Judith Miller: The latest Trump outrages (and why I'm upset)

Americans should be appalled. In one 24-hour period this week, President Trump has set a new standard for outrageous, if not surprising, behavior.

First of all, we should be outraged, if not shocked, by the president’s muted response to Russia’s armed seizure of three Ukrainian ships in the disputed Sea of Azov days before Trump and his “best friend” – Russian President Vladimir Putin – were scheduled to meet Saturday on the sidelines of the G-20 summit meeting in Argentina.

It took a Russian act of war to pressure President Trump into canceling the latest planned assignation in his ongoing bromance with the Russian leader. For days after the seizure, Trump had been virtually silent about Putin’s obvious provocation.

Only shortly before leaving for Argentina on Thursday did Trump announce – by tweet – that the meeting with Putin was off. Before that, his strongest response to Moscow’s aggression was to say he was “not happy” with Russia’s conduct.

There was no condemnation of Russia’s belligerence, no demand that Putin immediately release the ships and sailors and permit free transit in a sea vital to Ukrainian trade, no call for more sanctions on Russia or on Putin’s oligarch pals, no rallying of America’s European allies for an urgent NATO meeting to defuse the crisis.

Even President Trump’s cancellation was hedged. “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia,” he tweeted, “I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned” not to meet with Putin in Argentina.

But consistent with his habit of kowtowing to Putin, Trump could not stop himself from adding that he would “look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Closer to home, Americans should be outraged by the White House’s indifference to the decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs not to repay veterans who got smaller GI Bill benefit payments than what they were owed due to computer glitches and other accounting problems.

According to a report in The Hill newspaper, VA officials told congressional staffers Wednesday they could not reimburse veterans without auditing past claims, which would delay future claims. This latest outrage has occurred weeks after the department reported that unspecified computer problems would delay GI Bill housing payments to hundreds of thousands of veterans.

Remember how Republicans mocked the computer glitches that accompanied ObamaCare’s roll-out? Where is their outrage now?

President Trump never tires of telling us how much he supports our men and women in uniform, even when he began the deployment of 5,900 active-duty U.S. troops and 2,100 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border shortly before the Nov. 6 midterm elections. The troops spent Thanksgiving away from their families, and news reports say the deployment is expected to continue past the Christmas and New Year holidays into January.

The military forces were ostensibly sent to the border to protect the U.S. against caravans of unarmed Central Americans – including thousands of women and children – seeking asylum or other entry into America.

But apparently, the president’s concern about the fate of veterans of our armed forces does not extend to ensuring that his own Department of Veterans Affairs will pay veterans what they are owned for housing and health care. The gap between “promises made and promises kept” when it comes to veterans is as broad and deep as the Mississippi. But where are President Trump’s tweeted howls of outrage on their behalf?

The president has reserved his angry outbursts for his almost daily assaults on Twitter and in comments to reporters against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

And President Trump has dangled the possibility of a pardon before his corrupt, hapless and imprisoned former presidential campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Manafort pleaded guilty in September to two federal conspiracy charges and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. However, on Monday Mueller accused Manafort of violating his plea by lying to federal investigators.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., prevented legislation to protect the Mueller inquiry from even coming to the Senate floor this week by saying that such a measure was unnecessary because President Trump would never fire Mueller.

So the effort to impede a fair and thorough investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to get candidate Trump elected now includes the most senior elected officials.

Trump’s relentless attacks on the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” are outrageous enough. But obstructing justice by hinting that he might pardon Manafort if his former campaign chairman’s behavior pleases the president should infuriate anyone who cares about the rule of law. It was recently revealed that Manafort’s lawyers have been feeding the president’s lawyers information about Manafort’s dealings with Mueller’s team, in violation of his own agreement with the special counsel.

But shouts of outrage from Republicans, or from the president’s stalwart base, are rarely heard. Thanks to Trump’s steady drumroll of tweeted threats, his repeated lies, misstatements, and exaggerated claims, many Americans have lost their capacity for outrage. That, too, should frighten us all.