On Trump’s Overtures to Russia

On Wednesday Trump again rustled jimmies across the land by suggesting that Russia should release any of Hillary Clinton’s gazillion deleted emails that they have as a result of her illegally keeping a private server and using it for government business. Deliberately misunderstanding and misrepresenting what he said, much of the media proclaimed that what Trump did was tantamount – TANTAMOUNT, I say! – to treason because he urged a foreign power to hack an American official’s emails.

“This morning, he personally invited Russia to hack us. That’s not law and order. That’s criminal intent” said Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson. Clinton foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan said, “This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.” (Glad to know that her emails are indeed a national security issue, after Clinton denied such.) “He asked the Russians to interfere in American politics. Think about that for a moment. Donald Trump is asking one of our adversaries to engage in hacking or intelligence efforts against the United States to affect our election” said Leon Panetta.

Of course, he did no such thing. If he did, you’d find the verbs “hack”, “infiltrate”, “steal” or a like synonym in his statement: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He was calling on Russia (and later, any country) to release any emails they had after already hacking into Clinton’s compromised server, which everyone knows happened. It was arguably a dumb move by Trump to bring the Russians into the election so bluntly, but the fact remains that we are here because of three things:

– Hillary Clinton broke the law and opened herself up, and by extension many other parts of the government, to being hacked.

– The Department of Justice failed to indict Clinton despite all the evidence for doing so.

– The PR arm of the Democratic Party – the American mainstream media – failed to apply adequate pressure on all the relevant parts of the government complicit in the above.

In that light it makes sense to appeal to outsiders when our own government is too corrupt to do the necessary job. And it makes no sense for the above mentioned parties to flap their yaps about how outrageous Trump’s suggestion is.

Hillary has done worse in fact and deed than Trump has said in words. The left constantly equates words and actions, rhetoric and behavior, so this doesn’t matter. Democrats know that Hillary is disqualified from being elected president, but they must at the same time stay committed to their nominee. The cognitive dissonance must be overwhelming, and it is understandable that they would grasp at any chance to flip the narrative back to where they can claim the moral high ground.

It will all backfire because hordes of voters will be driven to look into things like Clinton’s Russia-U.S. uranium deal, and how the Clinton-Obama Russian “reset” failed. Many have responded by advocating what they accuse Trump of doing: that Russia, or some other foreign government, should hack into IRS records and release Donald’s tax filings. This is too much spite and whataboutism for my taste, and not worth entertaining. And, given how open and shut all the above is, it’s not even the interesting part.

The Don’s comments have not only pushed Hillary and Democrats into a corner where they are forced to concede she’s a criminal and the accusations against her are correct, it has also brought the right’s unthinking attitude towards Russia to the fore. Paul Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said in response to Trump that “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug” and “Putin should stay out of this election.” Trump’s running mate Mike Pence added “The FBI will get to the bottom of who is behind the hacking. If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences.”

My estimation is that one of the many aspects of The Trumpening is a re-examination of America’s stance towards the Rooskies. Are they the same Cold War foe we faced for decades? Are they godless commie heathens threatening to bring down Pax Americana and its world order? Do we really need to be as adversarial as we are? Are there more pressing problems in the world in which it would be beneficial to have a better U.S. – Russia partnership? Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with them? as Trump put it.

It looks to me like Trump realizes that even though the Russian government is not a friend, they are pretty low on the list of enemies. Despite the media and political establishment painting Trump as a dangerous stooge of Putin, the position he stated in his official foreign policy speech is measured and reasonable:

“We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. We have serious differences with these two nations, and must regard them with open eyes, but we are not bound to be adversaries. We should seek common ground based on shared interests.

“Russia, for instance, has also seen the horror of Islamic terrorism. I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

“Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.”

The Republican establishment has ironically had its view of Russia shaped by the Russian and international left for a good chunk of the post-Soviet era. For example, leftist lesbian activist Masha Gessen and her book The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin are often cited in America, by the left and right alike, to support charges of Putin’s tyranny. Ponder that for moment. American Republicans’ and conservatives’ regularly rely on a left-wing lesbian who would like to see the end of Christianity and the traditional family to shape their view of Russia. (I don’t mean to say all of Gessen’s critiques of Putin are wrong or illegitimate. My gripe is that most of the American right uncritically accepts the left’s position on Russia almost wholesale, because it’s convenient.)

