Potatoes are a semi-hardy crop. You don’t have to wait until all risk of frost has passed, which is traditionally the May 24th long, holiday weekend here in Hope Ness on the Bruce Peninsula, and most of the rest of southern Ontario. I’ve planted my certified seed spuds as early as mid-April and ran into a frost warning at least once later that month after those two rows young plants had just started breaking through the ground. So, I covered them with a fairly thick blanket of straw and hoped for the best. The frost didn’t actually happen. I pulled the straw aside and later used it as mulch around those plants. That’s how, by chance, I happened to discover mulching your potatos with straw is a fool-proof way of avoiding the major insect pest of potato plants, the Colorado potato beetle. Those two rows remained totally bug-free, while my many other rows that weren’t straw-mulched got the usual invasion, necessitating the usual early morning inspection and, well, crushing, one bug at a time. I later found from an agricultural professor at the University of Guelph who I happened to interview on another topic, that, with the straw mulch, “you interrupted the life-cycle of the potato beetle.” So, ever since then, I’ve mulched my potatoes with straw and never had Colorado potato beetle problem, thus saving myself a lot of time and money spent over the years on the organic pesticide known as bacillus Thuringiensis.
That rather long introduction of sorts may have some relevance beyond me just trying to establish the general timing of the day I was in my fairly large vegetable garden last spring and had a moment of sudden clarity about then presidential candidate Donald Trump.
I was in among the then-recently emerged Irish Cobbler potato plants with a hoe, weeding and hilling. The seed potatoes had gone in well-sprouted and thus hadn’t taken long to break through the soil; but I was a little late getting my potatoes planted, so it would have been early May some time.
I should mention as well I often do a lot of my serious thinking, such as it is, when I’m working in the garden.
(No, that’s not false modesty. I know my limitations. In fact, I think that’s one of the most important things for a person to know. It’s a fine line: I mean, you want to give yourself due credit, not put yourself down. But neither do you want to be the cause of more problems in the world by pretending to be something you’re not, for whatever reason. Nor should one make a Faustian deal with the devil to further one’s “will to power ambitions.”)
In my case it’s not so much rational, well-ordered thinking as it is reflection of sorts: a few seeds get planted somehow – maybe after picking up an item off the daily news one way or another – and then a couple of hours later out in the garden, the seeds sprout and break through the ground, so to speak. Then they keep growing as if they have a life of their own.
So, that sunny day last spring it was like that when I found myself thinking mainly about two things. One was the complimentary comments Trump had said about Russian President Vladimir Putin being a good, strong leader of his country, in comparison with then-U.S. President Barack Obama. The other was comments Trump had just made about NATO, when he criticized the level of defence spending of many of its members, compared with the U.S. and the NATO requirement that members should spend 2 percent of their GDP. He went so far as to say, “maybe NATO will dissolve, and that’s OK, not the worst thing in the world.”
Not surprisingly, that sent shockwaves through the NATO community, as did similar comments later about NATO being “obsolete.”
I’m no expert, but I keep myself fairly well-informed, and have done so for a lot of years now.
For example, before the recent U.S. election campaign, I was well aware Russia had forcibly annexed the Crimea, then part of Ukraine, in 2014 despite U.S. and other international condemnation and economic sanctions
I was also aware that, right after the Crimean annexation, Russian military support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine had raised renewed fears in eastern Europe, especially in the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia about Russian expansionism. Those three Baltic countries are now NATO members.
NATO (The North Atlantic Treat Organization) was formed in 1949 as the Western alliance’s military bulwark against any possible further military expansion of the Soviet Union into Europe. At the time the Soviet Union and countries within the Soviet bloc, or sphere of influence, included many of the countries that have become NATO members since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
I also knew Ukraine’s history of having suffered greatly as a Soviet “Republic” under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin before the Second World War. Ukrainians have powerful historic reasons for wanting their country to remain free of Russia. Ukraine is not a NATO member.
But surely if he knew that history, Donald Trump, President of the United States, still called “the leader of the free world,” would more than likely be expected to understand and sympathize with Ukraine’s position and not simply permit it to be taken over again by a resurgent Russia.
Also called the Russian Federation, Russia is the biggest remnant piece by far of the former Soviet empire. It is still the largest country geographically in the world by a long shot.
Many geo-political observers in the West believe Russian President Putin has his heart set on restoring Russia to the world-power status and territory it once enjoyed as the leading member of the Soviet Empire.
Putin clearly regards the Western democracies, led by the U.S. and its allies, especially in Europe, as the major obstacle to those expansionists dreams. Russia’s now infamous interference in last year’s U.S. election process, and similar efforts underway now as several Western European countries prepare for upcoming elections, are proof of that. The more Russia can de-stablize and and even destroy the Western alliance, and the European Union (EU), the more it can further its expansionist aims.
Putin is widely regarded as a ruthless dictator whose political enemies or outspoken critics often end up dead.
But it’s fair to say his control over his country and its people depends to a large extent on his success in . . . well, making Russia great again, you might say.
