When former President Donald Trump was asked during his CNN town hall on Wednesday who he thought would win the war between Russia and Ukraine, he replied, “I want everybody to stop dying. They’re dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.”
Trump seemed to suggest a negotiated peace and described how he would pursue just that by meeting with the presidents of both countries.
But interviewer Kaitlin Collins seemed less concerned with that, and instead asked repeatedly, “But you won’t say you want Ukraine to win this war?” Trump responded by saying, “I want Europe to put up more money.”
Trump wouldn’t pick a clear side. In her line of questioning, it seemed important to Collins—and presumably to CNN—that Trump clearly delineate who was the “bad guy” and who was the “good guy” in the ongoing conflict.
Yet he never did it. The closest Trump got was saying it was a mistake for Russia’s Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.
— Kelley Paul (@KelleyAshbyPaul) May 11, 2023
This is not to say there are no good or bad guys in this war. Russia clearly invaded Ukraine. But that’s not the point. A statesman cannot afford to treat foreign policy like a wrestling match. Trump, for all his faults, appeared to be taking the statesman’s route on this issue.
In real life, mature adults who have an issue might resolve it themselves or maybe have a day in court. It may or may not be a morality play, but defining good and evil might be irrelevant to finding solutions.
In professional wrestling, which is not supposed to be real life, there’s a good guy and a bad guy who appear to beat each other up. The good guy is supposed to win and fans are supposed to cheer.
But it’s fantasy. Yet, this is how CNN was eager to frame the Ukraine conflict during their own Trump-a-mania.
‘You don’t want Ukraine to win?’ isn’t much different from ‘You don’t want the U.S. to win in Vietnam?’ It’s too simple a question that’s too complicated to answer honestly. What would “winning” in Ukraine look like? At what cost? What would it have looked like in Vietnam, where the U.S. clearly lost? (At such a cost.)
This simplemindedness wasn’t limited to Collins and Trump.
During the post-interview analysis, Republican Congressman Byron Donalds accused CNN contributor Van Jones of misinterpreting Trump by portraying the former president as wanting to hand over Ukraine to Putin.
The same network that claimed Trump was a Russian spy is the same network that said tonight that Trump wants to "hand over Ukraine to Russia."
This is irresponsible, and I'm glad I could correct the record. pic.twitter.com/UpVis0hJdE
— Byron Donalds (@ByronDonalds) May 11, 2023
“With respect to Ukraine, I totally disagree,” Donalds said to Jones. “He did not say he was just going to give over Ukraine in the way you intimate, Van.”
Jones responded, “He did not say he would favor a Ukraine victory.”
Like Collins, Jones apparently needed to hear who Trump thought was the clear good guy and bad guy. Still, as Donalds rightly noted, that’s not what Trump said. That’s what Jones heard.
This is by no means a phenomenon unique to CNN.
In early April, 60 Minutes Lesley Stahl interviewed Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene who explained that she didn’t believe the U.S. should fight a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine.
Greene asked Stahl why it was controversial for the U.S. to push for a peace deal.
Stahl replied, “The Russians will be rewarded with territory for invading a country.”
In other words, the bad guys can’t win. That was Stahl’s argument.
“Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States,” Greene replied. Stahl went straight back to wrestling, “No, but is it right to let him attack another country that’s not at war with them?…”
“It’s not about right and wrong,” Greene declared.
“Why isn’t it about right and wrong?” Stahl whispered as Greene spoke.
There is a lot right and wrong about the Ukraine conflict, but for anyone possibly in a position to help end it, it’s probably not wise to pick sides.
That’s what Trump didn’t do Wednesday.
The former president posited in his own way that the likeliest way this war ends is by being realistic about what can be achieved diplomatically and what can’t. He wants people to stop dying.
CNN wants its wrestling match.