by Will Holland '20
“A week is a lifetime in politics.” Perhaps no phrase rings more true with regards to the summer of 2018 and its political circus of lies, indictments, corruption, and dissension. To recount all of the past three months’ events in one article would be a nearly impossible task as individual days alone sometimes comprised of more news than entire months in previous administrations. However, there were some incidents that stood out from the rest by their sheer nature of being so downright insane that it would be hard to eclipse them with a general overview.
The summer began with President Trump’s Singapore Summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un on June 11th. In the preceding weeks, the summit had been scheduled, cancelled after a North Korean diplomat called Vice President Mike Pence a “dummy,” and then scheduled again once the President offered to suspend the implementation of sanctions against the hermit kingdom.
Once both leaders had arrived for the first ever encounter between a North Korean dictator and his American counterpart, they appeared to get along well. After a visit which included the American president saluting a North Korean general as well as the DPRK and American flags being displayed in equal number behind the two leaders, the two sides announced an agreement.
However, what was billed as the first step towards denuclearization in North Korea was instead a series of vague statements that included an intention from North Korea to “comm[it] to work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” a proposition that security analysts deemed as ridiculous regarding the lack of specifics in the document. Furthermore, in August the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, expressed “grave concern” after reviewing the North Korean nuclear program, despite President Trump’s repeated claims that he was responsible for ending North Korean nuclear weapons development. Nearly three months after the summit, what Kim’s true intentions are, and how much he is willing to cede in order to fulfill them, remain almost entirely unknown to all but those around him.
The next shocking moment of the summer occured in mid July during another diplomatic summit, this one between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. Due to the increasing ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 election, the meeting was highly anticipated as many waited to see how President Trump would handle himself next to the man accused of launching a cyberwar against the United States in order to elect him.
The outcome was much worse than anyone had foreseen. When asked if he accepted the United States intelligence community’s findings of election interference on behalf of the Russian government, President Trump demurred, saying “President Putin says it's not Russia. I don't see any reason why it would be.” In what was perhaps the first instance of an American president accepting the word of a dictator instead of his own Director of National Intelligence, President Trump only created greater suspicion that he had undisclosed relations with the Russian government. Then-Senator John McCain called the incident “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” and to the American public, skepticisms over its Commander in Chief continued to grow.
On August 21, 2018 two of President Trump’s aids found themselves in legal trouble within one hour of each other. First, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight counts of financial crimes while the Alexandria, Virginia jury was hung on another ten, altogether adding to a potential maximum of eighty years in prison. Meanwhile, the longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” to the President, Michael Cohen, pled guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of falsifying bank submissions, and two counts involving unlawful campaign contributions. As if two former aids being convicted felons wasn’t already bad enough for President Trump, Cohen then told the judge that he had “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” made an illegal payment to keep two former porn stars quiet about affairs with his boss during the final days of the 2016 election, thereby implicating the president in a federal crime.
The two convictions provide two vulnerabilities to the President: the possibility that Manafort cooperates with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to avoid jail time or a second trial, and that Michael Cohen reveals further illegal activities by the President either before or after he was elected. At a bare minimum, the President of the United States has been implicated in a felony, but for all we know his legal troubles could be just beginning.
Of course, there were countless events that under normal circumstances would have dominated media coverage, such as the U.S. withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, the shooting of the Annapolis Gazette office, undocumented children being separated from their parents at the border, a new Supreme Court nominee, the indictment of twelve Russian operatives for interfering in the 2016 election, and many, many more. However, in this exhaustive and turbulent political climate, only those incidents that stand out amongst the madness are deemed memorable for the truly remarkable amount of idiocy they display.