I watched the press conference with our president and President Putin as they closed their summit meeting in Helsinki. President Trump’s demeanor seemed strange. He was deferential to Putin, and conveyed impotence. I was stunned when he said, he “had no reason to conclude that Russia would have interfered with our election.” It could not be “fake news.” It was a live, worldwide TV broadcast.

In the ensuing week, I watched many persons of stature, prominence, and esteem react to history’s most awkward moment for an American president. I empathize with the anguish of our nation’s statesmen, our congressional leaders, and other revered heroes and patriots in both criticism and defense of our president.

Consensus of opinion is that our president had disgraced himself. He chose not to confront Putin about Russia’s offensive, aggressive mischief-making, and their obvious meddling in our election. World opinion is that Trump capitulated to Putin. He did not dare confront the world’s most outrageous aggressor, and publicly discounted the credibility of our intelligence agencies.

Twenty-four hours after his return from the summit, President Trump claimed he misspoke in Helsinki. He said he meant to say the word “wouldn’t.” It’s a plausible explanation. To err is human. I don’t know anyone who has not misspoken occasionally.

Most of us, however, quickly catch and correct our errors. But Mr. Trump did not react for more than 24 hours. 

It’s the time lapse that unsettles me and evokes questions. His claim that he misspoke seemed a feeble attempt to minimize the impact of his misspoken word.

Mr. Trump has frequently boasted that he’s a man of his word. He says what he means, and means what he says. But we are in a quandary about what he intends to say. Washington Post reported that “President Trump has made more than 3,200 false or misleading claims while in office.” He did not attempt to correct any of his claims as errors or misspeaks. The president has been in office for about 450 days. That means he has told a lie, or an untruth, an average of seven times a day. I’m certain Mr. President will dismiss that as ‘fake news.” Time magazine might feature his picture on its cover as “The person most lacking credibility.”

I wonder what might have happened if our president had corrected himself immediately, while facing the world’s TV cameras. He could have pointed out that Putin and the Russian regime make an amicable relationship with America unfeasible. 

Likely, Putin would have been incensed or indignant, even outraged. But my fellow patriots and I would have welcomed our president home as a hero, as our champion. World leaders would have admired him, and nations threatened by Russian aggression would have been grateful. 

Sadly, President Trump missed an opportunity to make America great.

Fred Natkevi is a longtime Oak Park resident and member of the Oak Park Writers Group.

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