511 days into the Trump presidency it’s clear that Donald is the most destructive US President in recent history. He’s divided the nation, alienated our historic allies, and made worse the planet’s most pressing problems. Although there are several possible explanations for Trump’s disastrous behavior, it’s likely that he is acting on behalf of Russia.
It’s difficult to remember a time when the United States was more polarized. (Certainly not since the sixties.) Trump makes no attempt to be conciliatory; he plays to his base all the time. On issue after issue he demonizes Democrats and all those who oppose him. Trump has legitimized hate and exacerbated racial and ethnic antagonism. He’s an unapologetic misogynist. To paraphrase George W. Bush, Trump is “a divider not a uniter.”
The overall state of the nation has deteriorated under Trump. (The latest Pew Research Poll indicates that 62 percent of respondents are dissatisfied “with the way things are going.”) A recent report ( https://thinkprogress.org/u-s-developed-world-income-wealth-inequality-un-report-788b1300e4be/) found that: “the United States is leading the developed world in income and wealth inequality;” and placed the blame at the feet of the Trump Administration. (For example, Blue-collar wages are down (https://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2018/06/chart-of-the-day-blue-collar-wages-are-down-under-trump/ ).) Trump has jeopardized American democracy.
Why Trump is doing such a terrible job? One answer is that he isn’t up to the task; he lacks the intellectual and emotional strength to be President. And it doesn’t help the situation that many of Washington’s “best and brightest” don’t want to work for Trump; as a result he has a thin and second-rate staff.
Another explanation is that Trump is obsessed with eradicating the legacy of Barack Obama — Donald wants to be the anti-Obama. Therefore his legislative agenda is to reverse Obama initiatives. Obama was for affordable healthcare; Trump pushed to overturn “Obamacare.” Obama signed the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” policy; Trump reversed it. Obama signed the Iran Nuclear Accord — the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;” Trump unilaterally withdrew. Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement; Trump plans to withdraw. In other words, if Obama was for it, Trump is reflexively against it. Trump has a negative agenda.
By nature, Obama was a collaborator; a believer in “win-win” negotiation. By nature, Trump is individualistic competitor; a believer in “I win, you lose.”
A third, more sinister explanation is that Trump is a puppet. The question is who is pulling the strings? One theory is that Trump is controlled by a small group of Republican oligarchs including Sheldon Adelson, Robert Mercer, and Charles and David Koch. This might explain some Trump actions, such as moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a key Adelson issue. However it does not explain many Trump actions such as the crackdown on immigrants, particularly the Trump’s reversal of the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which the Koch’s oppose.
Another theory is that Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin and Russian Oligarchs. Under this line of reasoning, Putin and his inner circle are calling the shots; Trump goes along with them because he has no choice.
There are many Trump actions that support the notion that Putin is telling him what to do. The most obvious is Trump’s attitude towards Russia. For example, even though there’s indisputable evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump refuses to acknowledge this ( https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/13/politics/trump-unconvinced-russia-meddled-election/index.html). Even though it appears to many observers that Russia is at war with the US — cyberwar — Trump continues to cozy up to Putin. (Recently Putin told an Austrian news outlet that he talks to Trump “regularly.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/05/putin-says-he-talks-to-trump-regularly.html )) Trump recently declared that Russia should be brought back into to the G-7 discussions. (They were expelled after the invasion of Crimea.) He plans to invite Putin to the White House.
Given that Putin is controlling Trump, what is Putin’s strategy? There appear to be three aspects. The first is to use Trump to weaken western alliances: the United Nations, NATO, the G-7, etcetera. There’s no doubt that Trump has done this; the most recent example being the June G-7 meeting where Trump left early and refused to sign the group communique.
US global military alliances have also been weakened. For example, Trump just called off the annual United States-South Korea military exercises — something that was requested by North Korea and Russia.
Trump has weakened US alliances in general. By withdrawing from the Paris Climate accord, Trump signaled that the United States will no longer work with the rest of the world on climate change issues. By withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Trump indicated that he reserved the right to act unilaterally throughout the world. Now, Trump has shaken up trade relations with America’s largest trading partners (the European Union, China, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea…). Trump has drastically curtailed the US role in all global endeavors such cybersecurity, health, immigration, tourism, etcetera.
Putin also wants to weaken the relationship between the United States and the European Union. From the onset, Trump has disparaged the EU by actions such as supporting Brexit and demonizing Germany. As a result our EU partners no longer trust the US.
Finally, Putin wants to weaken US democracy, weaken our resolve. There’s no doubt that Trump has divided the country and as a consequence turned us inward, diminished our role as a global power.
Putin is winning.