Getty.
Show Hide image

How Trump and Putin's brutal bromance will reshape the world

Trump is no fool. Amid the bluster he is overseeing the birth of a new world order of force.

Over the past week the world has witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of America’s intelligence agencies sitting the incoming president down to show him, in painstaking detail, how Russia tried to influence the US election. Then on the day that President Obama gave his final presidential speech – a soaring piece of oratory, heart-wrenching in its eloquence and its defence of Enlightenment values —unverified and salacious claims began circulating that Russia has personally compromising material about the president-elect, and that a report incorporating this material was shown to both Donald Trump and Obama during those intelligence briefings.

A summary of the report, which has, apparently, been with American intelligence agencies since the autumn, was first published by CNN. Then an hour later Buzzfeed took the controversial decision to publish the claims in full — including lurid allegations of Trump performing a graphic sex act — despite admitting that the unredacted source material was “unverified and potentially unverifiable”. The document, which was collated by a retired British spy for a client who backed a political opponent of Trump, alleges that the Kremlin was “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for at least five years, and that the collected material could be used to blackmail him.

Trump’s team issued a full denial, denouncing the claims as fake news, and Trump himself released one of his signature Twitter storms against an intelligence community and media that he said was behaving like “Nazi Germany.” The Kremlin also issued a denial of the claims, stating that they were fabricated to damage US-Russia relations. A denial that Trump quoted as further proof of the flawed nature of the claims.

In a bombastic Wednesday morning press conference, on a podium bedecked with ten huge US flags, Trump’s spokesperson, Sean Spicer, attacked Buzzfeed as “a left-wing” media source and CNN as "sad and pathetic" and accused both news outlets of participating in a "political witch hunt.” Mike Pence denounced the attempt “to demean the president-elect.” And Trump himself argued that the report was “released by maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they did that.” At no time in modern American history has such a public fissure between the president and the intelligence services occurred.

Regardless of the veracity of the report’s claims, which the FBI are allegedly now investigating, what is clear is that Trump will assume power as a faux-populist utterly committed to a new Russophile American foreign policy posture – one that largely dispenses with notions of soft power and moral influence, and that curries favour with other strongmen as a way to carve the world up into spheres of control. He has made it abundantly clear that he will seek a close relationship with Putin, the strongman leader of a foreign power that, for the last three quarters of a century, in both its Communist incarnation and its newly minted nationalist one, has been regarded with suspicion and fear by most western policy makers. To minimize the significance of what would, in normal times, be viewed by much of the American electorate as a deeply troubling relationship, Trump will be banking on his ability to whip up the mob against the hostility – nay, the horror – of the country’s traditional power-elites.

If the tycoon’s gamble fails, he will be a toothless buffoon, detested by most members of the Republican-led Senate, tolerated by Congress so long as he delivers on tax cuts, conservative judicial nominations, and other staples of GOP ideology; but vulnerable to non-cooperation on his agenda and perhaps ultimately to threats of impeachment as soon as he attempts to go his own way on foreign policy, on protectionist trade policies, or, perhaps, if his Twitter-based mob politics unleashes serious domestic unrest.

But if Trump’s gamble succeeds – if he really is able, through tweets and victory rallies, to marshal “the people” against all the great structures of the mighty American state, including an intelligence community now at odds with the incoming Commander-in-Chief – then he will usher in his own style of revolution in both domestic and foreign policy. Those clearly are his ambitions: in his press conference he announced that he would be “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created,” and said of his political base that, “it’s a movement like the world has never seen before.” Let no one accuse the next president of understatement.

Trump is no fool. Despite his bluster, he knows the precarious position that the CIA and the publishing of the findings on the Russia-hack has landed him in. After all, if he were a Democrat sullied with an intelligence assessment that Putin’s Russia had attempted to influence his election, senators and commentators would be lining up to attack him – don’t forget, Trump’s supporters frequently called for Clinton to be locked up for her use of an insecure email server.

It’s not in Trump’s nature to back down. When under threat, he goes on the attack. And so, to no one’s surprise, in his press conference on Wednesday he doubled-down. “Look at the things we learned” from the hacks, he declared. “That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing.” To the chagrin of those who hoped he would temper his enthusiasm for the Russian leader, he also announced “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability.”

If the intelligence community doesn’t buy that, Trump’s shown a willingness to swing at them as much as at his more traditional scapegoats. All of this makes it likely that in addition to going after left-wing protesters, undocumented immigrants, the media, and intellectuals, his team, banking on the support of this “movement” of angry Americans, could over the coming months also purge the top ranks of the military and the intelligence agencies of those who oppose the pivot to Putin.

Trump’s vision of the world is clear. It is the vision of Cecil Rhodes, who famously said that he would colonize the stars if he had the opportunity – although in fairness to Rhodes it is not delineated in nearly as poetic language. It is the world of Louis Napoleon, who was bedazzled by images of Empire floating in front of his myopic eyes. It is a planet divided into “winners” and “losers,” into those born to wield power, wealth, and influence, and those born to serve. It is colonialism with exclamation marks in place of self-serving philosophical justifications for conquest. It is Empire without literature and void of culture. It is a sort of post-literate bluster without panache.

In Trump’s world, military super-powers have no need to cajole and to seduce – with promises, however illusory, of expanded prosperity, with a culture other countries want to emulate, or with lip service paid to ideals of universal human rights and democracy. In Trump’s world, might is quite simply right. The U.S. has nuclear weapons and a vastly powerful military, and it should be willing to use them anywhere it needs to impose order.

Of course, idealistic language notwithstanding, as Chileans, Cubans, Vietnamese, and so many others know to their cost, America has long acted as an episodic bully and trigger-happy international policeman. To a degree, Trump’s rhetoric and temperament is merely an extension of existing trends. Yet there is also something qualitatively different in the way he sees America’s place in the world. His impatience with nuance, with the subtleties and long time frames of diplomacy, with the idea of an international order at least partly mediated by supranational institutions, with the give-and-take inherent in bodies such as the United Nations, makes him a natural ally of Putin, as well as of Erdogan in Turkey and Modi in India. These men, all so willing to treat opponents as enemies, and racial or religious minorities as fifth columns, are the heralds of a new strongman order.

Trump’s reaching out to Putin isn’t a modern-day example of Ostpolitik, the eminently sensible Cold War-era policy of accommodation that Willie Brandt’s Germany pursued with the Warsaw Pact. It isn’t an acknowledgement that different systems can – and in the nuclear age must – learn to co-exist, to co-operate where necessary and to replace military responses to disagreements with dialogue. Rather it is a clear statement of preference: temperamentally, Trump is most comfortable dealing with autocrats. He praises Putin but barely mentions the leaders of western democracies with whom America has allied for decades. He is at home with populist, sometimes aggresive, leaders of militarily powerful countries, and at ease talking with those strongmen about how to crack down on domestic opposition and how to deal with other, smaller, weaker, nations.

The Trump-Putin axis that is emerging will reshape the world profoundly. The two largest nuclear powers, banded together to stamp out “disorder” globally, will represent a formidably autocratic partnership. To all intents and purposes, if it is allowed to flourish it will represent the collapse of the American republic as we know it. This new incarnation, with founding fathers and mothers such as Trump, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and rightwing commentators and talk radio hosts such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, shows every sign of being a particularly anti-democratic, uncouth, and brutal entity.

Sasha Abramsky is a freelance journalist and author based in America.


Getty
Show Hide image

Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland