Masha Gessen writes: Over the last few days, concerns about some kind of a hidden alliance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have exploded. There is the president-elect with his apparently fawning regard for the Russian leader. There are Trump’s top cabinet picks, with their unusual Russian ties: as national security advisor, Lt. General Mike Flynn, who has met Putin and done paid events for a Kremlin-sponsored TV station; and as secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has done billions of dollars of business in Russia and received an award from Putin. And then there is the revelation, from the CIA, that Russia may have actively interfered in the US election to get Trump elected.
Of course, Putin may well have reasons for wanting Trump to be president — not least Trump’s apparent skepticism toward NATO and his lack of opposition to Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria. But a more important connection between the two men may be their common approach to leadership, which will almost certainly outlast any friendship that may form between them. During his campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly expressed admiration for the way Putin governed. “The man has very strong control over his country,” Trump said at one point. “He’s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.” That revealed a lot about Trump’s concept of the presidency—he seems to believe that effectiveness is measured by the extent to which the leader “controls” the country. But how might that play out in practice? To what extent can Putin provide insight into Trump’s understanding of power?
There is still much we don’t know about how Trump will rule. But in the month since his election, some characteristic patterns have emerged — and they bear some instructive similarities to the style Putin has practiced over many years. [Continue reading…]