OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Meh … just enjoy the noise

I've got it now. It took a while, but, finally, the insight of Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton on the method in Donald Trump's meaninglessness got through.

It goes this way: Talk is cheap, but Trump's talking carries a further discount. So, relax and enjoy the added savings of low-cost noise for the sake of noise.

The lesson we all must learn, you see, is that Trump's best supporters--such as the senators Graham and Cotton--understand that he says wild and dangerous things from a mixture of megalomania, delusion, hyperbole and simple dishonesty, but that few wild and dangerous repercussions occurred during his presidency. We need to learn to excuse his rants, recognizing the hollowness or toothlessness.

Think about it this way: He said wild and dangerous things for four years as president and we're still alive. What else can you ask of a political leader?

What Trump said lately came at one of those Mussolini-ish rallies, this one in South Carolina, where he got all lathered up in adrenaline from the mass adoration. He said he once looked a NATO ally's leader square in the face and told him that, if his country didn't pay more for its own defense, then he'd encourage Russia to invade and do whatever the heck it wanted to his country, and that he would lift nary an American finger.

Vladimir Putin's American base, known as MAGA locally, roared in delight at this boast from the likely-to-return president of the United States that he would violate the charter of the greatest international democracy and defense alliance ever. They reveled in this alliance of brute and blowhard, of killer and cheerleader.

Alas, some people got worried. This fine newspaper editorialized splendidly that it was as if Putin invaded Estonia and said he did it because Estonia was behind in its NATO fees and Trump wanted him to do it.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary general, said NATO was undermined whenever any member suggested violating the alliance and put American and European soldiers at increased risk.

Oh, pooh, said Graham and Cotton.

When The New York Times got the ever-verbose Graham on the phone, he scoffed, saying, "Give me a break ... it's Trump."

So, was Graham dissing Trump for his typical malarkey? Hardly. Graham went on, "All I can say is while Trump was president nobody invaded anybody. I think the point here is to, in his way, get people to pay."

And our man Cotton said, "President Trump is simply ringing the warning bell."

The warning bell for what? That Russia is coming? Or for a new alliance in which the defining principle is cash?

Cotton seems to have settled into, or resigned himself to, a confirmed Senate role as a hard-right leader. That encompasses sticking up for Trump. In that role, he also fielded media questions over the weekend about whether he and Republican senators fear Trump, and, for that reason, declined to support a border compromise that, by Cotton's acknowledgement, would have done some good.

As to whether he and other Republicans killed the bill because they wanted Trump, not Biden, to get credit for border solutions, Cotton said, "The way to stop that crisis is to elect President Trump this fall."

That's "yes" by longer phrasing.

Cotton and Republicans could have voted for the compromise while calling it a half-loaf that would await the great Trump's full loaf after the election. But Trump didn't want them to do that because, for him and for now, the aim was to keep the border in a mess and deny Biden any favorable photo opportunities with voting pending.

That's not necessarily fear of Trump. But it's surely subservient. And it's hardly protection of the people.

The problem with cheerleading for a Russian invasion of a formal ally is that, even if hollow and idle and forgotten about by Trump tomorrow, it was done in a public way that puts strain on the alliance and seems perversely to encourage or excuse Russia.

One media report is that White House aides of Trump can't remember any such conversation he had with a NATO member leader. It's easy to believe he made it up, because that's what he does. But would his contriving the anecdote make its bellicose airing any less damaging to NATO or any less perversely encouraging to or excusing of Russia?

This might be a rare occasion even for subservient Republicans to call him out. Here's a proposed quotation for Graham or Cotton: "I agree with President Trump that our NATO allies owe the alliance more money than they're now providing. But that's an important issue in its own compartment. There can be no price tag on America's commitment to help an innocent friend under evil attack."

I think their only comeback would be, "Oh, pooh."

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected]. Read his @johnbrummett feed on X, formerly Twitter.

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