President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan in 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan in 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

From Russian bounties on American soldiers to the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Trump remains unconcerned. Here’s why that should scare every American.

When I was 15, I wrote a letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev over his mistreatment of Jewish dissident Andrei Sakharov. As a first-generation American, growing up in a Republican family in the Chicago suburbs, I was staunchly anti-communist, and had a healthy respect for human rights that’s stuck with me to this day.

But over the years, something changed. In the early 1990s, I was working as a foreign policy aide to Republican U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, while simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that I was gay. As Republicans in Washington increasingly aligned themselves with evangelical Christians, the so-called Religious Right, I started feeling less welcome in the GOP. But something else gnawed at me as well. The party I grew up with seemed increasingly angry and always in search of enemies. That anger eventually culminated in the election of Donald Trump—a man who puts Nixon’s “enemy’s list” to shame—and now I no longer recognize the Republican party at all.

On 9/11, I was living in Washington, DC, and saw the Pentagon burning from my apartment window. I remember calling my Greek-immigrant mom back in Illinois and asking if it would look cheesy if I hung five American flags from my 10th floor balcony overlooking the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Mom’s response: “You can never have too many flags.” So I hung them all, and they were glorious.

While my vote has changed over the years—my first-ever vote was for Reagan in 1984, but now I vote Democratic—what I believe in hasn’t. I’m still staunchly patriotic, and have little tolerance for bullies at home or abroad. But when it comes to the Republican Party, I now think they sold me a lie, and they never believed in freedom at all.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump and Russia. A few days ago, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was transferred to Berlin in a coma. German doctors have since confirmed that Navalny was poisoned using a nerve agent and is under protection at a hospital there. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called on Russia to investigate the incident. And yet, Trump has remained mostly silent, only saying, “We’re looking at it.”

But we should have known something was amiss from the beginning. Nine days before his inauguration, President-elect Trump compared our CIA to the Nazis. Three weeks later, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly pushed now-President Trump on why he kept insisting that he “respected” Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin: “I do respect him. Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I’ll get along with them,” Trump told O’Reilly.

O’Reilly pushed back: “Putin is a killer.”

Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

Trump used the same blame-America-first argument to excuse Russia’s sale of weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, putting U.S. interests at risk. “We did that too,” Trump told Axios’ Jonathan Swan.

This has been a pattern for Trump’s entire presidency. Trump simply refuses to hold the Russian leader accountable for anything. At the 2018 Helsinki summit, when the topic of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election came up, Trump said he believed Putin over our own intelligence agencies: “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Trump still claims that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—confirmed by Trump’s own intelligence experts and by a bipartisan Senate panel headed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)— is “a hoax.”

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was Trump’s refusal to defend our troops in Afghanistan. This past February, U.S. intelligence warned Trump that Russia had offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Our experts believe that at least one American service member was killed as a result of Russia’s actions. Trump now claims he was never briefed. But the story went public two months ago, and Trump has refused to even raise the issue on his subsequent phone calls with Vladimir Putin. 

Why? Trump says the intelligence assessment is “fake news.”

For whatever reason, Donald Trump has an alarming blind spot when it comes to Russia. Miles Taylor, a former top Trump Homeland Security appointee, recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper: “We were quite literally told, do not bring up issues related to Russia with the president.” You can’t run a successful foreign policy, and address burgeoning crises, when the president refuses to be briefed about entire countries, particularly one of our top geopolitical foes.

But it’s not even just Russia. For nearly four years, Donald Trump has been an absentee president. When he’s not golfing at the taxpayer’s expense, to the tune of $3.4 million per trip, he’s in the White House residence tweeting while watching Fox News. We are now in the midst of the worst health and economic crisis in a century, and while Trump didn’t cause it, his utter disinterest in doing his job at the most basic level, while ignoring the very real threats we face, has left us less safe at home and abroad.

I don’t think Joe Biden has all the answers. But he does have the experience, temperament, and track record of being a far better leader than Donald Trump. Americans tossed the dice four years ago and took a gamble. And we lost. We simply cannot afford four more years of a latchkey presidency. These uncertain times deserve better. We deserve better.