The President of the United States took sides in the Super Bowl, but he seems remarkably ambivalent about picking sides between the country he quarterbacks and one of its greatest rivals on the geopolitical field:
In a Fox News interview, Trump, who during the campaign repeatedly praised Putin, again said that he respected the Russian leader and hoped to get along with Moscow, and he seemed to equate the United States with its adversary when pressed by host Bill O’Reilly, who said: “But he’s a killer, though. Putin’s a killer.”
“There are a lot of killers,” Trump said in the interview, which aired Sunday before the Super Bowl. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?” [Ashley Parker and Mike DeBonis, “Trump’s Continued Defense of Putin Confounds Republicans,” Washington Post, 2017.02.05]
The President’s unwillingness to put America morally First has infected his wingman’s ability to give a straight moral answer:
JOHN DICKERSON: When President Barack Obama was in office, he was criticized consistently by conservatives for not praising American exceptionalism. He never said anything on this par, did he?
VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: What I can tell you is, there was no moral equivalency in what the president was saying.
He was simply acknowledging that — that he has been throughout his life willing to be critical of government policies and government actions in the United States.
But we recognize, we recognize the extraordinary superiority of the ideals of the American people and the implementation of those ideals. But…
DICKERSON: Do you think America is morally superior to Russia?
PENCE: What — what you have in this new president is someone who is willing to, and is, in fact, engaging the world, including Russia, and saying, where can we find common interests that will advance the security of the American people, the peace and prosperity of the world?
And he is determined to come at that in a new and renewed way.
DICKERSON: But America morally superior to Russia, yes or no?
PENCE: I believe that the ideals that America has stood for throughout our history represent the highest ideals of humankind.
PENCE: I was actually at — I was at Independence Hall yesterday. And I stood in the very room where the Constitution of the United States was crafted, the very building where the Declaration of Independence was held forth.
Every American, including our president, represents that we uphold the highest ideals of the world.
DICKERSON: Shouldn’t we be able to just say yes to that question, though?
PENCE: I think it is without question, John.
DICKERSON: That America is morally superior to Russia?
PENCE: That American ideals are — are superior to countries all across the world. But, again, what the president is determined to do, as someone who has spent a lifetime looking for deals, is to see if we can have a new relationship with Russia and other countries that advances the interests of America first and the peace and security of the world [John Dickerson interviewing Vice-President Mike Pence, Face the Nation, 2017.02.05].
We shouldn’t be surprised. Donald Trump explicitly rejected American exceptionalism in April 2015:
n late April 2015, a month before Trump officially announced his candidacy, he spoke at an event called “Celebrating the American Dream” that was hosted in Houston by the Texas Patriots PAC, a local tea party outfit. The mogul sat in an oversized leather chair and fielded questions from Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, a prominent local businessman. About an hour into the program, McIngvale posed Trump this query: “Define American exceptionalism. Does American exceptionalism still exist? And what do we do to grow American exceptionalism?”
Trump didn’t hesitate to shoot down the premise of the question, saying he didn’t “like the term.” He questioned whether the United States was “more exceptional” and “more outstanding” than other nations. He also said that those who refer to American exceptionalism were “insulting the world” and offending people in other countries, such as Russia, China, Germany, and Japan. It is “not a nice term,” he said, maintaining it was wrong to equate patriotism with a belief in American exceptionalism. He derided politicians who use the phrase.
Explaining his negative reaction to this idea long cherished and promoted by Republicans and Democrats, Trump said, “perhaps that’s because I don’t have a very big ego, and I don’t need terms like that.” Audience members laughed in response. Trump added, “I want to take everything back from the world that we’ve given them. We’ve given them so much.” He suggested that were he to become president, he would make the United States exceptional.
…When Trump finished those remarks, the crowd was largely silent, and McIngvale moved on to another subject. Yet Trump had just trampled one of the mainstay tenets of GOP ideology—and undercut a line of attack often used by Republicans [David Corn, “Donald Trump Says He Doesn’t Believe in ‘American Exceptionalism’,” Mother Jones, 2016.06.07].
“I don’t understand what the President’s position is on Russia,” says Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.
Really, Senator Sasse? It’s that hard to figure out? I remember when conservatives could figure out much more quickly how to interpret and lambaste as unpatriotic a Demcoratic candidate’s wife for saying, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” Now the President of the United States can say the greatest country in the world is another bunch of murdering thugs just like Putin’s Russia, and Republicans dispute the statement but don’t challenge their erring President directly before turning to the big football game.
Go, Team, right, Republicans?