President Donald Trump’s itinerary at the G-20 summit in Japan included a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government is accused of using dirty tricks to interfere in the U.S. election to sway things Trump’s way. As Trump was leaving the White House, reporters asked if he would bring the subject up and warn Putin and his people not to meddle in the 2020 campaign. Then it happened: “What I say to him,” Trump shot back, “is none of your business.”
With all due respect, Mr. President — which I’ll admit is very, very little — it is our business, not just of those covering him, but of every American. An informed citizenry is what a democracy is all about, so we can vote knowledgeably. That knowledge could start with a certain confidence that a foreign adversary is not distorting the will of the people.
The special counsel investigation has credibly established that Putin’s propagandists successfully accomplished just that during the last go-round in 2016. Trump regards that not as a mystery, but a challenge to the very legitimacy of his presidency. He bristles when anyone suggests that he must do whatever it takes to avoid a recurrence, because to him, it didn’t occur in the first place.
Sometimes he deflects the issue with humor; sometimes not. But he was showing his comic side as he and Putin took questions before they began their talks behind closed doors. Would he warn the Russians not to meddle? “Of course,” said Trump, as he turned to Putin, who was sitting next to him with what passes for a smirk. “Don’t meddle in the election.”
A readout of their private meeting did not describe any discussion about the election. Of course, they had plenty else to discuss, including a way out of the confrontation with Iran. The U.S. and Russia are on different sides of that mess, so perhaps they were able to offer constructive ways to wriggle away from that flashpoint. We’ll never know, because this president doesn’t allow notes to be taken. It’s “none of your business,” after all.
He believes it is your business, as Americans, to simply march in lockstep and not question decisions from on high, meaning the White House. If the Trump administration wants to hold child migrants in horrible squalor, just suck it up. If the Supreme Court rules that a citizenship question must be removed for now from the census taken every 10 years, Trump calls the order “ridiculous” and instructs his lawyers to explore ways to delay the census. Never mind that the Constitution specifies the 10-year time frame.
If Congress wants to exercise the inherent oversight powers that are strongly implied in the delicate balance of powers that rely on one branch of government to check the other, and that oversight doesn’t please him, he just ignores Congress.
If the media dare to write unflattering stories, he ostracizes them as “enemies of the people,” plotting to present “fake news” about him.
On July Fourth, we celebrated that day 243 years ago when the nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence from the British king who ruled them. They demanded that Americans have a right to a government “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That’s a far cry from “none of your business.”
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.