Maybe it’s because, as an entrepreneur, Trump looks around the world and sees business opportunities where a politician would see threats? Maybe Russia interests him and he’s thought a lot about this? I don’t know. Either way, Trump is pushing the GOP away from this, or at least making people think about it, which is good.

Maybe Trump realizes an opportunity here for a realignment with Russia. It’s a notoriously bad American political habit to not think long term and only about how to solve the present situation. Trump may be looking to establish some good will, and take a longer term ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ approach with Moscow. Maybe his senior campaign advisor Paul Manafort’s Russian connections have something to do with it? (Though I don’t personally see much there as it’s very common for American campaign advisors of all stripes to do consulting abroad.) We’ll see.

Another irony is the left’s mockery of the Putin-Trump “bromance.” There’s hypocritical gay shaming splooged all over the place, along with confusing giving Putin credit where it’s due with admiration and support for him generally. Salon leads the way saying “Donald Trump’s got Putin Fever” and  “Trump goes to sleep snuggling a photo of the Russian dictator every night…”

It’s also interesting to see many on the left worried about that classic left-wing specialty: being useful idiots for Russia. Timothy Snyder wrote in the New York Review of Books, 

The premise of Russian foreign policy to the West is that the rule of law is one big joke; the practice of Russian foreign policy is to find prominent people in the West who agree. Moscow has found such people throughout Europe; until the rise of Trump the idea of an American who would volunteer to be a Kremlin client would have seemed unlikely. Trump represents an unprecedented standard of American servility, and should therefore be cultivated as a future Russian client.

The concern for the rule of law, that perennial obstacle of leftist aims, is also striking. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m unaware of Mr. Snyder writing anything about the body blow to the rule of law inflicted by Clinton, Obama, Comey and the DOJ.

In all this, there is one Russian leader conservatives and Republicans in America can look to. The one who said,

“Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their historic roots, including the Christian values that constitute the very basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

“The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote paedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world.

“I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis. What else but the loss of the ability to self-reproduce could act as the greatest testimony of the moral crisis facing a human society? Today almost all developed nations are no longer able to reproduce themselves, even with the help of unlawful migration. Without the values embedded in Christianity, without the standards of morality that have taken shape over millennia, people will inevitably lose their human dignity. We consider it natural and right to defend these values. One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.

“I want to stress again that without focusing our efforts on people’s education and health, creating mutual responsibility between the authorities and each individual, and establishing trust within society, we will be losers in the competition of history. Russia’s citizens must feel that they are the responsible owners of their country, region, hometown, property, belongings and their lives. A citizen is someone who is capable of independently managing his or her own affairs, freely cooperating with equals.”

Oh wait, that wasn’t another Russian leader. That was Vladimir Putin himself at the Valdai Forum in 2013. Is there a conservative out there who doesn’t share these sentiments? Even if Putin doesn’t always live by them, he at least is open to moving in that direction. Though far from ideal, is this someone to be antagonized and provoked, or does this strike you as someone who can help beat back the rise of Islam and the decline of Western civilization?

If Republicans and conservatives believe that the West is in dire need of a rediscovery of its Christian roots its Christian ethos, we should ask if it’s worth fighting a nation struggling, and succeeding in doing just that. As Eric Metaxas wrote, “In Russia, ‘more monasteries and parishes are reopened, growing numbers of Russians profess belief in God, and more young Russians are choosing a religious vocation.’ Vladimir Putin may be taking advantage of Russians’ hunger for God, but he didn’t create that hunger. Seventy-four years of state-sponsored atheism, and the wreck it left in its wake, did that all by itself.” As Western Europe and America increasingly ditch Christianity, they will face the same wreckage.

In the next few years and decades we are going to see Europe’s energy, drive, ambition and moral clarity move to the center and East of the continent, including European Russia. The thousand year split between the Eastern and Western churches hasn’t completely ended, and probably won’t soon. But we do live in far more ecumenical times and a reinvigorated Russian Orthodoxy doesn’t preclude closer ties with Catholics, Protestants or anyone else in the West, if the West does indeed enter a similar religious revival. The United States would do well to adjust its foreign policy accordingly. If the Eurasian Economic Union and One Belt, One Road initiative gain serious traction, America should be a part of it. It’s probably the next region to take off economically in a major way, and we will need a much better working relationship with Russia to do so.

Is Putin too authoritarian by American standards? Yes. Does that make alienating a potential partner who can do a lot to help solve global security problems worth it? No. Donald Trump may just have the right idea.

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