Trump Putin mural
Credit: Zio Fabio/Flickr

While couched in a whole series of other lies, even Donald Trump has admitted that Russia was behind the hacking of political campaigns/individuals during the 2016 election. Let that sink in for a moment. A president-elect has admitted that a foreign government interfered in a U.S. election in a way that benefited him. That fact alone is astonishing.

The only remaining question is whether or not Trump colluded with Russia in his attempt to win the presidency. Frankly, it is hard to imagine anything else he could say or do to prove the ties. Both Matthew Yglesias and Anne Applebaum suggest that what we already know about this partnership is bad enough. And both of those articles were written before Trump’s interview with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London. Trump basically affirmed everything Putin (and Steve Bannon) would want from his presidency.

  1. Saying NATO is obsolete
  2. Cheering the breakup of the EU
  3. Denigrating Angela Merkel for letting “all these illegals” into the country

Putin immediately expressed his gratitude.

Our European allies are obviously concerned.

European leaders said Monday that they may have to stand alone without the United States once Donald Trump enters office, raising the prospect of an unprecedented breach in transatlantic relations after Trump’s comments that the European Union is bound for a breakup and that NATO is obsolete.

In case you have trouble imagining how dangerous this is, I’d suggest that you spend time reading President Obama’s speech in Brussels about the danger of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Throughout human history, societies have grappled with fundamental questions of how to organize themselves, the proper relationship between the individual and the state, the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle — through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution — that a particular set of ideals began to emerge: The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding. And those ideas eventually inspired a band of colonialists across an ocean, and they wrote them into the founding documents that still guide America today, including the simple truth that all men — and women — are created equal.

But those ideals have also been tested — here in Europe and around the world. Those ideals have often been threatened by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign…

It is in response to this tragic history that, in the aftermath of World War II, America joined with Europe to reject the darker forces of the past and build a new architecture of peace. Workers and engineers gave life to the Marshall Plan. Sentinels stood vigilant in a NATO Alliance that would become the strongest the world has ever known. And across the Atlantic, we embraced a shared vision of Europe — a vision based on representative democracy, individual rights, and a belief that nations can meet the interests of their citizens through trade and open markets; a social safety net and respect for those of different faiths and backgrounds.

That last paragraph describes the Western alliance that Putin (and now Trump) are so determined to destabilize and disrupt.

Russia is no longer the communist enclave that was cast as an existential threat to capitalism during the Cold War. Previously I wrote that it is now a “right wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy.” But perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “plutocracy,” which is defined as a country governed by the wealthy. It is not only journalists and dissidents who have felt the wrath of Putin. In the 1990’s Russia sold off it’s previously nationalized industries and created a class of oligarchs. Apparently Vladimir Putin has reigned them in.

When Mr. Putin became acting president 15 years ago this month, Russia was an oligarchy — indeed the oligarchs, a small group of men who had grown very rich in the preceding decade, were instrumental in picking Putin out of obscurity and installing him at the helm. But within months, he made the oligarchs an offer they could not refuse: give up all of their political power and some of their wealth in exchange for safety, security and continued prosperity, or else be stripped of all power and assets.

While it is difficult to muster much empathy for someone that was once considered to be the richest man in Russia, Mikhail Khodorkovsky once funded opposition parties and found himself jailed in Siberia for crossing Putin. He has since been exiled and lives in Switzerland. So even the oligarchs in Russia serve at the pleasure of what Obama called the “all powerful sovereign.” It’s not hard to imagine how an arrangement like that would be appealing to Donald Trump.

That is why the comparison of this scandal to the nothingburger of Benghazi by people like Alex Shephard is so absurd, if not alarming. Our president-elect is playing his Putin card brazenly in a way that threatens the international norms that have been developed since World War II. The only things that stand in his way are the possibility of push-back from his own nominees and/or the specter of impeachment for collaborating with a foreign government to undermine our country’s interests. This the biggest political scandal of our lifetimes, possibly our country’s history.

That leaves us with just one question…the one Martin just asked: “Are Republicans really going to go along with this?” The future will not be kind to them if they do.

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