Here’s a poll out today:
Um, wow…— Will Jordan (@williamjordann) December 14, 2016
Net favorability of Putin:
July 2014: -54
Dec 2016: -62
July 2014: -66
Dec 2016: -10
The numbers on that poll are so inscrutable that they had our favorite political podcaster, Jon Favreau, asking:
Serious question for Republicans: what's going on here? https://t.co/ynBA6GLeyA— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) December 14, 2016
What is going on here?
Let me venture a guess, besides the obvious, that more Republicans favor (or don’t disfavor as much) Russia because the candidate they voted for has expressed an interest in strengthening ties between the two countries and has also repeatedly stated that Vladmir Putin is a better, stronger leader than our current President. In other words, Republicans trust the man they voted for, ergo they trust his alliances. Meanwhile, Democrats dislike Putin even more than they did in 2014 because the candidate they voted against favors Russia.
That’s the partisan explanation.
But ask any Republican or Democrat on the street why it is we’re supposed to hate Russia so much, and I doubt many could offer a substantive reason. We had a 30-year Cold War with the former Soviet Union, so we dislike them out of habit, right? Or because Russians are always depicted as villains in Hollywood movies. Or because establishment politicians have been telling us that the Russians are bad for as long as we’ve been alive.
But Donald Trump offers a different perspective: What if they’re not so bad? Why should we accept that the Russians are bad based on the word of career politicians?
The ideas that a lot of people still have about Russia date back to the Soviet Union, and the average American doesn’t really understand what’s happening in Russia today, or why they’re still an enemy to the United States. Or why we should continue to hate them.
Politicians will say that it’s because Russia opposes a free press. It opposes democracy. It opposes capitalism. But those are just words. Ideals. What does that mean in practice? Well, it means that Russia has killed over 200 journalists in the last 20 years. It means that conditions are created in which the citizenry feels it has no choice but to vote for Putin, who has served as President since 2000, despite term limits which should have ended his Presidency in 2008. It also means that free competition — a bedrock principle among Republicans — does not exist. Putin and his circle can and do choose who they want to be wealthy, and those who oppose them find themselves on the wrong side of prison bars (in 2014, for instance, a wealthy Russian business man was imprisoned for 3 months, and when he came out, he no longer owned his oil company).
But if Putin is so bad, how does he get away with it? Why hasn’t there been an uprising? Why hasn’t he been tossed out of office? Well, there’s vote rigging, for one. There’s also the media’s inability to speak against him without fear of imprisonment or murder, for another.
More troubling is the fact that despite vote rigging and rampant corruption, Putin does remain relatively popular within Russia. Why? One way was to curry favor with the Russian oligarchs — or the equivalent of their wealthy CEOs — when he went into office by allowing them to maintain their control in exchange for their approval. He also does it by maintaining a “law and order” image. He does it by quelling protests, and he does it by starting wars.
Indeed, things were good for Putin and Russia through much of his presidency, but when the price in oil dropped, so did Russian prosperity. This should have resulted in lower approval ratings for Putin, who hasn’t been able to diversify the economy. However, he’s managed to prop his popularity up the way so many countries — including our own — often do when confronted with growing disapproval: By starting a war. Or two wars. Or three. He’s maintained his popularity by whipping up a nationalistic fever.
The biggest threat to Putin’s reign over Russian remains the United States, but not because of our nuclear capabilities. Putin doesn’t want Western ideals to seep into Russia, because he doesn’t want Russians ever to get the idea that other countries might have it better. Democracy in the United States has always remained a thorn in the side of Putin. If Russians get the idea that there’s something better out there than Putin, unrest may threaten to sink him. That’s why he has waged his cyberattacks on America. That’s why he wanted Donald Trump to win, because the idea of a more modern state — that Putin can’t afford — begins to look less appealing when there is there is corruption in America, and when there are accusations of vote rigging. Right now, corruption and vote rigging is the talk of the town in the United States. Right now, we don’t look that appealing to the rest of the world.
In other words, it worked. And to a degree, that would have been true whether Trump or Clinton won, because the Russians were able to frame our democracy as vulnerable and corrupt.
What’s even more worrisome is the thought that Trump might attempt to duplicate Putin’s strategy here in America, and the way he has pieced together his cabinet isn’t comforting. He’s appointing billionaire CEOs to curry favor with America’s corporate oligarchy. By appealing to their interests and by promising them that their wealth will not be disturbed, he neutralizes the most powerful force in American politics today: Money. And if a Zuckerberg or a Sergey Brin steps out of line, maybe criminal charges against them suddenly materialize, and maybe after three months in jail, they’re no longer in control of their companies.
Trump is also surrounding himself with Generals, and not just any Generals, but Muslim-hating generals. Why is that such a concern?
Here’s an excerpt from a Michael Moore letter titled, “Donald Trump Is Going to Get Us Killed”:
My fellow Americans, when the next terrorist attack happens — and it will happen, we all know that — and after the tragedy is over, amidst the death and destruction that might have been prevented, you will see Donald Trump acting quickly to blame everyone but himself. He will suspend constitutional rights. He will round up anyone he deems a threat. He will declare war, and his Republican Congress will back him.
There’s your nationalistic fervor, right there. Suddenly, our Constitutional rights are being eroded while Donald Trump’s approval ratings rise. And if those approval ratings start to sag? We just wait until another terrorist attack, until Trump uses his cabinet of Muslim-hating generals to start another war, and his cabinet of CEOs from oil, gas and defense companies to ensure oil, gas and defense companies benefit from that war. Meanwhile, the Cabinet members chosen to actively dismantle the government leave Trump ever-more powerful.
The one percent will continue to thrive. Maybe some of that prosperity even trickles down into the professional class, but it will be the working class that pays for the war, that will send their sons and daughters to fight these wars, that will continue to sacrifice for the benefit of the wealthy.
This is why Russia is dangerous. This is why Russia is bad.
Some people will be OK with this. A lot of wealthy people who stand to gain even more, for one. And people who hate all Muslims for another. But I know that the great majority of Americans — and a large number of Republicans — don’t want to find us in another war, don’t want to see Muslims rounded up, don’t want the right of a free press infringed, and don’t want to have our choice for who to vote for in the next Presidential election taken away from us.
Republicans and Democrats have been swapping the White House for as long as any of us have known, and that’s OK. We win some. We lose some. The country continues to thrive and survive. But a political alliance with Russia threatens to end that and put all the power in the hands of a few. No one — neither Democrat nor Republican — wants that. Maybe other Democrats and I are being unnecessarily alarmist. Maybe we’re reading something into the situation that doesn’t exist. I hope so, I really do. But to be safe, we should all resist aligning ourselves with Putin and voice our dissent with Donald Trump over those alliances. You can still support the man you voted for without supporting any efforts to link ourselves with Russia. You can draw a line. I promise if I were in the same shoes, I would do the same.