Credit: George Danby

Along with many Americans, I sat up on June 11 and watched as President Donald Trump succeeded in elevating Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea to equal status with the president of the United States in the eyes of the world. I felt like weeping. A U.S. president, who himself is a would-be king, allowed the despotic leader of one of the world’s most cruel and repressive regimes to achieve a degree of legitimacy on the world stage. That, all by itself, should be a crime.

But for Trump, as he stood there shaking hands with a murderer, it was one more moment in which he became arguably the most important figure in the world — all because, for decades, such a moment had not happened as U.S. administrations had come and gone.

The tragedy was compounded by the fact that, for some 45 minutes, Trump and Kim met one-on-one, with only translators and no record-keepers in the room. Whatever the truth of that meeting may be, Trump is proclaiming to the world that he was the winning negotiator. That’s because the liar-in-chief of the United States is incapable of admitting anything that might portray him as anything other than perfect. Trump is a legend in his own mind, with his eyes now set with laser-like focus on a Nobel Peace Prize.

The setting in Singapore left Kim in the enviable position of representing his meeting with Trump any way he wishes. He gave up absolutely nothing of substance to be accepted as an equal by an American president. So it’s likely that Kim will continue to be a willing partner to whatever self-aggrandizement Trump wants to present to the world and his supporters.

After all, Kim — one of the world’s most brutal despots — has attained global recognition that, even six months ago, would have been beyond his wildest dreams. Like Trump, he can give a message of his choosing to his own people, who have no access to any alternative news sources. They, like the American people, may never know what actually transpired between the two men, one who already is a dictator and the other who acts like he wishes were one.

Our president sees his entire performance in office as a reality television show, with himself in the starring role. Anything that may detract from the starring role is verboten.

The entire Singapore performance by Trump was a disgrace for the United States. And the sad, pathetic fact is that millions of Americans will take whatever Trump says about it as gospel.

And don’t look for any significant challenge from the majority in Congress. Most Republicans have either dropped to their knees and taken a vow of total allegiance to Trump or have opted to remain completely silent. They are far more concerned about their re-election chances than the well-being and global standing of the United States.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Given the total lack of courage demonstrated by Republicans’ weak-kneed leaders, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Maine’s senior U.S. senator is uniquely positioned to follow in the path of legendary Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and put statesmanship ahead of partisanship.

Sen. Susan Collins has considerable seniority and enjoys respect among her GOP colleagues and many of those across the aisle. Were she to take a strong and forceful stand against the despicable and destructive behavior of the man she once described as totally unfit for the nation’s highest office, Collins would receive accolades from millions of Americans and secure a place in Maine and U.S. history for an exemplary act of conscience.

But she mostly sits on the sidelines, appearing to calculate when she might offer a tepid contradiction to one of Trump’s pronouncements without harming her standing in Maine’s right-wing Republican community. It is incredibly depressing to imagine that Collins believes that Trump’s base in Maine can threaten her re-election chances in 2020.

We have a president who will not speak up for democracy or human rights around the world. He is a president who insults and disparages our greatest allies while heaping praise and adulation on leaders of the world’s most repressive and cruel regimes. And along the way, he has turned millions of Republicans, who used to believe in and stand for honorable and broadly accepted principles, into a mass of toadies who worship him as if he were a god.

In this Trump regime, each day seems worse than the one before. How awful can it get?

Hugh Bowden spent more than 50 years as a newspaper journalist and political observer. He lives in Ellsworth.

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