The Putin paradigm: How Trump will rule America

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…]

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5 thoughts on “The Putin paradigm: How Trump will rule America

  1. hquain

    Gessen is sharp and knowledgeable as always, but I wonder if there isn’t a simpler story in plain sight. Russia’s economy is, by most accounts, in serious straits — though this is rarely emphasized in these political discussions.

    To businessmen like Trump and his cabinet choices, however, this means only one thing: time to buy! There is money to be made, lots of it. So let’s make it.

    I’d like to see an account of why this isn’t the driving factor in their ‘policy’. It has been in the past, so why not now?

  2. Paul Woodward

    I guess the big unknown right now is exactly how large a craving for power Trump actually has.

    If the presidency is simply an extension of his business ventures then certainly it could be viewed in terms of its business potential. But at some point the accumulation of wealth reaches saturation point and the facts of ownership start to have diminishing value. At that point, more has to mean more than more wealth — more influence, more power, more status.

    The fact that POTUS is so often referred to as “the most powerful man in the world” surely made this position irresistibly attractive to Trump. The fact that he enters this position at a time during which it is widely acknowledged that American power and thus the power of the president is globally perceived as diminished, has to mean that Trump will do everything he can to boost his status as the most powerful man in the world. He won’t simply see himself as having been anointed with that status at the inauguration — he will want to find suitable ways of demonstrating this.

    That’s what opens up the scariest possibilities.

  3. David Airey

    I think that as well as manufacturing power by manufacturing ‘the truth’, Trump also maintains his power by keeping everybody off-balance. If nobody knows what he’s going to do, how can anyone act to divert him or even advise him? The entire media establishment, the GOP itself, and anybody who consider themselves political opponents, are all running around in circles trying to figure out what to do, while Trump revels in the spotlight. I don’t think he really cares too much what actually happens as long as he can maintain this dynamic. The question is what scale of event will it take to overshadow the importance of Trump in Trumps own mind?

  4. hquain

    My conjecture rests on the idea that for Trump and his ilk, making money is regarded as a kind of supreme good, in need of no further justification as an essential purpose of life. I.e. there’s a culture gap here, and we have to work hard to imagine how their minds work. This would deny your claim that “some point the accumulation of wealth reaches saturation point and the facts of ownership start to have diminishing value.” The counterview I’m suggesting of the plutocratic moral universe would have it that money-making is never set aside as a primary good, even though other goals may figure as well.

    The interesting problem would be to separate the two views in some way so that we could distinguish them behaviorally and decide after some stretch of time, “I’m right/wrong.”

    For example, if Trump & Bros do not end up investing huge amounts in Russia-related enterprises, do not modify the rules so that this can happen, do not engage in quid-pro-quo dealings where one of the quids or quos involves a big pay-off in their investment portfolios or corporations, and so on, then I’d have to say I’ve misread them.

  5. Paul Woodward

    As a minor league billionaire — having accumulated less wealth than 335 other individuals according to Forbes — Donald Trump no doubt has a sense of inadequacy that he tries to mask with his declarations of unparalleled success. But what the billionaires more successful than Trump demonstrate is that there’s absolutely no need to become U.S. president in order to boost ones wealth.

    Let’s suppose Trump does indeed do everything conceivable to boost his own wealth, even in that scenario (which in all likelihood will indeed play out) that still doesn’t necessarily mean that his goal is simply acquiring more wealth.

    To make himself the indispensable president who helps boost the wealth of the ruling class (who would therefore have every reason to want to sustain Trump’s political power in order to protect their own wealth) would put him in a position to pursue the obvious prize for a 70-year-old president: improve the odds for establishing a Trump dynasty in which Ivanka ascends to the throne in 2024 (or 2020 if Trump’s health turns out not to be as flawless as he claims). I would find it hard to imagine that even now, Trump isn’t already thinking about what comes after him and that the only acceptable legacy he can imagine is that after Trump there should be more Trump.

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