Trump is a life-long criminal. A liar, a crook, a fast-talking real estate swindler who will cheat anyone out of anything just for the thrill of taking advantage of someone else, a man too stupid to grasp that being clever and wily are not the same thing as being smart. He burned through the money his oily, racist father gave him on one failure after another, so he started swindling the banks who haven’t gone after him because they are too embarrassed to admit they got took. After his third bankruptcy, broke and needing an income stream, he leveraged his New York society page status to wrangle a gig on The Apprentice, which used clever editing to make him appear to a gullible viewership like a decisive leader, because reality TV. As his status began to rise once again, eager to get back into the real estate game, because legitimate financing from stable American and European banks had dried up due to his past shenanigans, he got in bed with Russian gangsters, one of whom is the head of state there.
Where did these gangsters come from, you ask, and how did they become so powerful as to have one of them become a modern day czar? I’m glad you asked. It’s America’s fault. As fully and completely America’s fault as 9/11 was our own damned fault, the result of decades of meddling in Middle Eastern politics for our own national interest with no regard for the future or concept that we would ever pay a price or even could.
Our World Bank and our IMF, as the largest post-graduation landing site for a sizable chunk of U of Chicago’s school of economics grads with their Milton Friedman engineered anti-Keynesian world views, were the driving force behind so much of the privatization, anti-labor and deep austerity measures that has been inflicted on the developing world over the last 30-40 years. Remember all that unrest in Argentina in the early 1990’s? They were rebelling against World Bank & IMF-ordered austerity. The same measures were inflicted on South Korea and Bolivia, among other places, and across most of the old eastern bloc countries as the USSR collapsed, including Russia herself. The main impact in most of those places was of two types – if they were under-developed and resource-poor like Bolivia, it succeeded in entrenching a few parties in power (usually along predictable race and class lines) who would play ball with American foreign policy; if they were relatively developed and resource-rich like South Korea, it broke the financial back of entrenched local mercantile interests by tanking the economy, so that they could get on the right side of the demands of international finance, which then led to the mass buying-up of local resources (natural and manufacturing) by western interests, which led to mass infusions of western capital, leading to prosperity for those who played ball and servitude for everyone else. They were deemed disposable.
Russia was and is a different case than either South Korea or Bolivia. Because of the massive existing public infrastructure left over from the USSR, everything from continent-spanning rail networks to massive aluminum factories to oil and gas extraction interests was up for grabs in the privatization bonanza wrought by the World Bank & IMF “experts” brought in to modernize the Russian economy. Who do you think gobbled up all of those resources for fractions of their market value, those hard asset, physical resources that took generations of Russian blood and treasure to build? Who was best-positioned to take or steal anything and intimidate or kill anyone who interfered? If you said KGB, you win the prize. Or, more correctly, the old Soviet police state actors (KGB just one of many). And the biggest thug of them all in the wild, wild west frenzy of early post-soviet Russia? Vlad “the Impaler” Putin. Which is why, in a tiny economy approximately the size of Italy’s, he has somehow amassed a personal fortune large enough to be largely considered the wealthiest man in the world. He had means, motive and opportunity as American ideologues tried to “modernize” (meaning: privatize) the Russian economy. And all the pain and suffering endured by Russians because of those Chicago school nitwits and their misguided and arguably nefarious meddling with their economy, Putin and his cronies got to pin on America, all while he and they sold off anything that wasn’t nailed down and shoveled the profits into their personal bank accounts.
And remember Boris Yeltsin? Yeah, we meddled in the election that elevated that embarrassing buffoon to high office. Does that ring a bell? Yeltsin was our guy, yessirree, because he was going to play ball with all those Chicago school advisors. But the Russians hated him and Putin got to pin that one on us, too. The once mighty Soviet Union, feared by the West, now prostrate before her erstwhile enemies, her geo-strategic interests neutered, her economy ravaged by raiding forces of Western capital. It was humiliating.
Because, you see, Putin in a Russian patriot. He is also a murderous thug, I don’t want to lose sight of that, but he is a patriot and he hates America for what we did in the years following the fall of the USSR. As a Russian patriot, he wants Mother Russia to play a key role on the global stage comparable to that played by the USSR when it was the home of a global Marxism, a stance that was at once high-minded and ideological but also a hard, realpolitik truth in the threat of nuclear annihilation.
And Putin sees the path to Russian greatness as striving to lead a global rejection of the Western social and economic consensus in favor of a world-spanning, antediluvian, patriarchal ethnic nationalism, a paradox resolved with a sly bit of tailoring to the ethnicity and nation in question. In the same way that modern American conservatism exists, mainly, on the premise that “good” is whatever makes liberals mad, Putin’s agenda is to coax a sufficient number of whatever local group is unhappy with modernity into upsetting their local ruling elite. He succeeded with Brexit and with Trump, but he failed with Le Pen in France and Wilders in the Netherlands. At least, he failed this time. But his agenda isn’t merely ideological, it is also geo-strategic. He hates NATO because it blocks his ambitions in Turkey (though Erdogan’s recent seizure of power helps Putin a great deal there) and adjoining nations to the south, to say nothing of NATO picking-off assorted old Eastern bloc countries, bringing the hated Western consensus ever closer to his doorstep. If he can sow discord and chaos in the West, it could slow or even stop their slow encircling of his beloved Russia.
That Western consensus he so very much hates and fears is described easily enough. It is a global American economic and military hegemony, as expressed in the movement for America-friendly democracy wherever possible, America-friendly dictatorship where it isn’t, all in the name of the free movement of global capital, what Tom Friedman calls a “flattening” world. A world of international trade deals where our mighty navy secures the oceans for the free movement of goods, our army stabilizes areas of chaos that threaten this global consensus and our air force can single out with a devastating boom any single bad actor deemed undesirable with pinpoint precision anywhere on the planet, aided by the eyes-in-sky of our globe-encircling satellites. In domestic politics, it is expressed in the urbane modernism of the cities, a world of wealth and comfort and ease where religious skepticism is rampant and gay marriage and female agency and self-determination is not merely just OK but a higher good to be desired. Color in your particular nation’s version of the San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Hong Kong city-dwelling jet-set. Putin seeks to unify all haters of this world in their desire to smash. He is succeeding to a frightening degree.
So, I think that, once Trump got himself mired in debt to Russian gangsters or oligarchs or whatever you want to call them, Putin had himself a useful idiot. I don’t think Trump ran for president in order to win, though, or at least thinking he’d actually win. I think he did it to improve his bargaining position in contract negotiations with NBC and, once it took on a life of its own, Putin seized the opportunity because, unlike Trump, he is very, very smart. He was not ever going to release his tax returns because of what it showed, nor will he ever. That said, it won’t matter if he does, at least not to the angry, disaffected people in the disposable parts of America. This is who voted for Trump. And if you tell them that Trump is in bed with Russian gangsters, they won’t care and that doesn’t mean that they irrationally hate Hillary Clinton, it is because given the choice between a woman who represents in all her aspects the very same snotty, big-city consensus that deemed their corner of the world disposable, closed the factory and sent the jobs to China and a tough-talking self-made millionaire who promises to shake things up – doesn’t matter if all of the above is untrue or Fox News propaganda or just clever marketing, people believe it and hence it has potency – they’ll take a flyer on the human stick of dynamite. And who could blame them?