Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are about to hold a meeting that will reflect their shared understanding of power: the triumph of nothing over everyone. American journalists have been trying to guess what the two Presidents might discuss when they meet in Helsinki on Monday. The special counsel Robert Mueller apparently tried to create a topic they would not be able to avoid, by announcing the indictment of twelve Russian military-intelligence officers on Friday for allegedly interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.
The Russian media barely acknowledged the indictments but mostly continued to report on the bare facts of the meeting: it may last three hours; there will be a press conference; the two Presidents will answer four questions; the Russian President’s limousine has been delivered to Helsinki, and it is a new model. In other words, in Russia, the only thing that matters about the summit is the bare fact of it. It is the hollow power gesture taken to its world-stage extreme.
The deliberately empty gesture is the ultimate innovation of the Trump Presidency. Beginning with his transition-era announcement of saving American jobs at a Carrier plant—an accomplishment of no consequence for the country as a whole and little, if any, consequence for many Carrier employees—Trump has trafficked in hollow symbols. Each gesture is designed to affirm his image as a dealmaker, even though the deals are devoid of substance at best and costly at worst. In this context, the Trump-Putin summit, a meeting without an agenda, appears entirely logical. [Continue reading…]