In Helsinki, Trump misses an opportunity to market America

Dickerson on power of presidential diplomacy

"CBS This Morning" co-host John Dickerson shares his thoughts on the big stories of the week in our series Reporter's Notebook.  

Candidate Donald Trump promised that he'd be a cheerleader for America. He built his career as a marketer and as president, he's shown that marketing moxie.

In England, he found a way to mention his Scottish golf course in an interview, in a press conference and on Twitter. But in Helsinki, Donald Trump, the marketer of America, didn't show.

Presidents often use international moments to wear the sandwich board of America. At his 1987 summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, President Ronald Reagan said, "On the table will be not only arms reduction but also human rights issues about which the American people and their government are deeply committed."

When liberty and freedom are threatened, American presidents show solidarity. At a 1963 speech in West Berlin, John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed, "As a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'"

In Helsinki, the world was watching. The Trump administration says that Russians are actively trying to undermine democracies and Russia spreads the view that the most powerful democracy, America, is not special, but simply self-interested and grubby like all the rest.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, took a crack at what a cheerleading rebuttal might sound like when he said, "We believe that 7.5 billion people across the globe are created with dignity, that they have the rights to free speech and assembly and press and religion and protest."

President Trump instead said both countries were to blame for bad relations. Asked to broker a dispute between American intelligence and Vladimir Putin, he said he had confidence in both.

Days before, the president had confronted NATO leaders in public, but in Helsinki he wanted no confrontation with Russia over actions past or present – or even the mild abrasions that might come from cheerleading freedom and liberty.