Monday, July 25, 2016

Trump, Putin, and the anti-American left

Donald Trump at a campaign rally, Syracuse, New York, April 16, 2016; Vladimir Putin at a meeting with journalists, Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2016
Carlo Allegri/Reuters; Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

...What is the relationship between Trump and Russia? That Russia is pulling for Trump is at this point beyond any dispute. The Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel RT and Russia’s army of Twitter trolls, as well as Russia’s internal propaganda, have all thrown themselves behind the Republican candidate. A series of reports (here, here, and here) have shown that Russia backed the operation to hack the DNC. 

Adrien Chen, who reported last summer on Russia’s army of internet trolls that spreads disinformation abroad, noted in December that the trolls he was tracking had begun posing as pro-Trump conservatives.

It is the other half of the equation that is more opaque. Putin is helping Trump, but what exactly is Trump giving him in return? As Foer notes, Trump’s habit of refusing to pay back people who loan him money means regular American banks won’t lend him money anymore, making him dependent on unusual sources of financing. He has cultivated deep personal and financial ties with Russia — and to do major business with Russia, unlike a reasonably free economy, is to do business with its ruling claque. 

Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, helped orchestrate Putin’s intervention in Ukraine. His Russia adviser Carter Page has deep ties to Russia and owns stock in Gazprom, the state-controlled firm that is a major source of the Kremlin’s financial and economic power. Michael Flynn, another Trump adviser, appears regularly on RT and refused to answer questions about whether he is paid to do so. Trump and Putin have exchanged lavish compliments.

Trump’s own financial ties to Russia are completely non-transparent and will remain so as long as he refuses to release his tax returns. With a normal candidate, the Russia connection would amount to a massive, disqualifying scandal. At minimum, the nominee would face overwhelming pressure to release his tax return — a standard requirement even without grounds for suspicion — to prove he is not getting paid by a hostile foreign power...

The American far left during Truman’s era, just like today, was not pro-Russia so much as it was anti-anti-Russia, and follows identical themes: Criticism of Russia’s domestic repression or aggressive foreign policy is merely a ploy to distract from and excuse America’s own failings, and provides dangerous support for American aggression, which could lead to war. 

So, just as the left of the '40s and '50s saw anti-Stalinism as an excuse for Jim Crow, a Glenn Greenwald today casts Russia’s human-rights record in an implausibly favorable light, and reflexively dismisses any contrary view as simple hypocrisy. When Russia menaces Ukraine, The Nation informs its audience that this is perfectly justifiable because Ukraine is not really a country at all...

Timothy Snyder in the New York Review of Books:

...President Putin, who is an intelligent and penetrating judge of men, especially men with masculinity issues, has quickly drawn the correct conclusion. In the past he has done well for himself by recruiting among politicians who exhibit greater vanity than decency, such as Silvio Berlusconi and Gerhard Schröder. 

The premise of Russian foreign policy to the West is that the rule of law is one big joke; the practice of Russian foreign policy is to find prominent people in the West who agree. Moscow has found such people throughout Europe; until the rise of Trump the idea of an American who would volunteer to be a Kremlin client would have seemed unlikely. 

Trump represents an unprecedented standard of American servility, and should therefore be cultivated as a future Russian client. 

Trump correctly says that Putin respects strength. But of course Putin prefers weakness, which is what Trump offers. 

As Putin understands perfectly well, the president of the United States has standing in Russia, and enjoys far superior power to the president of Russia, only insofar as he or she mobilizes the moral and political resources of a rule-of-law state. 

It is precisely Trump’s pose of strength that reveals his crucial vulnerability. As anyone familiar with Russian politics understands, an American president who shuns alliances with fellow democracies, praises dictators, and prefers “deals” to the rule of law would be a very easy mark in Moscow. It is unclear how much money Trump has, but it is not enough to matter in Russia. If he keeps up his pose as the tough billionaire, he will be flattered by the Russian media, scorned by those who matter in Russia, and then easily crushed by men far richer and smarter than he.

Putin has been accordingly circumspect in his return of Trump’s wooing. For him Trump is a small man who might gain great power. The trick is to manipulate the small man and thereby neutralize the great power...

See also Why Putin hates Hillary.

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