His refusal to address Putin publicly on the 12 Russians indicted for hacking Democrats' computers and trying to disrupt the 2016 election, and his questioning of the very U.S. intelligence reports about those hacks has — despite an unconvincing attempt at a retraction on Tuesday — added grave damage to what Russia has already wrought.
Trump's startling admission that he questioned the work of U.S. intelligence to a leader hostile to this country, that he was open to Putin's suggestion of a joint investigation and that both countries get blame, was not about "building a relationship" as Trump tried to justify afterwards. It was an admission on the world stage that our president does not believe in his own government or his people. This is even more alarming in the context of what Trump won't say – where his financial interests lie, and how they might be connected to Russia.
This behavior requires strong action.
First, Congress should consider an official censure of the president.
A censure – of which there have been few precedents – would be a bipartisan official statement condemning the president's behavior.
The last successfully passed censure resolution was by the Senate, of Andrew Jackson in 1834, although there have been unsuccessful attempts to censure other presidents, including Trump.
A censure of the president's behavior in Helsinki would be a relatively simple way for a paralyzed partisan Congress to come together to reiterate the values of democracy — and to remember it has the ability to act.
Normally, an act of censure could be criticized for having little practical impact. But in the case of Trump, the impact would be enormous. Becoming the first American president to be censured by Congress in nearly two centuries would be a blow to the president's prestige and ego. As a result, there's a slight chance it could accomplish what so far has provide futile: Compel the 45th president to do a better job.
Further, Congress has legislative options it should consider; they include increasing sanctions against Russia, protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired, and strengthening voting laws and protections.
Citizens can act by insisting that their congressional representatives take this seriously.
Our democracy is more than 200 years old. We'd like to believe that 18 months under a single leader could not unravel it completely. As Putin and others know, it doesn't have to unravel overnight; it just has to start coming apart, bit by bit by bit. That happens when we stop fighting for it, or staying silent when we see it compromised, especially by its leader.