Andrew Sullivan is usually a pleasure to read. Today, he argues, with customary eloquence, that Trump and Putin have thought alike for decades, and that hence there is no need to postulate a conspiracy to collude. Trump is just doing what comes naturally.
Blake Hounshell, writing in Politico, begs to differ. He begins with a small witticism:
From there things get seriouser and seriouser.
With every other world leader, the physically imposing Trump attempts to dominate—witness his alpha-male handshakes with French President Emanuel Macron or his flamboyant man-spreading next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Yet with the diminutive Putin—who is maybe 5 feet, 6 inches tall—he’s oddly submissive. During the public portion of their encounter, Trump was slumping in his chair, as if defeated. Why? Why did he insist on a one-on-one meeting with Putin in the first place?
And why does Trump inevitably return to questioning the irrefutable evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 election? We can dispense with the explanation, conveyed anonymously by senior administration officials, that “his brain can’t process that collusion and cyberattacks are two different things.” We can also forget about the widely held theory that he views the various Russia investigations as a threat to the legitimacy of his election, and therefore a devastating blow to his sense of self-worth.
Or, at least, neither offers a sufficient explanation for why Trump consistently parrots Russian talking points on NATO, the American media, U.S. troop deployments, Ukraine and the legitimacy of the postwar liberal order. What does any of that have to do with his tender ego? Do we really think Trump has an informed position on, say, Montenegro’s history of aggression? Could Trump find Montenegro on a map?
The proof of the pudding, Hounshell cogently argues, will come when Putin tries to grab another country or two. (I assume that’s what they were talking about in their little tête-à-tête in Helsinki.) Hounshell writes,
If Trump is indeed a tool of Putin, what might we expect him to do next? Well, I wouldn’t be sleeping too soundly in Kiev, Podgorica or Riga right now. If the Kremlin tests America’s wobbling commitment to NATO, watch how Trump responds.
Aardvark sends greetings to today’s readers in Belgium, Germany, the United States, Austria, France, and Portugal.
If no one in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, or Ukraine cares to tune in, I entirely understand. I’d be busy hiding the siliver in the back yard, too.