BY ALEXANDRA PETRI
Better to serve in Helsinki than reign in heaven, or however the saying goes.
President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on Monday in Helsinki because we are trapped in this timeline. It went unexpectedly well! Trump did not embarrass America on the world stage. He was able to get a useful answer about Russian meddling in the election, and he did not throw his wholehearted support behind an autocrat instead of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
No, I am kidding, of course. It went exactly the way you would think: slightly worse than you expected.
I don’t know what Trump was thinking going in. He tweeted that “if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough,” which sounded like he thought he might be handed Moscow. This did not happen.
Instead, this did.
Putin: Thank you for being here. Although can we truly say that anyone is anywhere? I, personally, choose to believe that nothing exists, which means that I can regard all of this with an amused detachment. If any of this were real or had any meaning, you would be awash in despair, and I would not be able to answer for my crimes. But it is all an empty farce. Speaking of which, here is Donald Trump, the president of the United States.
Trump: You must understand that, like, a week ago, Russia and the United States had a worse relationship than they had ever had. I assume ever. If there is any history between these beautiful nations, do not tell me! I have not gotten to it yet, and I would hate to hear any spoilers. But this morning we fixed it. The next time we meet, maybe Vladimir Putin will give me Moscow.
Putin: Sure. Sure. Why not? Why should I not give him Moscow? What is Moscow? What is anything?
Question: If you were upset at Russia right now, President Trump, why would that be?
Trump: I’m not upset at Russia. Mostly, I am disappointed … in America. Most of the blame for our relationship with Russia is that America until now has acted as though we were some sort of special place with higher standards than the rest of the world, where we claimed to believe in democracy and the rule of law, which just means you cannot torture people or have a really good parade, and the media often says mean things about you based in fact. None of that is good.
Putin: Imagine if any of this were really happening!
Question: President Putin, why should we believe you did not intervene in the election?
Trump: Before he says anything, I would like to specify that there was no collusion — and not for want of trying! I didn’t know this man, and I didn’t have anybody to collude with.
Putin: I don’t ask anyone to believe me. Trust no one, because trust makes you weak, and trust implies a belief in the existence of a shared reality which I do not share. Can you say for certain that you exist and that the sights and sounds you claim add up to facts are not the productions of a demon bent on tricking you? By what means can you verify that the knowledge you possess is true knowledge rather than false knowledge? Is not all knowledge like a series of birds flying about inside the cage of your mind, and only by catching hold of what is true can you determine that you have hold of what is false?
Question: So every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did interfere in the election, but President Putin says no. What do you think, President Trump?
Trump: Look, on the one hand, my director of national intelligence says that Russia did this. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin claims that he did not. Who can I believe?
Everyone in the Room: Seems like maybe the director of the national intelligence, definitely. Am I missing something?
Trump: I can’t see any reason Russia would have done this, except to help elect me, an outcome Vladimir Putin just said that he wanted. But who wouldn’t want to elect me, objectively? I am not female.
Putin: Would you believe me if I told you he was just doing all of this spontaneously and we were not even holding compromising material on him?
Trump: Some people are insinuating that I truckle and scrape before Putin because of some sort of romantic relationship or love between us. This is erroneous. Love implies the recognition of oneself in another, the capacity to glimpse the reality of another human soul, and anyone who attributes this to me has not been paying attention.
Question: I guess I should ask: Does Russia have any compromising material on Donald Trump?
Putin: No. We didn’t get any compromising material on Trump during his time in Russia because when he was in Russia we literally had no idea who he was! We only pay attention to the important billionaires, whereas everyone knows that Donald Trump is not a real billionaire, as I am sure you have seen in his tax returns, which in your system you traditionally have revealed to you, and I am sure you did not just sort of hand-wave.
Trump: Please, I was worthy of notice, I promise! Do you want me to just tell you some compromising things that happened during that time period? I just want to feel like I was being watched. I will forward you some pictures later of me doing things that would be blackmail-worthy, just so we are clear that I am impor-tant enough to blackmail, all right? I will follow up.
Putin: If any of this were real, all of our minds would break but mine.
After this stunning pronouncement, Anderson Cooper tore his desk in half and threw it on the ground, and for several hours Republicans forgot what they were supposed to be doing and actually denounced the presi-dent’s behavior. Paul Ryan emerged from a sarcophagus where he has been hiding from the news for the past several months and said he was disappointed in the president’s performance and he needed to do better, as did several other Republicans who had been cryogenically frozen for months so as not to have to offer any comment on the Trump regime, including but not limited to Bob Corker, and Marco Rubio, kind of, while Fox News was not afraid to observe that The Media Has A Lot Of Criticism For Trump’s Helsinki Performance. But then again, maybe everything is an illusion and nothing matters!
Alexandra Petri is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow her @petridishes.