So there I was last spring with thoughts like that coming to mind, when suddenly I stopped what I was doing, looked up into a sky where some late morning clouds were starting to form as the quickening west wind picked up moisture over Lake Huron and brought it over Hope Ness and the rest of the Bruce Peninsula.
I said to myself, “He’s got a deal with Putin,” meaning Trump with Putin.
But then I soon realized I had no way of knowing that for sure, “no smoking gun.”
That day I also had what seemed like a pretty strong sense of Trump’s would-be authoritarian tendencies, and where it might lead. I had one thought in particular affecting the future of my own, beloved country. But I think I’ll pass on that for now. It might seem just too outrageous to mention.
I took some comfort from the further thought that surely Trump’s possible Russian connections were bound to become a topic of public discussion and investigation in the U.S. during the election campaign.
Well, the rest is history. There was some public discussion, and we now know some investigations were underway in their early phases before the election. But amazingly, candidate Trump became President-elect Trump, and then President on January 20, 2017 when he swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution and gave an Inaugural Address that was a clear threat to many of the high-ranking political figures seated around him.
There’s no need to go piece by piece through all that has happened since: the investigations continue, and the results so far are to some extent provided behind closed doors to high-ranking, Congressional lawmakers. Meanwhile, there have been leaks into the public domain via the independent and Constitutionally-guaranteed free press.
Suffice it to say events may be coming to a head, or perhaps a murmuration, like a flock of of starlings suddenly taking off and filling the sky with their murmuring news.
When and how will it end? Soon, hopefully, and without too much harm done to the world, let alone to the world’s first and greatest liberal democracy. Yes, “liberal,” as in goverrnment “of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address.
But that’s another topic, I suppose, about the need for a great country to rediscover the true nature of its greatness and never, ever again risk losing its democratic soul and, in the process, putting the future of the world in serious jeopardy.
President Donald Trump may have set the stage for the last act in his tragic “hour upon the stage” with that now-infamous series of Twitter tweets he sent out impulsively early one recent Saturday morning. Sooner or later his unpresidential, bad habit was bound to catch up to him. Accusing his predecessor, President Barack Obama, without proof, of wire-tapping the phones in Trump Tower before last fall’s election crossed the line big time.
Trump’s anti-Obama twitter rant started:
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
This past Wednesday Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has often been critical of Trump, and Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, formally wrote and asked the FBI and the Justice Department for any information they have on Trump’s allegation.
No doubt acting on behalf of other concerned, bipartisan U.S. lawmakers, they requested copies of any warrant applications and court orders” related to “wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower.”
Through a spokesperson, soon after the Trump twitter-rant hit cyberspace, Obama said neither he nor any other of his White House officials had ordered surveillance of any U.S. citizen.
As numerous people familiar with how the process works soon said in extensive news coverage, it is against U.S. law for a President to order such surveillance. A warrant for wire-tap phone surveillance can be applied for by the Justice Department on behalf of investigative agencies such as the FBI; but it must be justified by sufficient evidence of criminal activity or improper contact with a foreign power before a special court will authorize it.
That may have been too fine a distinction for Trump to make. In the Trumpian world the administration is run by the President as he sees fit, and so, he seems to have assumed, it must have been with Obama.
In their letter to FBI Director James Comey, and Acting Deputy Attorney-General, Dana Boente, Graham and Whitehouse expressed concerns about the possibility of an “abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes.”
But – and more to the point, I think – “We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower,” they also said.
What Trump may have inadvertently done is give his critics an opening to find out a lot more about how much the FBI and other investigative agencies have learned about his possible Russia connections.
The FBI, CIA and other U.S. intelligence services have agreed that Russian operatives, likely with the support of the highest levels of the Russian government, conducted a program of hacking and “fake news” disinformation in an effort to affect the outcome of the U.S. election in Trump’s favour.
So far there’s been no official proof made public that such Russian activity actually altered the results and helped lead to Trump’s election; and no official proof either that Trump or his campaign actively colluded with Russia.
But there have been news reports based on leaks from “sources.” the news media outlets involved have been among the most reputable in the U.S., among them the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and CNN. Trump angrily dismissed the reports, labelling those organizations and the mainstream news media in general, “enemies of the people.”
Trump hasn’t done himself any favours regarding the continuing controversy over any connections his election campaign had, or didn’t have, with the Russian interference in the U.S. election. For one big thing, he could have released his recent-years income tax papers, as most presidential candidates have long done. He still could. If he has nothing to hide, why not, especially if it could put the whole matter to rest?
He perisistently downplayed even the possibility that Russia was responsible for hacking into the U.S. election process before finally agreeing, reluctantly, that apparently it was.
I think back to that day in my garden last spring a lot. It’s astonishing where the U.S. and the rest of the world too, for that matter, are at today. The ancient, ironic Chinese curse comes to mind again: “May you live in interesting times.”
But be aware, we may be about to enter the most dangerous phase of the affair. As always with Trump, anything is possible.
Meanwhile, I will make my usual plans to plant a fairly big garden this year, in the hope, and with a prayer, that all will be well when everything is said and done, and known.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in March, 2017