What’s Up With Trump and Putin?

The big story right now is the extent to which Russia and Vladimir Putin involved themselves in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win. The president-elect is doing his usual spin job on the news, with his most recent lie being that the topic didn’t come up during the campaign. For anyone tempted to believe him, they’ll have to answer for this:

But for those who have legitimate questions about what actually happened, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First of all, during the entire primary and general election campaigns, we heard the word “rigged” a lot. As far as we know, that is not what Russia did. While there were concerns about a possible attempt to hack voting systems, there is no evidence that happened. So when you hear things like this from Republicans, that is important to keep in mind.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it,” Mr. Trump said on Sunday in an interview on Fox News. Some top Republican congressmen have said the same, although with less bombastic language, arguing that there is no clear proof that the Russians tried to rig the election for Mr. Trump.

That is an attempt to divert the conversation from the evidence suggesting that Russia tried to influence the election in favor of Mr. Trump. More precisely, that Russia was involved in hacking emails at both the DNC and RNC – but only leaked those from the former.

While we don’t have access to all of the evidence collected by the CIA, what we have witnessed goes beyond what has been leaked to the press about their reports to members of Congress. First of all, we know that candidacies like Trump’s are something Russia has backed all across Europe.

Across Europe, we are seeing hyper-nationalist figures emerge with several common features. They demonize minorities, immigrants, and gays and lesbians, and express nostalgia for a simpler (read: less diverse, less democratic) time. They vilify conventional politicians as feckless and political opponents as traitors. They celebrate the crushing of dissent and flirt with violence. They play on nativist rejections of European unity, NATO, and other transnational projects that underpin the liberal international order and that have done so much in the last half-century to promote stability in Europe and lift hundreds of millions out of poverty worldwide…

The standard-bearer and patron of this phenomenon is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has paired his brand of hyper-macho contempt for liberalism with active support for radical parties in Europe.

We also watched several stories unfold during the campaign that pointed to a connection between Trump and Putin.

To understand what is happening here, it is important to reject the old Cold War frame about a contest between capitalism and communism. Russia has long since ceased to be a country built on the teachings of Karl Marx and has evolved into a right wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy. As Jonathan Chait pointed out a while ago, the neocon movement in the Republican Party has been impressed with Russian authoritarianism for a while now.

Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders’ consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”

It is important to keep all that in mind when reading what Steve Coll wrote about the man Trump seems likely to tap as the next Sec. of State.

The goal of ExxonMobil’s independent foreign policy has been to promote a world that is good for oil and gas production. Because oil projects require huge amounts of capital and only pay off fully over decades, Tillerson has favored doing business in countries that offer political stability, even if this stability was achieved through authoritarian rule.

On Fox News yesterday, Trump said that Tillerson’s ties to Russia are a “great advantage.”

Trump said he values Tillerson’s ties to Russia – which the CIA has blamed for interfering with the US election to propel Trump to the White House.

“To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well,” Trump said. “He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company — not for himself — for the company.”

This is all part of the huge con job these guys are trying to pull off. They convinced a lot of Americans that they are a populist movement on behalf of the American worker when in reality it is all about an attempt to improve the fortunes on the very global elite they rail against. If ties to Putin and his brand of authoritarianism are part of the bargain…that’s a “great advantage.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.