There is mounting evidence of collusion between current and former members of Donald Trump’s team. One or two might be a coincidence. As it stands, there are: Mike Flynn, Erik Prince, Jeff Sessions, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone – as well as the DNC e-mail hack. (Don’t hesitate to correct me if I’ve missed anyone.)
It is far from proven (or likely) that Trump himself – despite repeated panegyrics on Vladimir Putin – is a fully paid-up Russian agent. Indeed, for all his admiration of the Russian president, his temperament precludes him, on myriad fronts, from being a reliable recruit. More probably, just as Steve Bannon and a variety of far-right groups have, Russia saw an opportunity to latch on to the Trump campaign and use it as a vehicle towards its own ends, nudging its allies into the right positions.
It is clear that Russia favoured a Trump victory, as shown by the DNC hack – not only was Trump clearly more sympathetic to Russia, but Vladimir Putin has a personal grudge against Clinton. Trump is the perfect president for Russia… – and not just because of his refusal to sleight Putin.
For a start, there’s the bullshit. Unlike other dishonest politicians, Trump doesn’t tell occasional lies in the hope of being believed – he continuously makes claims which are verifiably false, whilst denouncing the mainstream media (MSM) as “fake news”. Trump blurs the line between truth and fiction, which plays perfectly into Russia’s (principally Vladislav Surkov’s) “non-linear warfare” propaganda campaign, focused on sowing doubt and confusion about everything.
Moreover, Trump’s surreal and, to be frank, clownish persona help paint democracy as a joke. Why risk electing an idiot, when you can let a reliable authoritarian – with the right abilities to fight his way to the top – do just that? Unlike the autocrats in other paper democracies who use increasingly desperate ruses to make a pretence of democratic legitimacy, the Kremlim actively disseminated an anti-democratic ideology. The ideas and arguments of fascists are revived and publicly quoted by government figures, including Putin. It is readily suggested that democracy is on a par with terrorism. And in Trump, Russia has a Yeltsin-like buffoon to (subtely) point at.
Furthermore, Trump’s approach vindicates Putin’s. Like Putin, he is a strongman. Like Putin, he rejects the liberal rules-based global order of “human rights” and “international obligations” – results, not principles, are what matters. And most potently, his “America first” ideology dispels what Russia decries as the myth of American moral superiority. America has for a long time justified is global hegemony by portraying itself as a “responsible” superpower, acting selflessly to defend peace and order in the world. According to Trump, powerful countries, great countries, are entitled to serve their own interests by throwing their weight around – and if that comes at the expense of others, then so be it. His crassness, his duplicity, his lack of moral purpose – all serve to shatter the twin illusions of American and Russian exceptionalism: that America in particular (and the West in general) represents the pinnacle of civilisation, and that Russia is any worse than anywhere else.
Despite his fawning admiration, it is doubtful that the unpredictable Donald is actively in cahoots with Russia. But unwittingly or not, he is vulnerable to her influence – and is a very useful idiot in more ways than one.