Commentary: Doing Putin’s work for him

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – If Russian leader Vladimir Putin saw meddling in our election as an investment, he must be happy with the way it paid off.

Because we Americans are so focused on the ping pong game that is partisan politics, we tend to look at the Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign as a Manchurian candidate scenario. Putin wanted to install in the White House a puppet whose strings he could pull with ease.

John Krull, publisher,

But the Russian leader is savvy enough to understand what anyone who has observed Donald Trump for five minutes gleans – namely, that Trump is too volatile a personality to govern himself, much less be controlled by anyone else.

No, what Putin wanted was something less specific than the election of one person. He wanted something that would have more far-reaching and long-lasting effect.

He wanted to destabilize our country, weaken our institutions and undermine our government’s ability to exert moral leadership.

In one day – Thursday, April 6, 2017 – the following things occurred:

  1. The chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, recused himself from an investigation of Russia’s intervention in the American election. Nunes had been criticized for a hasty visit to the White House to brief Trump on the investigation before informing other members of the committee and for his ties to the Trump campaign.

2. Facing a filibuster from Democrats, Republicans in the U.S. Senate suspended the rules to approve Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court on a largely partisan vote. It was the first time in the nearly 230 years since our Constitution was implemented and the Senate was formed that a person has been elevated to the nation’s highest bench in this fashion. In the aftermath of the Gorsuch vote, Republicans and Democrats began what promised to be a prolonged exercise in finger-pointing and blame-gaming over who was at fault for shattering more than two centuries of precedents, but events intervened.

3. That’s because President Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian air base as response to the Syrian government’s chemical attack on that country’s civilians this week. The strike represented an about-face for the president, who previously had argued that the United States should stay out of Syria at all costs. The Trump administration notified Russia – an ally of Syria – ahead of the attack, but did not seek congressional approval for a military intervention. That prompted some members of Congress – both Republican and Democrat – to remind the president he can’t commit the nation to battle without consulting them.

4. Putin belittled the attack, calling it “Trumped-up.” The Russian leader thus simultaneously undermined the authority of a man he likely helped to elect and jabbed at the tender underbelly of a president who is notoriously sensitive to slights.

In other words, our leaders spent Thursday the way they do most days – convincing both us and the rest of the world that the government of the United States now possesses the discretion and maturity of a crack-addicted toddler.

Let’s take stock.

Congress’s public approval ratings generally hover at just a bit under 20 percent. That means only one out of every five Americans has confidence in the House and the Senate.

The president’s job approval ratings aren’t much higher. The lowest poll has the percentage of Americans admiring his performance at 34 percent. The highest tops out in the middle 40s. Either way, most of the country doesn’t like the way Donald Trump does his job.

The judicial branch has been the one part of the U.S. government yet to experience widespread public scorn.

But, now, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate – with help from the president – have unwittingly colluded to encourage Americans to look at the Supreme Court through the same partisan lens they use to view every other part of government.

Even worse is the level of our public discourse.

We attack each other – neighbors and fellow citizens – with the venom and animosity we used to reserve for enemy combatants. In a dangerous world, we often don’t recognize threats because we are so focused on fighting with each other.

Destabilize. Weaken. Undermine.

Yeah, Vladimir Putin must be pleased with what his work has accomplished.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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One Response to Commentary: Doing Putin’s work for him

  1. “Republicans in the U.S. Senate suspended the rules to approve Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.” It’s worth clarifying that those rules were modified by democrats and Harry Reid. But don’t write that.