One of the stranger subplots of the 2016 presidential campaign has been the repeated surfacing of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. The Republican nominee, #Donald Trump is an avowed admirer of Putin, and the feeling appears to be mutual. The connections have been well-established: Trump said in an interview that he wouldn’t necessarily defend NATO allies from Russian attack, openly stated that he wants Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, and his advisor, Paul Manafort, has advised numerous tyrants around the world, including Putin-allied former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Which is to say nothing of the Republican platform being edited to remove language related to the defense of Ukraine or that hack of the DNC emails that has been attributed to “Russian government hackers,” according to the Washington Post. These troubling facts have been documented extensively by several left-of-center journalists, led by Franklin Foer of Slate and Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo.
But there’s also been something of a groundswell from the left of late, objecting to the insinuations of Trump/Putin collaboration, assigning such Cold War-era terms as “McCarthyism” and “red-baiting.” “Accusing critics of Kremlin allegiance,” Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept, “has a long, ugly, history [in] the U.S.” Even the left-of-Hillary presidential candidate, the Green Party’s Jill Stein, recently broke bread with Putin at a dinner honoring RT, the Kremlin-owned TV network which pushes a generally left-of-the-Democrats line in the U.S.
There’s nothing liberal about Putin
This is a bunch of nonsense, for a couple of simple reasons: One, 21st Century Russia is not the Soviet Union, and Vladimir Putin is not a communist. Despite his KGB pedigree, Putin’s ideology is somewhat amorphous and has been throughout his career. He’s essentially an authoritarian who has built an ideology out of all of the worst aspects of both capitalism and communism, while at the same time doing much to undermine democratic progress.
There are many things to criticize Putin for, from his interference in U.S. elections to his vicious persecution of LGBT people to his having invaded Crimea. All of these things are perfectly valid targets of criticism, and any American, left or right, who defends any of it deserves to be criticized as well- and it’s not “McCarthyism” or “red-baiting” to say so. To suggest such is to wildly misunderstand both politics and history.
Why one would be a Putin fan
Trump’s Putin fandom isn’t much of a surprise- Trump, as is the Russian president, is a wannabe authoritarian whose political style is focused on domination and macho bluster. Even before Trump began running, there’s been a lot of conservative love for Putin. He is “strong,” while Barack Obama is “weak,” mostly because Putin isn’t bound by the strictures of democracy or a constitutional system. The images of Putin riding shirtless on horseback, as if they weren’t a carefully conceived photo op, are put forward as proof of Putin’s virility, as opposed to Obama golfing or playing with a dog or whatever else- making Putin by far the most popular former KGB agent in history among GOPers. It’s just part of the loathsome tendency among some to reduce politics, along with sports and everything else, to who is and isn’t a “real man.”
Defenses of Putin on the right are curious. From the left, though? They’re inexplicable. There is simply no progressive defense of Vladimir Putin whatsoever. Is Donald Trump an “agent” of Vladimir Putin? No. But do they, at the very least, have a mutual admiration society? Undoubtedly. The biggest concern of all- for left, right and everyone else- should be Trump wanting to govern America the way Putin has Russia, and with Putin as his ally at the expense of existing alliances. And that should give pause to every American, across the political spectrum. #VladimirPutin #Election 2016