The Forbidden Bromance: Trump and Putin

Omar Bekdash ‘18, Junior Columnist

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Some call it a bromance. Others call it a one-way relationship. Or maybe a short-term fling?

Ever since Donald Trump descended an escalator to declare his bid for president, he has consistently praised Vladimir Putin, whom he sees as “far stronger than our own leader,” even worthy of an “A” grade in his leadership [1]. Putin has reciprocated, calling Trump “a genius,” a “very bright man,” a man “highly respected in his country and abroad.” How peculiar. Just what is going on with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?  A mural in Lithuania may have the answer.

Now a tourist hotspot, the mural depicts Trump and Putin passionately making out, each man embracing the other’s arms. Indeed, Trump and Putin have fallen in love. But why? Has Putin finally found that special someone? Perhaps Trump would prefer a fourth spouse. Whatever the reason for their love affair, it is clear that their weird relationship has seeped into—even threatened—American politics.

One day before the Democratic National Convention began, Russian hackers released a chain of emails uncovering a conspiracy orchestrated by the Democratic National Committee to de-legitimize Bernie Sanders during the primary [2]. Bernie supporters, fuming at the establishment, angrily booed nearly every speaker at the convention, embarrassing Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democrats. Just a few days later, Donald Trump, in what seemed to be a spontaneous joke, invited Putin to hack into Clinton’s email server instead. Putin gladly received Trump’s message; on July 30th, only two days after Trump’s request, Russian intelligence services hacked into Clinton’s campaign website, publicizing even more private emails [3]. According to Politico, Russia also attempted to hack into the voter registration servers of nearly twenty states at the start of the early voting season in an attempt to manipulate crucial data [4]. These high-profile hacks, all of which benefited Donald Trump, point to one scenario: Putin really, really wants Trump to be our next commander-in-chief. Why?

Putting aside Trump’s good looks, there are more revealing reasons behind Putin’s admiration of Trump. Rayhan Murad ’19 explains that, “for the last century, America has prevented Russian influence either by supporting allies vulnerable to Russian expansion or by spreading democracy worldwide in general. Trump, however, seems willing to abandon our allies and commitments, giving Putin a geopolitical edge.” Trump’s previously unthinkable statements quickly validate Murad’s suspicions. He wants to leverage NATO nations like Lithuania to “pay up” or risk losing American support. He seems perfectly content to recognize Crimea as Russian territory, even though Putin forcibly seized it from Ukraine [6].

And, according to CNN, he openly posited in December that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, long a Russian puppet, makes the world a safer place [7]. Consequently, Trump’s isolationist, “America First” outlook would inexorably give rise to a Russia-dominated world stage—a scenario in which Moscow extends its spheres of influence across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. The prospect of an unchallenged, unchecked Russia makes Vladimir Putin’s mouth water.

Trump may also rely considerably on Russian financial support. Facing numerous bankruptcies in the 1990’s, Trump struggled to negotiate loan contracts with banks, which had been well-acquainted with his reputation as a risky businessman; a copy of his tax returns revealed that he lost 916 million dollars—much of it debt—in 1995 [8]. Broke, desperate, and unable to raise funds, Trump turned to “unconventional” sources of money to keep his empire afloat. Several had direct ties to Russian oligarchs, many of whom belong to Putin’s inner circle. Their involvement in the Trump Soho Hotel, according to Time Magazine, generated much intrigue, curiosity . . . and lawsuits. Prosecutors claimed that Bayrock, the financial group funding the hotel, derived its financial assets from the Russian mob. Four other Trump resorts—two in Fort Lauderdale, one in Phoenix, and another in New York, have also received endowments by the same institution. Although Trump has never been tied to their money laundering operations, he could have possibly grown dependent on those Russian financiers in a way that would give Russia leverage over his policies.

Yet there is another overlooked reason for the Trump-Putin political marriage. Trump heaps crude, vulgar criticism on his opponents, but lashes out in a childish fit if someone attacks him. He consistently dominates, scorns, and bullies those he perceives as weaker than him, and has shown no acknowledgment of his opponents’ dignity, no respect for basic decency, no regard for shared values. Putin is a similar man. Granted, he is smarter. He simply bullies, intimidates, and humiliates whole countries in a more dignified manner.

“I feel that Trump receiving an endorsement from an equally appalling man is the main driving force behind Trump’s compliments towards Putin,” states Shankar Krishnan ’17. “I think it really drives his business-like mindset where he says, ‘I must compliment this powerful guy who acts in the authoritarian way that I do.’”

Whether it is Putin’s blatant disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty, his abhorrent bombings of Syrian civilians, his tyrannical rule over his own country, or his obtrusive efforts to undermine American democracy, time and again he has shown us his despicable character. And it certainly resembles Trump’s.

Throughout history, certain heads of state have bonded over their shared ideals. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher’s unique friendship solidified the bond between two democratic nations, each fighting back against Soviet communism. Roosevelt and Churchill’s endearing camaraderie helped navigate the free world through tyranny and fascism. But no couple would bond more than President Trump and President Putin, each man hopelessly lost in his own ego, determined to dominate those around them.

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