Donald Trump’s traitorous performance at his joint press conference in Helsinki on Monday was arguably the lowest moment of his presidency.
Only one other event comes close: his equally disastrous press conference last August, when he refused to condemn white supremacists that had marched in Charlottesville, Va.
If only someone had warned Americans during the 2016 presidential election that, if elected, Trump would govern like a white supremacist and be the puppet of Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Of course, someone did.
This week, that infamous “puppet” clip from the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 election between Trump and Hillary Clinton has been getting a lot of play. In it, Clinton calls Trump a puppet of Putin and he indignantly responds, “You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.”
But Clinton did more than just call her Republican rival names.
“It’s pretty clear,” she said, “you won’t admit that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.”
She finished up by accusing Trump of preferring to believe Vladimir Putin rather than “the military and civilian intelligence officials who are sworn to protect us.”
This is the kind of statement that in the context of what happened this week should cause millions of Trump voters to uncomfortably adjust their shirt collars (though it probably won’t).
Twenty-one months later, Trump still won’t admit Russian involvement in the election cyberattacks. He regularly denigrates NATO and takes a pro-Russian position on any number of issues. And as Putin confirmed in Helsinki this week, he did indeed prefer Trump to be the winner in 2016. What is so frustrating about the collective freak-out this week over Trump’s siding with Putin and against his own intelligence agencies and Department of Justice is that we were repeatedly warned this could happen.
But it wasn’t just on Russia where Clinton highlighted Trump’s troubling behavior. His other presidential low point, Charlottesville, didn’t come out of the ether, either. Again, Clinton warned Americans of what might happen if Trump was elected.
In an August 2016 speech in Reno, she said of Trump “He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties.”
She said that Trump would round up “millions of immigrants and kick them out of the country,” deport so-called “anchor babies” of undocumented immigrants, and ban Muslims from entering the country.
While this was hyperbolic, it also wasn’t far off from what would happen when Trump took office. He has rounded up not millions, but hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants for deportation. In recent weeks, his administration has launched a program to strip citizenship from naturalized immigrants. While the anchor babies effort has not yet gathered stream, Trump did end the DACA program, which protected undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. Of course, more than 2,000 children are awaiting reunification after being forcibly separated from their parents at the border. Finally, one of Trump’s first initiatives as president was the so-called Muslim ban, which sought to prevent individuals from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the country.
In short, Clinton’s predictions may not have hit the bullseye, but they were uncomfortably close.
At the time, she dismissed those who argued that Trump should get the benefit of the doubt, but cautioned, “There’s no other Donald Trump. This is it.”
Nearly two years later it’s hard to argue with any of this. The Trump train wreck that we are experiencing right now didn’t just creep up on us and take us by surprise. The warning signs were blinking red, and tens of millions of Americans chose to ignore them. As Clinton said in that Reno speech two Augusts ago, quoting the poet Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Then again Donald Trump didn’t have a private e-mail server.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.