The United States has eight days to figure out how to avoid making Vladimir Putin the de facto President of the United States.
Back in the days of the Cold War, it was a staple of far-right conservative paranoia that The Russians (i.e., the Soviets) were intent on taking over the United States. From the McCarthy witch hunts to the idiot-fantasy Red Dawn, the Ruskies – who hated our freedoms and coveted our precious bodily fluids – wanted nothing less than to take over the US so as to destroy Our Way Of Life.
These fears were used to destroy lives, but the targets, it turns out, were entirely misplaced. Even in the McCarthy Era, the US itself was busy showing how modern takeovers of foreign countries were done. Old-fashioned conquest and colonialism was dead. It turned out to be far more efficient to identify some willing local financial or military elite, promote him to dictator, and let him and his cronies do your dirty work and suppress the locals for you in exchange for unimaginable wealth. For 70 years and counting, in countries around the world, that’s what US-backed dictators and elected would-be dictators have eagerly signed up to do.
Enter Donald Trump, and the unsurprising irony that when Russia really did take over the US, it used the American colonial model and the eager dupes of modern Bircherism to do it.
Friday’s Washington Post report that US intelligence agencies have conclusively agreed that Putin and Russia acted this year not only to interfere in the US election, but to do so to get Donald Trump elected president, sounds worse than it is politically. The CIA’s case can’t be conclusively proven, as Trump’s allies would simply accuse it of inventing the evidence. Trump can’t be impeached for crimes committed by others in his name before he was even elected, even if his own party (which controls the Congressional impeachment process) were inclined to do so. And he can’t be charged criminally while in office. As such, he’ll likely pay no real price for these revelations and can afford to blow them off (as he’s already done). And any Trump revelations, no matter how damaging, are simply not believed by his faith-based fans.
But in the broader picture, the CIA story is far, far worse than it sounds. The same circumstantial evidence trail that concludes that Russia wanted Trump in office doesn’t stop with Inauguration Day. If, for the sake of argument, I’m Vladimir Putin and I want the US neutered globally and destroyed domestically, Trump – as a wealthy, egomaniacal yet wholly inexperienced local elite with no real loyalties – is nearly the ideal of the US’s own preferred model of puppet dictators, non-military version. So I get people to stroke his ego and I send him Paul Manafort and other top US allies I’ve worked with before, and soon he’s nodding his head like the pliant narcissist I knew he’d be.
And now that Trump has actually won, it’s hard so far to find a single Trump appointment I wouldn’t have suggested. His – my – US national security team is poised to be composed entirely of retired generals who are various combinations of Russian allies, ideological fringe players, and incompetents, few of which have any relevant experience. Taken as a whole, they’re perfectly suited to unwittingly destroying US alliances, bogging the US down in petty local wars, and letting my Russia do whatever it likes.
Domestically? If I were Putin and wanted to engineer domestic American collapse- and the European economy with it – I’d go for fringe ideologues, people who have no relevant experience, and billionaires. That covers the entire domestic Trump team. At least three of Trump’s nominees virulently oppose the entire mission of the department they’re being hired to
destroy lead; the economy is in the hands of people with gold-plated jets; housing and the cities are being given to a dude who thinks the pyramids were used to store grain; and none of them have ever managed an organization anywhere the size of the department they’ve been picked to head.
All of them, starting with my lead puppet in the White House, are genetically wired to brook no dissent. And those RNC hacks that were never released? The RNC does opposition research on their own people, too, and most of the RNC’s leadership was strongly opposed to Trump. My pliant Dear Leader knows that if he doesn’t follow orders, his tax returns or mob connections or the video I have of him and that nice Russian 13-year-old, or all three, will be sent out on his Twitter account instantly.
For a brilliant ex-KGB man like Vladimir Putin, putting together this sort of dream scenario is the equivalent of a parlor game, something to amuse and distract him from the more serious problems of his position. I doubt he ever thought he’d get to actually do all this. But here we are.
Is this all an intentional Russian plot? Who knows? Maybe Donald Trump really is just that arrogant and stupid. But honestly – does it matter? The fact that the question can even plausibly be asked is bad enough. The outcome is the same regardless.
Putin has Trump’s nuts in a vice or he doesn’t. We can’t know that part until he cracks them open, and by then it’s much, much too late. Either way, the American experiment with democracy may not survive. Either way, a hell of a lot of Americans will not ourselves survive the ideologically-driven Dickensian nightmare being lined up as you read this.
In the dozens of smaller countries where the US has backed or installed authoritarian leaders over the past several decades, it’s consistently been hard for the locals to oust those leaders. The suffering often lasts for generations. There’s a reason the US and other former colonial powers (including, now, Russia among its former republics) have all embraced this model. It works.
And now, the US is in such an unfamiliar position, receiving what for generations it has dished out, that only now is even a portion of our political establishment realizing the scope of the danger. We now have eight days to prevent Vladimir Putin from essentially becoming our Commander in Chief. After that, the remedies – starting with President Pence – get much more difficult and problematic, and the domestic death toll of vulnerable and poor starts to mount. The United States is facing an existential threat, and not only doesn’t know it, but is seeing it implemented by the spiritual descendants of the same people who used to worry so much about it.
Hyperbolic? I sure hope so.
But right now, five weeks into life with Donald Trump as incoming President of the United States, I’m not seeing any other theory that explains Trump’s actions and decisions nearly so well. And every day is bringing fresh evidence that whether or not President Trump is a Putin pawn, the chaos and suffering that is about to be unleashed on so many of us is real. Trump and his team are real, radical, and they will soon have very few real checks on their power.
Putin’s laughing, and benefiting, whether he’s responsible or not. It’ll be just as bad regardless.