Martin Schram: A victorious president views us from afar

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My plan to sabotage, shatter and forever shame the famous democracy that Americans always brag about is going great! Unbelievably great! And the whole world is watching!

Celebrating only privately inside his Kremlin inner sanctum, Vladimir Putin has surely allowed himself to think ecstatic thoughts about what all the world is watching on its news screens. You won’t see Putin fist-bumping and high-fiving. But make no mistake — Russia’s president is secretly celebrating, and he has every reason to be elated. Thanks to the incredible cult-like appeal of his top man in America, Putin has already achieved far more than he ever expected. He has successfully driven wedges of disunity between the American people in every state. No longer do they seem willing to unite to fight a common foe or solve a lethal crisis.

Of course, Putin knows Donald Trump’s operative efforts within the Oval Office will end on Jan. 20. But Russia’s president also knows he has already accomplished more than he ever dreamed possible. And yes, he must credit the cultish populist appeal of his easily manipulated man-in-America, who transformed Russia’s genuine fake-news propaganda assaults into Trump political slogans.

In fact, Putin may have helped his man achieve a permanent goal — shattering an American political force that once seemed indestructible: the hard-line conservative, constitution-championing patriotic base of the Republican Party.

From the days of the ultra-conservative House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, to Barry Goldwater’s conservativism in the 1960s and Ronald Reagan’s in the 1980s, they were the party of flag-wavers that would stand firmly against anything that appeared to be Kremlin aggression. No mas. Today’s Republicans are willful accomplices to Trump, as he has repeated the very conspiracy theories and social policy-divisive slogans dreamed up by Putin’s gang.

Today, what is happening inside the moral and psychological shambles of Donald Trump’s Oval Office has become the ultimate Un-American Activity. After being rejected, constitutionally and electorally by voters, America’s president is pushing Kremlinesque fake news. He is claiming America’s election was “rigged” and a “fraud” but never citing proof. He is trying to convince states to throw out the verdict of the voters and let party pols choose who will be the next president. Trump has mounted a string of courtroom legal challenges, resulting in a string of legal defeats.

The crippling of America’s democracy is something Putin couldn’t have dreamed about on the nightmarish night of Dec. 5, 1989, that changed him forever. He was a junior grade KGB functionary, alone inside the Soviet Union’s compound in Dresden, East Germany, when democracy’s awesome power seemed to suddenly explode around him. The Berlin Wall had fallen without warning.

What happened next shaped everything about him, ever since. Putin was alone and abandoned inside the Soviet compound and crowds were swarming to protest all symbols of communist rule. Putin kept dialing Moscow’s KGB headquarters. No answer. Finally someone picked up the phone, said the KGB was silent and hung up. On his own as a crowd gathered, Putin began shoveling thousands of pages of secret documents into the furnace. As the crowd grew larger and louder, Putin brazenly bluffed. He strode outside and shouted to the crowd that the building was filled with guards with guns who were going to shoot all who remained. People fled. Putin survived. Soviet communism didn’t.

Putin’s anger at the freedom-flaunting West — especially America — has flamed ever since. Putin finally erupted in 2014, when Ukraine spurned mother Russia as a poor relative and allied itself economically with America and Western Europe. Infuriated, Putin seized Crimea. And he expanded Russia’s cyberassaults aimed at destabilizing and eventually shattering America’s democracy.

Shockingly — and maybe treasonously in this pandemic that is killing record numbers of Americans — Republican leaders in Congress have remained silent while Trump refused to even brief America’s duly elected next president, Joe Biden, and his team on info they urgently need to combat COVID-19, vaccine Americans and keep us safer.

Saving Americans’ lives and aiding pandemic victims in every way possible is the ultimate emergency. It requires immediate, bipartisan unity that transcends politics. Trump’s failure to do so — and Republicans’ failure to demand that he do it — is the ultimate Un-American Activity. When they really were the Grand Old Party, Republicans instinctively understood that.

This is a crisis where any patriotic, departing president would have immediately done something we’ve never before seen. A defeated Democratic or Republican president would have opened his White House West Wing to the president-elect’s team, invited his former opponents to come in and jointly plan the most seamless transition. Together they would have just one goal: saving as many American lives as possible, with a renewed unity of purpose — and patriotism.



Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at


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