America is at an inflection point. A pivotal election year. A public health crisis that has cost twice as many American lives as the Vietnam War, caused untold suffering, and pushed a reeling global economy over a cliff. Unemployment in the United States has reached Great Depression levels. Widespread public mistrust of police and mass protests over a long history of injustices rooted in a race and class. Meanwhile, America’s president is distracted, impulsive and irrational and appears to be getting worse as the crisis of democracy in the U.S. deepens.
The turmoil Trump has caused is an invitation to America’s adversaries, above all Washington’s #1 nemesis during the Cold War. That rivalry supposedly ended with the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) at the end of 1991. (I was there when it was happening and experienced what we all now know was a false sense of a new beginning firsthand.) Today, however, it is abundantly clear that the end of the Cold War was not the end of the rivalry.
For a brief interlude in the 1990s Russia was rudderless, as a besotted Boris Yeltsin drank himself to death. During that time, the West was lulled into a false sense of complacency. During the Cold War the Kremlin came to symbolize and define the meaning of a new concept in world politics—totalitarianism. That system nurtured an unknown young KGB agent named Vladimir Putin and taught him to revile “bourgeois capitalism” and view America as its reification.
Putin is a new kind of Russian autocrat, one armed not only with weapons of mass destruction like the neo-Stalinists who preceded him but also with weapons of mass disruption the likes of which no previous Russian potentate in history has ever possessed. The digital revolution has placed new and powerful tools of subversion into the hands of democracy’s worst enemies, including America’s long-time archrival—Russia. At Putin’s direction, the Kremlin has weaponized the internet for purposes of disinformation and misdirection. Worse, he is using it strategically to confuse voters, divide society, and subvert elections.
Question: Who wants to subvert the 2020 election more than Vladimir Putin? Answer: Donald Trump. Which is to say that Trump and Putin are joined at the hip. Both are busy conjuring up new ways to rig the November election. Even Republicans in the Senate admit that Putin helped Trump get elected in 2016:
The Senate Intelligence Committee has unanimously endorsed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia conducted a sweeping and unprecedented campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.(The Washington Post, April 21, 2020)
How has that worked out for Russia? Putin’s dream come true. And for America? The nation’s worst nightmare—a psychopathic president, poisonous politics, a gridlocked federal government, policy paralysis, polarized society, and mass protests. Not to mention a public health crisis made worse by the absence of a consistent, coherent national response.
In the annals of Kremlin covert operations, the Russian troll farm (“Internet Research Agency”) ops effort to sow discord and disrupt elections in the West—and America, in particular—is a world-beating success. When it comes to backfooting the United States and breaking up the Western alliance system, Putin makes Stalin look like a piker.
But make no mistake, Putin is not done yet. Four more years of Trump in the White House and you can kiss the U.S. Constitution—and America as the Leader of the Free World—good-bye forever.
When the curtain went up on the rolling crisis that was the Cold War, Harry Truman was president. Donald Trump is no Truman.
The fact that Putin is no Stalin ought to be of little comfort to true believers in republican government. Putin is a postmodern absolute ruler. In this Cold War, he has a potent new weapon—the internet—to disrupt and subvert Western democracies. And it’s a seriously asymmetrical contest: Democracies with a free press versus dictatorships where censorship is the rule and the flow of news and information is tightly controlled.
Having helped Trump win in 2016, Putin can only delight in the dysfunction and divisiveness that define the Trump presidency. He will undoubtedly do everything in his power to help Trump win re-election in November—the keystone in the arch of the Kremlin’s strategy to weaken West and take America down.