Trump critics end up empty-handed

It seems that Donald Trump didn’t conspire with Russia to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election. His critics will have to find another reason to hate him.

After 22 months, special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has come up with nothing.

Mueller concluded there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He also concluded that while there is some evidence to suggest that Trump obstructed justice, there is not enough to justify laying charges.

It is an unambiguous win for the U.S. president.

For America’s anti-Trumpers, the alleged Russian connection was central. It tied everything together.

First and foremost, it proved that Trump’s election victory was bogus. He won only because Russian President Vladimir Putin stacked the deck.

Under this scenario, it was Putin — at Trump’s behest — who hacked into the Democrats’ email server to release information damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Similarly, it was Putin — again, at Trump’s behest — whose minions slyly used social media to create divisions among Americans that would ultimately help the Republican candidate win the presidency.

The anti-Trumpers never had to explain why Russia would bother creating divisions among American social media users, given the tendency of homegrown U.S. trolls to do so themselves.

But they didn’t have to. Their point was that Trump had colluded with a foreign power.

Second, for anti-Trumpers, the Russian connection explained the president’s foreign policy: He was a Putin stooge.

He criticized NATO because that’s what Putin wanted him to do. His negative remarks about multilateral free trade deals and the liberal global order were scripted in Moscow.

Tellingly, at one summit with Putin, Trump insisted on talking to the Russian leader privately — without the usual gaggle of aides in the room. To anti-Trumpers, this was proof positive of his nefarious intent.

Why was he such a stooge? The anti-Trumpers had several theories. One was that the Russians were blackmailing him by threatening to release tapes that purported to show him cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013.

Another was that Trump was trading influence for the right to build, at some later date, a skyscraper in Moscow. A third was that Trump was repaying Putin’s oligarchs for lending him money to keep his failing real estate empire alive.

According to the anti-Trumpers, the president’s affection for Russia’s autocracy also explained his love of dictators — such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un or Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.

Previous American presidents, including Richard Nixon and Barack Obama, have had good relations with dictators. These are usually explained in realpolitik terms.

But when Trump did the same, it was treated as a character flaw, caused in part by his infatuation with Russia’s Putin.

Now that Mueller has failed to deliver, the anti-Trumpers will have to think of something else.

Diehard fans of the Russian connection aren’t giving up.

Some note that only a summary of Mueller’s findings, prepared by a Trump-appointed attorney general, has been released. They want the entire report made public.

Others are pinning their hopes on various ongoing court cases involving Trump. They argue that these will bring the Russian connection back to centre stage.

Still others remain committed to impeaching the president, with the hope of removing him from office.

However, for most Trump critics, the focus will have to shift. Trump is America’s duly elected president. His enemies would be wise to accept that.

They can and should criticize him. But they should do so for what he does, not for his non-existent role in a dubious Russian conspiracy.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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