Lucky that Vladimir Putin wasn’t born in the USA, or he’d whomp Donald Trump (and wimpier rivals) in the GOP three ring circus — even shake Hillary. The formidable Putin has all of Trump’s virtues (bravado, success, showmanship, risk-taking, wealth, plus certainty only the strongest survive) with few of the Donald’s glaring downsides (ham-fisted at lying, narcissistic yet thin skinned, awash with opportunistic bigotry).
No doubt, Putin (VP), the fully vetted, impregnable world veteran, elbows Trump aside when deftly denying heavyweight indictments: 1) has VP never facilitated harsh penalties against any Russian critics or journalists, hundreds dead since 1990? 2) did VP never authorize widely-reported, covert Russian soldiers in Crimea? 3) did no Russian missile launchers or expertise enter Crimea capable of taking down that lost civilian airliner?
Clearly, both Putin and Trump are lock-step on leadership style: top-down dominance, charisma and confidence rule, reinforced by slighting personal critics as virtual enemies of the state (to be insulted, investigated or exiled). It is telling that Putin, the classic Russian autocrat to his critics, invoked the positive word “absolute” when calling Trump “the absolute leader of the presidential race” when praising his “outstanding and talented personality.” Well, Trump’s hardly the “absolute” leader, not in national polling, not even in Iowa. However premature, the virtue of domination fits both men like a velvet glove over an iron fist.
Putin the World Rorschach
Talk about your Rorschach test. Revealingly, the narcissist Trump, who intones absolutist fictions about walls, immigrant rapists, Muslim barriers, or lies about NJ cheering the 9/11 tragedy, embraced Putin’s fulsome applause:
“I welcome it. I think it’s great. I think that’s what should be happening. I mean, his dislike for President Obama, and it’s a mutual thing, is terrible. That’s why you see all the conflict, all the problems, all the hatred. We should be able to work and [if] we can’t work with Russia, that’s not a good thing. And I’m greatly honored by his statement. I think it is terrific.”
Right, Putin good, Obama bad, and thus a simpleton explains “all” the conflicts and “all” the hatred, every world problem, huge, tiny and in-between. Yikes. And yet, what stewpot of ambition can’t dream Vlad might help with a deal, even get Trump a few bucks, if not votes.
What other world leader draws such praise not just from conservative circles (Limbaugh, Drudge, Breitbart, Palin, PC Roberts) but adulation from the left side as well. For leftists who staunchly hate the west’s imperial militarism, Putin is the hero battling the west (“noble” for journalist Finian Cunningham), the tough-minded bulwark against the spreading, bullying Evil Empire. Agreed, Putin does resist western expansionism (or western mucking about in Ukraine). However self-interested, Putin counters the far greater economic and military force with agility, diplomacy, and tactical gains. Except for Syria, Russia isn’t bombing another country — whereas US war-making decimates Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.
For entrenched western media critics, Putin’s still the latest Russian czar who manipulates rules to stay in power, denies free speech, lords over domestic media, and misuses courts to intimidate and/or jail dissenters or opponents (even billionaires). Is VP the driven, nationalistic empire-builder, yearning to regain lost Soviet hegemony, or simply the reigning wizard playing chess against global dimwits playing checkers? Putin effectively annexed Crimea, now surviving strict western sanctions and low oil prices.
Putin, Cudgel Against Wimpy Obama
Curiously, rightwing hero worship is nothing new, a unifying lightning rod against the 90 lb. weakling in charge. Soon after Crimea, House Intell Chair Mike Rogers conceded Putin is “running circles around us” playing chess when “we’re playing marbles.” Neocons since ’08 sound this alarm, wielding the great Putin as cudgel against Obama the Lilliputian. The unhinged Matt Drudge two years ago treated Putin as a western democrat, touting him “the leader of the free world.” “Free world?” Against which unfree one? China? Asia? Europe?
With terrible reluctance, Rush Limbaugh was forced to “agree with a former KGB agent” when VP exonerated Syria’s Assad from citizen murder by chemical bombs. And what would ultra-conservative delirium be without Palin, the breathless beauty queen gushing over Putin’s virile, pin-up masculinity:
“Look, the perception of Obama, of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
Par for Palin’s nitwittery, this knee-jerk slam falters in contradiction: is Obama both a ball-less wonder here, yet also the authoritarian (foreign, illegitimate) tyrant assailed for stripping freedoms right and left? Oh. Trump’s idiocy echoes the empty Palin Power Meme, depicting Putin as the decisive leader who commandeers by singly “running his country.” Trump’s use of the possessive “his” exposes Donald’s own autocratic “theory of governance.” A duo of strongmen fully in charge, riveted with personal will and determination, and ready to do deals with each other. I was primed for Trump boasts Russian trains run on time.
Putin Vs. Trump: First-round Knock-out
Trumpian triumphs come from being the toughest hombre at the shootout or atop a white horse to save America the Greatest from bad guys, like China or Mexico but oddly not Russia. Au contraire: Trump sees “Russia being a really big asset to our country.” Does that not frame a Trump White House as perverse, rightwing wet-dream: replace the emasculated Obama with a no-nonsense, debate-dispatching Great Decider, the national savior who grabs history by the horns, a cross of Putin with John Wayne?
Notably, Trump’s praise of Putin answered Republican Joe Scarborough, who challenged this unalloyed fandom: Putin “kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries.” Oops, so Trump dodges, with another facile Obama slam: Putin is “running his country, and, at least, he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”
Under duress, Trump eventually did condemn killing journalists and political adversaries, but made clear for him “strong leaders” must do what must be done, endorsing the autocratic justification the end justifies the means. What Trump exposes here is not just worship of power, but the embrace, and delight, of the psychopath lording over weak “losers’ — like those he fired with a sneer on his TV schlock show.
Putin’s Inscrutable Soul?
Not all on the right endorse Putin, especially GOP Cold Warriors who equally detain Trump. Jeb Bush judges Putin “a bully,” indeed “one of the great despots of our time” while Marco Rubio dismisses him as “gangster and thug.” Is that better or worse than Jeb calling Trump “unhinged”? And were Putin ever to rout the Donald, guess whose thin-skin would erupt with damning insults? Egotists like Putin or Trump hate losing, but on the world stage, the Russian keeps his cool.
Let us close the festivities with definitive input from our smartest president — and follow up by a feisty Joe Biden. Looking deeply into Putin’s eyes, Dubya the Dim perceived a “sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” Was that before or after Putin’s born-again return to orthodox Christianity?
A decade later, as Joe Biden recalled in a New Yorker profile: “I had an interpreter, and when [Putin] was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him.” Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul’ . . . And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ”
And neither time did Putin have to take off his shirt, mug for the camera or give any bear a hug. Is the inscrutable Putin a world leader for the ages — or simply superior to today’s paltry selection?