Ever since he held a beauty pageant in Russia, Trump has sought to cultivate a bromance with the head man in Moscow, musing about whether he would become his “new best friend”
and periodically cozying up when he should have been laying down the law.
Most recently Donald chatted with Vlad in a lengthy gabfest — Russia said it lasted 90 minutes
— that raised, once again, the question of whether Trump might actually want Russia to repeat the 2016 attack on the American election system because it may have helped him gain the Oval Office.
After his chat with Putin Friday,
Trump sounded like a lovesick teen as he said he just knew that the guy on the other end of the line was smiling as they discussed Russia’s attack on the 2016 election. According to Trump, Putin “sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started up as a mountain and ended up as a mouse.”
Trump said that he didn’t mention
anything about Russia targeting the 2020 election, although his own director of national intelligence says an attack is expected.
He touched lightly on Russia’s current meddling in Venezuela and didn’t mention Putin’s efforts to gain influence in the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula. After hanging up, he tweeted
, “Tremendous potential for a good/great relationship with Russia…Nice!” You’d almost think he wants Putin’s help, going into the 2020 campaign.
Although it is alarming to see an American president dominated by a Russian leader in the way Trump is being played by Putin, no mystery obscures this relationship. The Russian president, a ruthless, KGB- trained
autocrat, understands Trump’s game because he has played it himself, at a higher level, for decades. And surely, he recognizes in Trump much that is familiar. What they have in common, beside the need to deny Russia’s interference in American democracy, includes:
— Trump and Putin both want to be beautiful men. Vladimir works out
so he can be photographed in manly shirtless splendor or filmed playing hockey. Trump’s herculean hairstyling efforts and orangey glow reveal an obsession with looking young.
— Despite never drawing a big salary, his critics maintain that Putin has become one of the richest men on earth.
Though he may be far less wealthy, Trump has been more open about his wealth obsession,
devoting enormous effort across many decades to the pursuit of riches and to burnishing his image as a billionaire.
3.) Lack of conscience
— Trump’s vile talk has divided the country and created a mood of distrust. Under his immigration policy, children have died and families have been ripped apart.
This record pales in comparison to Putin’s brutal reign, which has seen allegations of political assassinations
, which Putin has called “ungrounded,”
but the record suggests a common sensibility. )
4.) A penchant for lying
— As the Rand Corporation warned in 2016 report, Putin’s government uses a “firehose of falsehood”
technique to overwhelm efforts to debunk its lies. Invariably some of the misinformation is accepted as truth. That Trump practices this lie-a-minute technique is confirmed by the fact-checkers at the Washington Post, who report Trump has issued more than 10,000 false or misleading statements
— Putin favors massively wealthy Russian oligarchs
who, in turn, use their money and influence to benefit him. This includes creating enterprises like the Internet Research Agency
, which carried out internet attacks on the 2016 election. Trump’s massive tax cut
benefited people at the top
far more than others. Not surprisingly, rich political donors
who snubbed him in the past are now funding his re-election campaign.
The big differences between the men fall into two categories. The first group can be listed under the heading of “perspective.” The second could be gathered under the term “competence.” In both, Putin holds a distinct advantage.
The Russian President’s perspective is well-informed and oriented toward the long term. During his rise through the ranks in the KGB agent, his years in St. Petersburg. and his dominance in Moscow he showed a keen eye for how power is gained and used across Russian society and around the world. He recognized that the appearance of control can be almost as valuable as possessing it, and gradually made others believe his authority was even greater than it was, in fact.
At home and internationally, he saw opportunities to expand his influence — usurping the US in Syria for example — and moved swiftly to capitalize on these openings
. Along the way he played up the notion that he was restoring his country’s place as a world leader, thereby appealing to Russians’ patriotism.
While a younger Putin was studying Russia, the world, and the dynamics of power, Donald Trump spent his time in the pursuit of his own wealth and fame. Ignorant of history, science, and even how the government works (he thinks he can fight impeachment in the courts
). Trump’s perspective rarely considers much outside of his own personal interest. His politics and policies revolve around short-term concern for his core supporters and their loyalty to him.
Putin’s advantage when it comes to competence is far more important than the edge he gets from his broader perspective. In helping Trump win the 2016 election he made himself the arbiter of Trump’s legitimacy and may have planted in the President’s mind twin fears.
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One is Trump’s fear of being unmasked as a fraud. The other is his fear that he cannot win on his own. Now that Putin holds the keys to Trump’s self-image, he can count on him to dance to a Russian tune. American experts warn of Russian cyber-aggression. Trump accepts and repeats Putin’s denials, including his claim that he isn’t involved in Venezuela’s current political crisis. Two days after Trump and Putin spoke, the foreign ministers of Russia and Venezuela met in Moscow.
With Trump under his thumb, Putin is free to cause whatever mischief he wants and to rearrange the geopolitical game — siding with China, embracing North Korea, influencing South America — without fear of being checked. For 2020, the Trump campaign slogan might as well be Make Russia Great Again.