Donald Trump spent last week testing the limits of presidential power—and the contradictions that keep him in place.
He zig-zagged between palling up with Russian president Vladimir Putin and professing his “toughness” against Russia.
During his European tour he attacked Theresa May, German chancellor Angela Merkel and bolstered far right wing forces across Europe.
Then he decided to turn on the US security services.
Trump declared that he believed Putin’s claim there was no Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
This drew him into conflict with the US security establishment, which claims the opposite.
Within 24 hours, presumably under pressure from advisers, Trump had reversed this. He claimed he had misspoken.
By Wednesday Trump was claiming, “There’s been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.”
Now he has invited Putin to Washington.
By calling into question the credibility of the US security services Trump overplayed his hand.
Allegations of treason began to fly around.
Washington Post columnist Peter Baker wrote that “Trump was being accused not only of poor judgment but of treason—and not just by fringe elements and liberal talk show hosts, but by a former CIA director.”
Watching the US “intelligence community”—veterans of countless “regime changes” across the world—bemoan alleged foreign intervention in an election feels like entering the twilight zone.
The bosses’ Financial Times newspaper said the episode “ranks as a betrayal of the American national interest”.
Calling into question the competency of key institutions of the state is too far for sections of the ruling class—even for those numbed to Trump’ gyrations.
When he was elected he surrounded himself with generals and placated organisations such as the CIA.
Yet now Trump has placed himself on a war footing with many of the military and foreign policy establishment.
He has purged all but two generals from his staff and repeatedly attacked the intelligence services.
Trump’s strategy of destabilising European liberal politics has converged with Putin’s for the time being.
That has enraged the Democrats and the US foreign policy hawks who want a more combative stance against Russia in Syria.
Competing visions for the way forward for the US ruling class lie behind the bitter row.
Trump’s isolationism is a minority position, but he has also been tolerated because he has delivered for
bosses’ profits, passing on huge tax cuts for the rich.
Trump is caught between appeasing his detractors and appealing to his base. He won his support partly by promising to “drain the swamp” of the same people who are accusing him of treason.
He has tested the limits of that contradiction.
In a recent speech US national intelligence director Dan Coats said, “Putin’s shadow war is aimed at undermining Americans’ trust in our institutions.”
It may well be the case that Russian intelligence hacked the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta and released them to Wikileaks.
But it’s worth remembering what the Podesta emails revealed about US society.
They lifted the lid on a network of patronage and privilege that was stomach-turning.
People emailed Podesta to get jobs, to arrange fundraising parties and to intervene to stop Democratic candidates attacking donors who supported the party.
Donors were encouraged to fund ex-president Bill Clinton’s lavish lifestyle.
Revelations like this made Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, “America is already great,” a joke.
Claims by the Democrats to be leading the resistance to Trump are equally laughable.