Putin may have something very sketchy on Trump that gives him leverage over Trump. But there is more to this relationship than meets the eye. One thing — and there is more — is that both are right wing authoritarian rulers who consider liberal-democratic capitalist democracies and the post world war II economic-social order obstacles to their ambitions.
My guess is that Trump, by his actions and words this week in Europe, and especially today In Helsinki, has put the Republican Party candidates in a difficult position as they turn their attention to the fall campaign. On the one hand, it will likely solidify an electoral majority against Trump and the GOP candidates. On the other hand, his mind boggling performance today as well as last week could cause fissures within Trump’s political coalition, which up to now has been remarkably stable, even in the face of actions by Trump that many of us thought would surely shake loose some of his Republican support.
I just watched the opening statements of British PM Teresa May and Trump at a join press conference in the UK. Trump’ statement didn’t surprise me, full of self-congratulations and lies, while never mentioning the political bombs that he had dropped, including a broadside against May, since his arrival a day ago.
But what did was May’s groveling remarks that made no mention of Trump’s intervention into the national politics of the UK as well as his dismissive putdown of her. Instead, she acted like a supplicant, paying homage to Trump, papering over the differences that arose in the past week between Trump and European leaders, and failing to defend herself and her country from Trump’s outrageous threats and interference in its national affairs.
I know it wasn’t a performance that is comparable to Neviile Chamberlain’s in Munich, Germany in 1938. Chamberlain back then proudly declared on the heels of signing (with France as well Germany) a “peace” agreement that sanctioned the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the transfer of its Sudeten region to an increasingly aggressive, Nazi war machine, “I believe it is peace for our time”. Four months later war broke out across Europe as Hitler invaded Poland and then France.
But May’s performance was cowardly nonetheless. It was an attempt to appease and mollify Trump, to find common ground. Trump, however, isn’t about to be appeased or mollified. He doesn’t care about common ground, old understandings, and past arrangements. His overarching disposition is to bully, to dominate, to rule unchallenged, to run roughshod over democratic norms, values, and institutions. His contempt for democracy — even the post WW II social and economic order — is writ large in his actions and behavior.
Moreover, he is assisted by the Republican Party dominated as it is by right wing extremists. At the same time, Trump is increasingly aligned with a loose network of right wing strongmen worldwide, Putin being one of them. While Trump’s policies heavily favor capitalists in many ways, large and small, he also operates more autonomously than presidents in recent memory from them.
But to get back to May. She wasn’t up to the task today — and I guess no one should be surprised by her abject behavior — but the British people will have their say too as they crowd the streets of London at this very moment. And, unlike May, they will surely call out the imperial and imperious bully from across the pond in no uncertain terms. For they know (as we know) that the only fitting response to an authoritarian leader is resistance, not appeasement, struggle, not capitulation.
Anyone who thinks Trump’s bullying in Brussels is part of a campaign to reform NATO and the EU is seriously misinformed. Whatever their problems — and there are serious ones — Trump won’t solve them. What he is doing is creating political instability across Europe, and to the degree that he is successful, such instability favors a revenging right in Europe that for the moment has the wind at its back. If that were to happen, that is, if the right in Europe moves from the doorstep of power to capturing its citadels, more than supra-national institutions, like NATO and the EU, would be in the cross hairs of this anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist, authoritarian contagion.
To catch a glimpse of what Western Europe might look like in this event requires only a glance at what is happening in some of the Eastern European states, such as Poland and Hungary where authoritarian regimes have gained and consolidated power.
Bret Stephens in an oped column in the NYT advises the Democratic Party to concede to Trump and his Republican counterparts the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. He claims such a fight is not only futile, but counterproductive. This strikes me as bad advice. If I had Stephens’ platform, I would have advised a full bore campaign against the nominee, but with an accent on making a case — patiently and persuasively — against it to the American people. Outrage alone — and there is a place for that — isn’t enough. And while each of us has a “skin in the game,” no one is better situated to do this than the Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee. The hearings will command television coverage and reach an audience of millions. We should insist that they step up!