Many years ago, the Israeli Bedouin expert Clinton Bailey told me a story about a Bedouin chief who discovered one day that his favorite turkey had been stolen. He called his sons together and told them: “Boys, we are in great danger now. My turkey’s been stolen. Find my turkey.” His boys just laughed and said, “Father, what do you need that turkey for?” and they ignored him.
A few weeks later the Bedouin chief’s camel was stolen. His sons went to him and said, “Father, your camel has been stolen. What should we do?” And the chief answered, “Find my turkey.”
A few weeks later the chief’s horse was stolen, and again his sons asked what they should do. “Find my turkey,” the chief said.
Finally, a few weeks later his daughter was abducted, at which point he gathered his sons and told them: “It’s all because of the turkey! When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.”
.. how and why we failed to contain the egregious behavior of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
They each started by — metaphorically speaking — stealing a turkey. And when we didn’t respond, they kept ratcheting up their wretched behavior to the point where Trump thinks he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and Putin thinks he could poison a wayward spy in London, and get away with it.
Trump’s turkey was his tax returns. During the campaign he promised to release them after the I.R.S. finished auditing him. Then, after he was elected, Trump said, sorry, not going to release them ever. And nothing happened. Trump, I am reliably told, has actually said to people close to him, “Can you believe I got away with that?”
.. Once Trump saw that he could get away with not disclosing his tax returns, he knew he could get away with anything.
.. Any Bedouin chief who watched the steady acceleration in the breadth and pace of Trump’s lying — like his recent boast that he had fabricated a trade deficit with Canada in talks with Canada’s prime minister or his dishonest statements to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation — would tell you: Get me Trump’s tax returns.
.. Because there must be something very important in them that he wants to keep hidden.
.. Maybe it’s just the embarrassment that he is not as rich as he claims, or, maybe, it’s something more fundamental — like how dependent he is on Russian oligarchs for financing
.. Putin’s turkey was even more serious. It was the shooting down of that Malaysian civilian airliner, Flight MH17
.. Putin’s proxies in eastern Ukraine had requested that Russia send them an SA-11 surface-to-air missile launcher.
.. Putin did not push the button on that missile, but he created the conditions for it to shoot down that plane — and he walked away from it as if the plane were brought down by lightning, making up one implausible story after another. He got slapped on the wrist with a few sanctions, but his complicity faded away into a mist of baldfaced lies.
.. Who wanted to confront Russia, with all its gas exports to Europe and all its oligarchs throwing money around London or buying condos in places like … Trump Tower in New York?
.. Why not poison a former Russian spy in London with a banned military nerve agent or perpetrate genocide in Syria? Who’s going to stop me?”
Trump and Putin are cut from the same cloth. Their strategy is: keep pushing, keep grabbing, keep lying, keep denying, no matter how implausible the denials — and never apologize. Because when you lie on an industrial scale, it overwhelms everyone else. Normal people just don’t behave that way, and the sheer shamelessness eventually exhausts them.
.. when people keep eroding the norms of society, stealing — turkeys or the truth — eventually becomes the norm.
.. That steady erosion of norms is what Trump is doing to America and Putin is doing to the world.
.. American voters have to go to the polls and deal a resounding electoral defeat to this Republican Party, which Trump has taken over like an invasive species.
.. America needs a healthy conservative party in our two-party system. But this G.O.P. is not a conservative party and it is not healthy.
.. As for Putin, the only way to brush him back is with economic sanctions that truly hurt him and his corrupt clique of oligarchs, and an offensive cyber campaign that exposes just how much money they have all stolen from the Russian people.
.. Bullies like Trump and Putin are relentless. They will keep driving through red lights, smirking all the way, as long as we let them.
.. As the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”