Why don’t Trump supporters care that their leader seems more sympathetic to the Kremlin than he does to, say, his own intelligence community? Take a look at the numbers.
There are many reasons why Putin is attractive to conservative voters — both obvious and not-so-obvious.
As Terrell J. Starr has repeatedly pointed out on Twitter (if you’re on Twitter, you should really follow his account, btw), Putin is particularly beloved by Americans who have a lot of anxiety around race issues/nonwhite leaders (*cough* Obama *cough*)/the idea of whites becoming a minority, etc.
While some of them know that Russia is a diverse country, they also see it as a country where “minorities know their place” (they may have heard as much from notorious racist David Duke to various right wing websites).
That’s just one piece of the puzzle— but it’s important, and rarely discussed by cable news. There is a lot of discomfort around this issue.
As for Trump himself, even if you discard the wilder allegations against him, including the idea that the Kremlin is literally blackmailing him, his line of work and his personality can clue you in as to why he wants to cozy up to the Kremlin.
Trump is a good salesman. He tells people what they want to hear.
Instinctively, Trump understood that what millions of people wanted to hear is that there is a country — a big country with imperial ambitions and nuclear might— where white people are in charge and make no apologies for it.
There is no pesky “political correctness” in this alleged white paradise. This image of Russia and its leader was a product that Trump could sell to voters. It worked. It’s still working.
(The reality of life in Russia is different from the fantasy, but we at the Anti-Nihilist Institute will get to that in our subsequent articles on the topic)
Trump is also just a narcissist. There is no getting around it — this man feeds off of the spotlight, he needs to be adored, and he believes that now that he is president, it is everyone’s job to adore him. He’s going to respond favorably to a Kremlin that’s making overtures to his ego, national security be damned.
On cable news, we keep hearing the excuse that Trump merely wants to normalize relations with Russia. If you know anything about foreign policy, this should strike you as odd. Normalizing relations ≠ siding with foreign officials over your own officials (the Russians know it too, which is why I recently told Marco Werman that I bet Putin is laughing at us right now).
What can be done about this hot mess? It pays to be realistic and play the long game.
- Don’t think that facts will convince Trump or his most fervent supporters. If facts mattered to him or his base, he would have never become president. Facts don’t matter to the Kremlin at all, and it’s doing just great (for now).
- Remember that people who bought into Trump mania are just as feverishly excited (if not more so) as a different section of the electorate was excited for Obama. The pendulum swings both ways — first there is the euphoria, and then the inevitable letdown.
- When the letdown begins it’s important to remember that these excited people were, in many instances, motivated by rage. Many of them may be looking to turn to even more aggressive right-wingers as the result. A lot of right-wing leaders (particularly those who promote Russia as a white man’s paradise) who have flocked to Trump understand this.
- This is why it’s important to begin the process of reconciliation sooner rather than later. If you know anti-Trump conservatives or even Trump voters who are beginning to have doubts, check out the Anti-Nihilist guide to reaching out to them. Only do it if you are able & think it is safe. Fellow white people, it’s time to step up to the plate and reject white supremacy. Use your privilege for good.
- Remember that the majority of the American public did not vote for this man. How did the Bolsheviks win in Russia? They convinced everyone that they were the majority. “Bolshevik” comes from the Russian word “bolshinstvo,” or “majority”. (They did so, in part, by stealing isolationist, populist platforms to rouse the peasants and soldiers returning from WWI into a bloody civil war at home.) They were NOT even the majority of their own party, and if people never fell for their BS, Russia may have been a different country. The Trump White House is already using Kremlin-like tactics of distorting numbers in order to make support for Trump seem bigger than it is. Simple ideologies spread easily. Don’t fall for it.
As scholar Mark Galeotti explains, a Trump-Putin summit may torpedo the friendship between Trump and Putin faster than any intelligence dossier featuring kinky sex stuff.
It won’t be an issue of their differences, it will be an issue of their similarities. Putin depends on his image as a strongman. Trump depends on his image as an all-powerful corporate boss. They may never admit it in public, but in private the two are bound to clash.
Meanwhile, here is the main reason why Trump admires Putin — Putin does what he wants and is held accountable by no one inside his own country.
That kind of power comes at the cost of freedom for millions of people.
Watch out for anti-protest measures, for crackdowns on civic activity, for even more spying on Americans, for, well, classic authoritarian tactics.
Don’t expect the majority of Republicans in Congress to automatically revolt against this — they have proven themselves to be craven and self-serving.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act with no viable replacement is another measure that serves authoritarian interests. As any good authoritarian will tell you, when you have citizens who are literally struggling to survive, it’s much easier to do whatever the hell you want.
This is why it’s important to:
a) Keep up the pressure on your officials. Remember, they don’t like pressure — especially not when they have to face it publicly. Phone calls and e-mails will not be enough.
b) Hold the media to high standards. Access journalism is overrated when the people journalists are trying to access will only lie to their faces. Media sycophants will be used to advance Trump’s agenda.
c) Forge new alliances. Trump is impulsive and alienates people. He alienated his own intelligence community before he was sworn in (now he’s saying that he “loves” them — that just looks like more inconsistency to them). Meanwhile, your conservative neighbors down the street may not be as comfortable with the Trump-Putin bromance (not to mention Trump saying “grab them by the pussy”) as they pretend to be. You can use Trump’s impulsiveness against him.
d) Recall the lessons of self-isolating Russian liberals. The tactics of divide & conquer work. Don’t let them work on you.
This is not going to be an easy battle. But it will be slightly easier if we come prepared, with realistic goals on the agenda. Remember, a lot of the Democrats in Washington are not ready to hear any of this right now — and keeping pressure on them as a way of making them understand what’s happening is also important.