I'm not a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, but there's one line from the Arthur Conan Doyle novels that I find myself thinking about all the time as I write about this strange burlesque show that is 21st-century American politics. It's from the Holmes story about a race horse that is stolen from his stable in the dead of night -- a case that the great fictional detective solves after he ponders "the dog that didn't bark" as the crime occurred. Consider that, and then turn your ears in the general direction of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Hear any barking?
Me neither. Not a whimper.
And life comes at you fast, even faster when you spend every Sunday conducting meetings playing golf at one of your own branded golf courses. It's true, you can't blame President Trump for not having advance warning that Vladimir Putin's Russia was going to erupt in wall-to-wall pro-democracy protests. Few folks saw the anti-Putin demonstrations -- the largest in at least five years -- coming. Today's dramatic pictures from Moscow, from Putin's native St. Petersburg, from Vladivostok out in the far east and from Minsk, capital of the troubled former Soviet republic of Belarus, and elsewhere were both exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time.
Many of the protesters carried Russian flags, professing their love for a country that has tried again and again and again to squash their free speech and their right to assemble under the iron-fisted rule of an authoritarian strongman. In Moscow and some of the other protests that erupted in as many as 99 cities, the demonstrators kept moving in what was called "a synchronized walk" through central shopping streets, because traditional protest rallies are banned under Putin. Another target was Putin's close ally, the former president and current prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, said to have amassed a suspiciously large fortune during his government tenure.
Russian police arrested hundreds of people, including Aleksei Navalny, the anti-corruption fighter and fierce Putin critic who helped to organize the demonstrations. The protesters surrounded the van that was taking Navalny away to be booked, reportedly shouting, "This is our city! This is our city!" and "Russia without Putin!"
In addition to the protest leaders, Putin's lawmen swept up a number of journalists on their way to as many as 1,000 arrests, maybe more. One already iconic photo shows six riot cops dragging a limp women in a white coat through the street.
Needless to say, none of this was reported this evening on Russian state media. The censorship, the arbitrary arrests, the banning of public assembly -- all hallmarks of an authoritarian regime waving a fake democracy banner, one that also harbors dangerous expansionist aims in Eastern Europe. The actions of the protesters was beyond courageous, especially when one ponders the mysterious things that tend to happen to Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics. It was the kind of demonstration that screams out for support from freedom-loving people everywhere.
And the protesters did get a lot of support from America -- from everyday Americans, that is, on Twitter. You know who else was busy on Twitter this weekend? The 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. He even used his massive social-media platform to promote a relatively obscure Fox News program on Saturday night, a program that called for Paul Ryan's ouster as House Speaker. That's the kind of coup that interests The Donald. An uprising against Putin, however, and his tiny thumbs suddenly go numb.
Instead, the Trump administration had to be goaded over the course of the day. Only after Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse -- the rare conservative who's been a consistent Trump critic -- expressed dismay, stating, "The United States government cannot be silent about Russia’s crackdown on peaceful protesters," did the United States government lurch into action. The acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner tonight came out with a fairly strong statement calling Russia's action's "an affront to core democratic values."
Will Toner's boss echo those words? Because this would be a good time to come in from the links and speak up.
Do they not have wi-fi at Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, where the president spent most of the afternoon? It was only the 12th time that Trump visited one of his golf clubs in the 65 days that he's been president. It's almost too easy to mock Trump over this; I have no problem with a commander-in-chief hitting the links from time to time, although what was the deal with all of Trump's now hypocritical-looking tweets blasting Obama for doing the same thing (less frequently)?
Remember George W. Bush? He was roasted for the moment (later immortalized in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911") when he invited news cameras onto a golf course, vowed revenge over an al-Qaeda attack and added, slyly, "Now watch this drive!" Bad optics, but now Trump a) hides from the cameras and b) doesn't even take the 10 seconds to condemn the bad guys.
This is where the whole dog-not-barking thing gets weird. For starters, it's barely 48 hours since the worst fiasco that any first-100-days presidency has endured in modern memory, the broken promise (thank God, right?) to repeal and replace Obamacare and the old-Atlantic-City-boardwalk-hotel-style implosion of Trump's reputation as a master dealmaker. Now comes a hanging slider right over the meaty part of the plate -- and chance to hit a home run for freedom, justice and the American way, to look like a leader of the free world. And Trump hasn't taken his bat off his shoulder?
What's up with that? Especially, what's up with that when you think about the other great weight on Trump's sagging presidency, the FBI probe into his campaign's bizarre ties with Putin's Russia and the possibility of collusion in the 2016 election hacking scandal? Every day, we learn more about the millions that Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort earned from Putin's billionaire friends and his political allies in Ukraine, about the strange maneuverings of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, or other weird connections.
And yet Trump has never once said a harsh word about Putin, while instead using every chance to praise arguably the world's most dangerous authoritarian. Maybe that's Trump being Trump -- he is, after all, the only major political figure in America to say nice things about China's brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square. (And that's appalling). But maybe it's something much worse.
For President Trump, how come the dog that doesn't bark is a Siberian husky? I don't know everything that's going on with Trump and Russia, but if Sherlock Holmes were on this case, the silence would be shattering his eardrums.