Las Vegas Sun

December 13, 2018

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Where I Stand:

Don’t dismiss Russia, that ‘bad ol’ putty tat’

Bear with me, please. It is a new year and I am just trying to ease my way into what promises to be quite an eventful time in the short history of our democracy.

Soon it will be Inauguration Day and the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, will take the oath of office and immediately begin trying to make America great again. As a fellow in the news business, I know we will have to be more vigilant than ever. As an American, I am happy to root for his success and pray his failures will be few.

But that isn’t what’s on my mind today. Today it is Twitter. Actually, Tweety. More to the point, it is a little yellow bird that I grew up with that is constantly on the lookout for Sylvester — the cat who would have liked to have been the cat who ate the canary!

There are two canaries of my youth. The first is the lovable little yellow bird named Tweety Bird or Tweety Pie, who came of age in the first golden years of animated cartoons. He was constantly being harassed by Sylvester, who made it his life’s dream to actually swallow little Tweety and, much to his continuing frustration for never having done so, keep him down!

The other canary is the one I heard about as a boy when we studied the hazards of coal mining. The little birds would be taken down into the mines to be used as early warning alarms. Should the carbon monoxide or methane levels get too high, the canaries would die long before the gas would become lethal to humans.

Somehow, I have been thinking about the canaries as I listen to the latest news this past week about President-elect Trump’s tweets. Whether it was taking credit for saving jobs in car land or castigating a ridiculous Republican Congress’ attempt to protect its own unethical rear end by gutting the existing protocol designed to keep members on the relative straight and narrow, it seems tweeting has become the communication du jour. At least for now.

Perhaps it wasn’t the cartoon character that has me fixated — after all, there is nothing funny about the business of running the most powerful country on the planet by tweeting — so it must be the canary as the harbinger of bad news that has me thinking.

If there is one hallmark of our democracy that places America’s system of governance above all others, it is our right to vote and peacefully transition government from one person and party to another. It ain’t easy, but it is the reason we are the envy of the rest of the world.

And just like the miners were willing to pay attention to the tweeting — or lack of it — of a little yellow bird in order to save their lives, so too should we pay attention to what the Donald tweets in the midst of such foul-smelling activity.

And by that, I mean the Russians.

I get it that the American people voted to have a President Trump reset our priorities when it comes to who our adversaries are or will be.

Giving Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, a pass just because he says nice things about Mr. Trump may prove to be a good strategy for the United States to pursue. Dealing harshly with China, which is doing its best to get closer to us without tweeting sweet nothings, may also be a good (and very risky) strategy. Only time will tell.

Besides, as Trump was fond of saying during the presidential campaign, “What have we got to lose?”

The answer to that question is “plenty” and it may come in the form of a modern-day canary in the coal mine.

After all, how many times do we need to learn the lesson about Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, to understand that we are way out of our depth when it comes to dealing with them?

They take our kindness for weakness. They take our hesitation as a lack of commitment. And they take our new leader’s tweets-based-on-flattery approach as pretty much a joke and a way into our good graces without firing a shot.

I am not suggesting that there can’t or shouldn’t be a better long-term strategy for our relations with Russia. There should be. And heaven knows we could use one.

But tweeting our way through Russia’s toughness and resoluteness? I don’t think so!

Our rallying cry on the way to making America great must never be “I tawt I taw a putty tat.” By the time the Russians have us in their grasp, they will eat our lunch — just like our intelligence agencies have said they just did.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.

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