Credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr

Last week conservative columnist Bret Stephens said something that, in light of yesterday’s events, is worth re-visiting.

Donald Trump does not believe in the liberal international order that the United States created in the wake of World War II, and we sustained over all of these generations…I don’t think Donald Trump believes in liberal values as you and I, understand. I don’t mean liberal in the progressive left wing sense. I mean liberal as in free speech, pluralism, democracy, civil rights, and so on. He believes in something much closer to what Putin calls Sovereign Democracy, Nationalism, Protectionism…

The ideological affinity between Putin and Trump is actually rather strong. I mean, we’ll find out what Bob Mueller has to say about collusion on a tactical level, but the real collusion is ideological.

I don’t know or care whether Stephens was saying that to be dismissive of what he calls “collusion on a tactical level,” which is what Robert Mueller is investigating. The assertion that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin share an ideological affinity might be even more damning for this president.

When Stephens uses nationalism and protectionism to describe Trump’s beliefs, that is nothing new. But what is sovereign democracy? Apparently it is a term coined by Vladislav Surkov in 2006 as part of an intense public relations effort in Russia just prior to the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg. Here is what Masha Lipman wrote about it at the time:

The reality, not obscured by the PR, is that the Russian government has resorted recently to police practices strongly reminiscent of those used some three decades ago in the Soviet Union.

On the public relations side, one of the most influential Kremlin aides, Vladislav Surkov, met with Western journalists to explain that Russian “sovereign democracy” is not much different from democratic practices of the Western countries. “Sovereign democracy” is a Kremlin coinage that conveys two messages: first, that Russia’s regime is democratic and, second, that this claim must be accepted, period. Any attempt at verification will be regarded as unfriendly and as meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs.

Because it has such deep roots in white supremacy in this country, I always pay attention to the use of the word sovereign. That’s why I noticed that Trump used it at least 25 times during his speech to the United Nations last fall.

The word’s popularity with white supremacists stems from the old “states rights” argument during the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. It”s pretty similar to the tea party’s “don’t tread on me” slogan,” or a “FU” to any government attempts to change “the established social order” as determined by the confederacy.

The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries…

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

Putin’s idea of sovereignty aligns with his goals in the so-called “Trump operation” as defined in the Steele dossier.

[The Trump operation’s] aim was to sow discord and disunity within the U.S. itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance which was viewed as inimical to Russia’s interests. Source C, a senior Russian financial official, said the Trump operation should be seen in terms of Putin’s desire to return to Nineteenth Century “Great Power” politics anchored upon country’s interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War II.

If you tie that to what Lipman wrote about “sovereign democracy,” Putin is basically saying “don’t tread on me” while I use the term “democracy” and run an autocratic police state.

Let’s go back to what Stephens said last week. He suggested that Donald Trump doesn’t believe in all of the things we hold dear in this country, like “free speech, pluralism, democracy, civil rights, and so on.” Instead, he has an ideological affinity for Putin’s sovereign democracy—meaning an autocratic police state. That explains why Trump not only idealizes Vladimir Putin, but wants his people to sit up and pay attention the way they do with Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and thinks Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan does things the right way.

None of this is meant to deny the obvious conclusion that Donald Trump is, indeed, a puppet of Vladimir Putin. Instead, I think that Heather Digby Parton made a good point after yesterday’s press conference with Trump and Putin.

That is similar to something Josh Marshall wrote after the G8 summit last month.

[Trump’s] doing all the stuff he’d have been asked to do if such a corrupt bargain had been made. At a certain point – and I’d say we’re clearly at or past that point – it really doesn’t matter whether we can prove such a bargain was made. I’m not even sure it matters whether it was explicit or even happened. The bank robber helped the teller get the job and now the teller just won’t seem to lock the safe or even turn on the alarm. We can debate forever whether the teller is just absent-minded or has some odd philosophical aversion toward locks. The debate may be unresolvable. It truly doesn’t matter.

In that analogy, Putin is the bank robber and Trump is the teller who seems to have a “philosophical aversion to locks.” In other words, he doesn’t share our traditional American values, but agrees with the bank robber when it comes to being an ideological autocrat.

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