For months the Trump team swore blindly they had no contact whatsoever with the Russians. There was no contact and no collusion, no way, no how, they insisted.
Then when Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian agent was published by The New York Times a couple of weeks back the story quickly changed.
If there had been some kind of collusion with the Russians well that was just fine, it’s politics and everybody does it, the Trump team insisted.
But the thing is, no one does it. No American political campaign hosts meetings with the Russians, our longtime foreign adversary, to hear illegally sourced dirt on an American opponent.
It’s not just that it’s ill-advised. It’s potentially treasonous.
Undaunted, President Trump raced to the cameras to defend his “fine boy,” the 39-year-old Don Jr. He also took to Twitter.
Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 17, 2017
But the truth is it’s not like any kind of politics that has ever been practiced in the entire history of the United States. In fact, for most of the final half of the 20th century, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were locked in an epic battle, referred to as a Cold War, for global domination. It was a decades long battle between communist and capitalist forms of economy and social organization and in the end the U.S. prevailed.
The USSR may be long gone now, but another oppressive Russian system has sprung up to replace it, one that brooks no criticism and literally silences its strongest critics (many of whom end up dead).
So would you be surprised to learn that Vladimir Putin has many strong admirers within contemporary American conservatism? They like what they see as his muscular Christian values, his swaggering nationalist pride and his bluntly aggressive stance toward foreign adversaries.
Like Trump, they look at Putin and see the kind of impressive leader they would like for the U.S.: bare-chested, a stout defender of Christian values, a man who stands in total opposition to the decadent west.
Putin on his puppet Trump: "Only we knew that he was going to win." Translation by RT, Putin's propaganda network pic.twitter.com/6HPBRxGiRF— RiotWomenn (@riotwomennn) July 21, 2017
On his recent travels to Europe Trump looked adrift, often friendless, but when he met with Putin there was instant mutual admiration and charisma, or what looked like mutual admiration, as he appeared to find his match.
Willing to overlook the persecution and violence directed against the Russian press, or the horrifying reports of concentration camps where hundreds of gay men are being tortured and killed in Chechnya, and even overlooking the now established fact that the Russians hacked our political parties and worked to get Trump elected, Trump himself looked like he was with a man whom he respected and understood.
It’s because at base both share similar authoritarian instincts. They even seem to share many of the same enemies (Putin stands firm on the culture wars that conservatives are losing here at home).
In the months ahead we will continue to debate whether the Trump team’s actions amount to treason, but we should also give much more thought to why they might have been tempted to collude with the Russians in the first place.
Ronald Regan’s generation understood that Russia was an implacable foe, bent on the total destruction of its one global competitor. But Trump looks at Russia and actually admires a lot of what he sees, which could have serious ramifications for us all down the line.
Conservatives used to look at the Russians and see “them.” Now many more of them look at the Russians and see “us.” They see foreign versions of themselves, sharing many of the same worldviews and attitudes.
They both stand strongly in opposition to immigration reform, to any demographic shifts, or to widening equality for long marginalized groups, and especially to the threats to their power posed by many of their own countrymen.
We should be alarmed that many within conservatism now seem to prefer an alliance with the Russians, who apparently share many of their worldviews, to a political compromise with their fellow Americans.
That’s the unspoken background to this entire Russia controversy. It suggests that the fracturing of our politics is deeper and more dangerous than we have dared to contemplate.