.