If you have a sense of history, try to imagine this: Cast your mind back to 1960, when Senator John F. Kennedy was running for President against Richard Nixon, at the time the nation’s vice president.
What if JFK had publicly suggested that the Soviet Union try to steal Nixon’s private foreign policy memos and release them to the press?
What if he had also hinted he might accept Moscow’s seizure of another nation’s territory, and that in any event, he’d be much friendlier to Russia than the current administration?
I can tell you exactly what would have happened. He would have been forced to withdraw his candidacy for President, been expelled from the U.S. Senate, and quite possibly charged with breaking whatever espionage laws were in force at that time.
Now, doing anything that suicidally disloyal has never occurred to any presidential candidate, nor possibly even to any writer of Cold War spy fiction. Not, that is, until now.
Yesterday, Donald Trump urged Russia to try to find the alleged missing 30,000 emails that Hillary Clinton is said to have sent while Secretary of State, and added, “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
According to David Sanger, a longtime foreign and diplomatic correspondent for the New York Times, he was “essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.” When I was first heard about this yesterday morning, I thought it was all some gigantic mistake.
But it wasn’t.
Sounding slightly stunned, Mrs. Clinton’s chief foreign policy advisor said, “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent.”
You can say that again. This story did cause uproar yesterday – but not nearly as much as if anyone else in high-level politics had said it. And that’s because we have become desensitized to what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.
We are talking, after all, about the candidate, who said “blood coming out of her whatever,” who mocked a reporter’s physical disability, who calls Mexicans drug pushers and rapists.
He has almost lost his ability to shock. This would be perfectly fine if he was a late night comedian, but he is not. He is one of only two people who have a chance to be elected to preside over the most powerful economy and military power in the world. And he is the only one ever to say he might not live up to some of our commitments to NATO.
Until now, I have had respect for Pete Hoekstra, a former Michigan congressman who was chair of the House Intelligence Committee. But he lost my respect yesterday, when he defended Trump, saying “Most likely the Russians already have all that info on Hillary.”
This is not a normal election. Every living Republican former president has refused to endorse Trump, as has their last nominee, Mitt Romney. Thomas Friedman, the previously nonpartisan New York Times columnist, says he hopes Trump loses all fifty states.
Years ago, any politician who ever said anything favorable about the Soviet Union ended up being stigmatized for life. You have to wonder what will happen to those who are now defending Donald Trump.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.