29 July 2016

The Siberian Candidate?

For what it's worth, I thought all along that Donald Trump was joking when he urged Russian hackers to find Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails, but many Americans fail to find Trump funny. Some of them found the Republican candidate's comments tantamount to treason. Added to suspicions of Russian involvement in the hack of the Democratic National Committee, this week has seen Trump's supposed affinity for Russia and its president come under greater scrutiny than ever. One writer suggests that, by the same standards that render the Clinton Foundation's ties to foreigners suspect, Trump's financial ties to Russia ought to raise concern, while another, more skeptical writer suggests that the Trump-Putin bromance may be somewhat one-sided. From the Russian perspective, a preference for Trump seems understandable, because the Obama administration (including erstwhile Secretary of State Clinton) has stubbornly opposed Russian hegemony in the country's "near abroad," while Trump is more likely disinterested in that part of the world. But any Russian preference for Trump is most likely tempered by questions, shared worldwide, about his stability and his capacity for consistency. Meanwhile, many Americans are less concerned about where Trump stands on Ukraine or the Balkans than about what his purported admiration for Putin says about his character and intentions as President. Since Putin is one of the world's leading "authoritarians," Trump must have an authoritarian streak if he admires Putin's leadership so much. I have no desire to see Trump become President, but I refuse to share the hysteria that portrays him as a nascent fascist. I don't dispute that he often comes across as a bully with his often-menacing language, e.g. his vaguely expressed impulse to "hit" certain speakers at the Democratic convention. But I think it more likely that politicians train themselves to eliminate that sort of common idiom from their rhetoric, while Trump simply echoes the millions of Americans who say they want to slap, smack, kick or even kill annoying people without ever doing so, simply to express their anger. His saltiness only enhances his insultingly paradoxical common-man appeal. If Trump admires Putin's strength, it's not because he has some ideology of strength, much less any intent to emulate Putin's treatment of opposition politicians and media. It's more obviously because he believes these times require a strength he finds lacking in conventional politicians, Democrat or Republican, but believes himself to possess without ever being tested by the requirements of statesmanship. Any invocation of strength, however, makes not only liberals but many American conservatives suspicious. Both groups, albeit at different times and under different circumstances, seem to fear the abuse of power more than they fear powerlessness, while many liberals also reject a world where strength can or should decide anything. Yet I think that if a President Trump tried any funny stuff with the Constitution these groups would show their strength readily enough, though I suspect with some sense of irony that the people usually most inclined to resist authority in this country would most likely end up as his enforcers, should the crisis come.

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