On numerous occasions I have written about why connecting Trump to Putin is not only a stupid idea, but one which ultimately benefits both Trump and the Russian propaganda machine. Apart from the fact that Trump and Putin couldn’t possibly “get along” if the former were elected (perish the thought),this strategy seems to have been tried with Brexit and look how that worked out. And despite the fact that I’m by no means the only person pointing this out, it appears that the Chicken Littles are doubling down on the Trump-as-agent-of-Putin angle. So much so that now Trump is Putin.
If you’re looking for a sane voice debunking that particular article, I would recommend this one. I am not looking to debunk this idiotic theory anymore, because doing so doesn’t seem to be making much of an impact. Instead, I’m going to do something that many of these pundits are incapable of doing- empathizing with the sort of people who might be swayed by Trump and Russian propaganda. See, I know how the world looks through the eyes of a Kremlin supporter duped by propaganda and living in America because…well…over a decade ago I was one.
Before I can go on to explain the way many of these people see the world I must point out a key difference between them and myself back then. I was “self-radicalized” in the era before RT. You couldn’t really be passively exposed to Russian propaganda back then. This distinction is crucial because I had a personal interest in Russia pre-dating the Putin administration whereas much of the Kremlin’s target foreign audience today knows nothing about Russia and doesn’t care to know. As such, any focus on Russia is lost on them. These people are concerned about domestic issues.
That out of the way, let me tell you how your average populist responds to hysterical wailing about Trump being friendly with Putin. In the fantasy world inhabited by many pundits, people are supposed to read about these real or imagined (or distorted) connections and think: “What’s that? Trump is friendly towards Vladimir Putin?! Well that’s it! Hillary’s got my vote now!” In real life the reaction is something more like: “Well this Putin guy must be pretty good if the politicians I hate seem so upset about him and he likes Trump.”
From the other side of the pond, the goal of Russian propaganda has long been about promoting Russia’s image as some kind of alternative to the “globalized, neoliberal order,” the “establishment.” It really doesn’t matter what your political ideology is. Many neo-Nazis are convinced that Putin is fighting against the “Jewish-controlled New World Order.” Leftists are duped into believing that Putin represents an alternative to free-market “neoliberal” economics and the austerity that followed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Whatever you see as “the establishment,” Russia wants to portray itself as the exact opposite of that. That this image is total bullshit is really irrelevant. Only a tiny portion of this audience will ever actually visit Russia and it is unlikely they’ll discover the truth from their trip thanks to the language barrier and expat privilege.
Trump is playing a similar game, and it’s amazing that the punditry still hasn’t figured it out yet. This is the same thing teenagers do when they’re rebelling against teachers or their own parents. Whatever shocks the adults the most is “cool.” In Trump’s case, he’s been playing this game against two sides. First you have the Obama administration and his opponent, Hillary. On the other side he’s been waging war against the stagnant, traditional side of his own party. If you look at the policies of all these sides, it isn’t hard to understand where Trump’s Russia strategy is coming from.
For an example let us go back to the election of 2012. Remember when Obama got caught on mic telling then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev about how he could be more flexible after the election? Here you can see how GOP candidate Romney played it in a debate:
From a traditional conservative standpoint it was a perfect gaffe on Obama’s part. It goes with their line about how Democrats are weaklings who are willing to submit to other countries, including our “enemies.” But Trump, of course, is not a traditional conservative. He’s a populist who’s after a rising number of people who are conservative but who grew weary of the Bush doctrine and its aftermath. At the same time, occasionally spitting out anti-war rhetoric (when he’s not talking about slaughtering terrorists’ families) ingratiates him with a large but politically illiterate radical anti-war movement. And again, virtually none of these people give a shit about Russia.
Thus when pro-Hillary pundits start screaming “Putin! Putin! Russia!” it sounds like they are advocating a new Cold War. Russian propaganda seizes on this and portrays Hillary and anyone who opposes the Kremlin’s regional imperialism as “neocons” out of the Bush era. This just makes their candidate look even more distasteful, more establishment.
The fact is that there are plenty of reasons to hate and revile Trump. There are plenty of reasons why people who currently support him really ought to think twice about the consequences of their actions. Idiotically labeling Trump an agent of Putin isn’t going to sway any of those people. Why not focus on the issue at hand, which is America?
Trump is a candidate who is literally making open racism and neo-Nazism publicly acceptable. Just a few years ago no political candidate would want to have even the most tenuous link to anti-Semites or far right figures. Now we have a candidate who refuses to speak out against any of the numerous open racists supporting him; on the contrary, he often re-tweets their messages. Meanwhile online it seems that people have forgotten why Nazism was evil in the first place. On several occasions critics of Trump who have Jewish heritage have found themselves the target of mass harassment campaigns involving Holocaust-themed imagery. As polarized as the country was during the last Bush administration, such a thing seems unthinkable in those years.
Another issue that ought to get far more attention than Trump’s contrived Russia links is the rise of what some have dubbed “post-fact” society. Vox fact-checked Trump’s recent speech and as it would turn out, he actually managed to get a few things correct. It’s worth reading just to see what he was right on, because some of those points help explain Trump’s success and Hillary’s obstacles. But while Trump’s speech was more distortions than outright lies, the orange man has been pulling claims straight out of his ass since the beginning of his campaign. There is a serious problem with out society when a person can make up something that never happened, have their claim thoroughly debunked beyond any shadow of a doubt, and yet people are still willing to support him, fanatically even. When objective reality no longer matters, things get bad. That’s how you get ISIS. I’d say that’s how you get Nazi Germany, but this is the internet in 2016 and I’m afraid there are too many people out there who would need me to explain in painstaking detail why that’s bad.
These are just two of the major dangers of the Trump campaign- that he is causing division and discord in America and that he is waging a war on objective reality itself. Our media would do well to focus on these subjects instead of casting Trump as the Manchurian candidate of a county and leader most Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about.