Historian Warns Link Between Trump, Putin is Dark and Very Dangerous
A noted historian is warning Americans that the relationship between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin is sinister, dark and very dangerous.
He said Americans should be worried.
Noted historian of the 20th century’s tyrannical regimes in Eastern Europe, Timothy Snyder warned in a lecture that while Americans appear to be looking the wrong way, President Trump is leading the nation into a dark and dangerous place.
He said the U.S. is rapidly moving down a cultural and political path that looks like the path crafted by Putin a few years ago that created the present authoritarian and oligarchic rule in Russia.
“Where I am coming from is, it can happen. It happens to people like us. And it’s happening now. It’s happening now. We’re not in some strange dream. We’re not in some American exceptionalist moment. We’re in a moment where this is happening throughout the West,” he said.
Snyder was speaking recently at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas at Yale University where he is a history professor.
He warned that Trump appears to be an admirer of Vladimir Putin and may be looking to run America based on Putin’s ideas.
He said examples of Trump’s dark fantasies include the U.S. President’s deep and abiding fascination with Russia, his campaign’s links to Russians and the desire of those around him to work with Russian Oligarchs and allies.
He also said that Americas will be wrong to assume that the worst Russia can do is hack into voting machines or stealing Democratic emails.
He said Russia’s propagandistic pro-Trump social media messaging is more damaging to American democracy than anything else because they are difficult to manage.
Snyder warned that Americans will be wrong to believe that the country is unique today or when viewed historically, in being pushed into authoritarianism.
Stressing Trump’s bent towards Putin and away from traditional allies, he said the President is using the same tactics Putin and his pals in Russian state-run media use and it will be easy for Trump to consolidate his authoritarian power because Americans depend so much on their smartphones and social media.
“What’s happening to us in the United States of America in 2016, 2017, it isn’t just happening here,” he said. “In the first decade of the century, history was going from the west to the east. That hasn’t been true for some time… For the past several years, history has been coming from the east to the west… The cyber war, fake news, those things are old news in some places…. They are only new here. The fact we’re shocked by them is because we’re provincial. We’re not paying attention,” Professor Snyder said.
Launching into the actions of the Republican Party and President Donald Trump since he took office, he said “the question I want to ask here is, what have we gotten us into?”
“We are going to learn all kinds of things. Not everyone agrees with me… but I think we are going to find out that the connections between the Trump campaign and various Russian actors were deeper, darker and more spectacular than we could have imagined,” he said.
“I am pretty sure that’s how it’s going to turn out. But even if I am wrong, the Russia connection is very important because Russia is a model of how you run a 21st-century, postmodern, authoritarian, kleptocratic, unequal regime. And it is a positive model for the president of the United States”
“It’s also a model of how you use terrorism, the threat of terror and the reality of terrorism, to stabilize inequality over the long term; a positive model, as the president himself has said, for how you use the politics of terror.”
He said Russia’s importance is not based on its recent meddling in the U.S. presidential elections or its recent actions in Europe, but “because Russia is a possible future. That is the way that we are heading.”
Speaking of the 2016 election, the professor said Russia’s huge impact was not just that they stole email messages from the Democratic Party server and Hillary Clinton campaign but Trump asking Putin to find and release emails was a sign most Americans need to take notice of.
“Now we know that there was much more of it and it was much more profoundly important than was understood,” he said.
“The main element of the Russian intervention in the election had to do with gathering political data about tens of millions of Americans, and then using Facebook and other platforms to target fake news to people who were regarded as susceptible, especially in the last weeks before the election, which probably determined the outcome in critical states that were targeted, which probably determined the outcome of the election as a whole.”
“This isn’t to say that there aren’t other reasons, and in my view, good reasons, why people could vote for Mr. Trump. It isn’t to say that Hillary Clinton ran a wonderful campaign either. It’s just to say that in a very close election, that probably made the difference.”
“This isn’t just me saying this. These are the conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies as well as, although you have to read between the lines a little bit, the conclusion of Facebook itself. Facebook has acknowledged it was used in this way.”
Emphasizing the role of Trump’s presidential campaign team, notably campaign manager Paul Manafort, he lamented that Putin may have penetrated the American democratic system deeper than the Trump administration is willing to reveal.
“Paul Manafort was not paid by the Trump campaign. On the other hand, he was on a million-dollar-a-year contract for several years for an oligarch close to Mr. Putin to soften up American democracy for Russian influence.”
“That could be a coincidence. You could say that job ended before the campaign. That’s true because Mr. Manafort took up another job [after the convention], which was to be the main strategist for the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who Mr. Manafort helped back to power.”
“Trump’s first foreign policy speech was written by someone who was on the payroll of a Russian gas company… We knew that Mr. Flynn, his national security adviser, was paid $45,000 by a Russian propaganda outlet upon which he had appeared multiple times.”
“Now we have a secretary of state who was given the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, which might be a curiosity in a different context—but is not a curiosity at all. We have an attorney general, the highest law enforcement official in the land, who perjured himself in his own confirmation hearings under oath on precisely the question of his contacts with Russia.”
“We have a senior adviser in the White House who happens to be the son-in-law of the president, Mr. Kushner, who also lied in order to get security clearance—which, if you were a normal person would be a problem, right?”
“If Mr. Sessions were a normal lawyer, he could be disbarred, right? If we had a rule of law state, Mr. Kushner could not get security clearance because he left out his contacts with Russian officials.”
He stressed that Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey and his threats to fire special counsel Robert Mueller should serve as a warning to Americans.
“I wish I was making this stuff up. Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer is the personal lawyer of the main Russian oligarch. A man named Oleg Deripaska, who is very close to Mr. Putin, and he was also very close to Mr. Manafort.”
“Now it could possibly all be a coincidence, but we could ask the question a different way: couldn’t the president have a lawyer who is not also the lawyer for the other side? If the president is denying his connections to Russia, could he not find a lawyer who is also not representing the Russians? Right? There are a lot of lawyers and they are not all representing Russian oligarchs.”
He said his goal is to help Americans understand what is really going on and perhaps find a way to get out.
“I’m trying to get us out of this trap where we get bombarded with bad news, and we empathize with our friends, but we’re not sure what to do and then the next day is the same. And you get enough days like that, and then everything normalizes and then it’s too late, and then you’re done. And then you have an authoritarian regime and then your children don’t know what freedom is.”
He told Americans to keep resisting.
“The first is, don’t obey in advance. When we imagine a Hitler or a Stalin, we imagine a fully formed supervillain coming onstage. That’s not how it happens. What’s necessary is consent. Consent can be not doing anything, looking away, saying that it’s normal, saying that it can’t happen here, saying that the institutions are going to save us, and doing nothing—that’s consent.”
“That’s the kind of consent that authoritarian regimes need. They need some act of participation, but mostly they need that kind of consent.”
“If authoritarian regime changes are to be resisted, they have to be resisted in the first six to 18 months. If they are not, then you lose the chance to do anything. The devastating psychological-political connection is when you say, ‘It can’t happen here,’ or, ‘Well, I’ll do something tomorrow,’ or ‘Well, my friends aren’t doing anything yet,’ and then the time passes. The tragedy is then that you have lost time that you cannot get back.”
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