The Putin-Trump Axis

A subject FBI Director James Comey has not seen fit to discuss.

The Putin-Trump Axis

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump supporters march in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

For months now, journalists have noted the wrestler Vladimir Putin’s not-so-funny entanglement with Donald Trump. Newsweek, along with USA Today and The New York Times have written about what The Times described as a he-man “bromance” between the Republican presidential nominee (better known in America for wrestling other people out of their money) and the maximum leader Russians know to be no slouch at palling with oligarchs.

Some Democrats think there’s more to it than sexting. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) goes so far as to say, in a letter this week to FBI Director James Comey:

In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government….

What needs further exploration is another convergence between the crazy right and the Russian. They share crackpot ideas.

In August, I wrote about Trump surrogate Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s adventure in cozying up to Putin and RT. It’s not news, exactly, that Trump’s admiration for Putin is boundless. In December, when Joe Scarborough told Trump that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him,” Trump replied:

Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe. You know. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on and a lot of stupidity…I’ve always felt fine about Putin. I think he is a strong leader, he’s a powerful leader, he’s represented his country the way — the country is being represented. He’s got popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader, certainly the last couple of years they’ve respected him as the leader. Obama’s in the low 30s, upper 40s, and he’s in the 80s.

Mother Jones’s David Corn now reports that Russian intelligence has been cultivating Trump. This is not hard and fast. What does the FBI have to say? An FBI spokeswoman told Corn, “Normally, we don’t talk about whether we are investigating anything.”

Normally. Except when agency Director James Comey decides otherwise. Comey has been known to make insinuations about the content of emails without having read them.

It’s worth more attention that Russia is meddling in the politics of the still-democratic West.

Whether or not it “becomes clear” what “explosive information” Reid refers to, if indeed it exists, it’s worth more attention that Russia is meddling in the politics of the still-democratic West.

It’s been bruited about that Putin’s strategy is to make trouble for the West in the interest of neutralizing NATO as he goes about his expansionist schemes. It’s a plausible notion on the face of it, but there might be many ways to disrupt the West. Funny thing, though, is the particular method to their meddling. Putin has a characteristic and consistent way of making trouble: backing the far right.

Sometimes that’s with money. In 2014, Marine Le Pen’s nativist National Front received an €11 million loan from the Moscow-based First Czech Russian Bank. This year they’re asking for  €27 million more.

Germany’s neo-fascist leader Jürgen Elsässer has likened Russia’s bombing of Aleppo to the successful wartime defense of Stalingrad, but what Germany’s nativist far right gets from Russia in return for compliments is not so clear.

Russia and its allies share not only contempt for liberal democracy but, increasingly, the same enemies list.

Which makes you wonder about WikiLeaks’ email dump before the Democratic Convention. Why did party or parties unknown hack into the Democrats’ mail and not the Republicans?

The ideological affinity between the Kremlin and the nativist right extends beyond foreign policy.

In June after the dump, a British reporter spoke to WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange: “Plainly, what you are saying, what you are publishing, hurts Hillary Clinton. Would you prefer Trump to be president?” Assange told the reporter “that what Mr. Trump would do as president was ‘completely unpredictable.’ By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in…ways he found problematic.”

Assange has refused to say where he got the emails, but he has denied any Russian hand in the hack. There is some circumstantial evidence of Russian hacker tactics, but nothing conclusive.

The ideological affinity between the Kremlin and the nativist right extends beyond foreign policy. These days the Moscow propaganda network RT sounds like a head start on the hypothetical Trump TV, or like Glenn Beck during one of his diagram days where all arrows on the whiteboard led to George Soros.

Here’s the latest: a headline on a new column by one of their regulars, the American Robert Bridge:  “And the Weiner is! Hillary Clinton and the obedient lapdog media.”

Forget the bad pun. It gets worse. Bridge writes: “[T]he US mainstream media is on a mission to prove, despite all indications to the contrary, that Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a squeaky clean political queen.” Here’s Bridge on the mainstream media’s “disastrous effort to protect Hillary Rodham Clinton come hell or high water.” In case you haven’t noticed, the mainstream media have been, in Bridge’s view, neglecting the all-time grand scandal of — wait for it — Clinton emails. And here’s Bridge’s bottom line:

[S]o long as the mainstream media has gained almost total purchase of the election process, heavily controlling what the voters see and hear, we will continue discussing the Russians, WikiLeaks and Anthony Weiner’s unhealthy sexting habit.

Bridge is living in an earlier century, when America’s mainstream media were as controlling as, say, Pravda. Patently, Trump would not object to such a media regime as long as he gets to control TV and the tabloids. If his fan mobs can’t get the job done pointing fingers and screaming at reporters, they’ll be looking for bludgeons.

Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. He is the author of 16 books, including several on journalism and politics. His next book is a novel, The Opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin.