Of all the comments and policy positions that have surfaced with Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States, none is so serious, with such disastrous potential consequences, as Trump’s embrace and alignment with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. This is not politics as usual. And it threatens to overturn the very foundation of U.S. national security and American democracy.
In the seven decades since the end of World War II, Republicans and Democrats alike have had a simple yet clear foreign policy consensus: containment of an aggressive Soviet Union and now Russian state is in America’s and the world’s best interest. A heightened wariness of our nuclear-armed adversary has been a touchstone for every politician and policy maker across the political spectrum. It is the cornerstone for the collective defense embedded in the 28-nation-strong NATO alliance founded in 1949.
Yet, Donald Trump would reverse all of that with nary a concern for the consequences. In throwaway lines at raucous political rallies and in repeated news interviews, Trump has made his pro-Putin, pro-Russian views unmistakable. He likes the wily former KGB ringleader, never mind his authoritarian practices and totalitarian tendencies.
In the span of one four-year election cycle, the Republican Party standard-bearer has gone from fingering Russia as the number one threat to U.S. national security, to praising Putin and cozying up to Russia as a friendly and benign partner.
Based on his own words, Trump is not at all troubled by recent Russian-backed military incursions in the Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea (which Trump was not even aware of at first). So what, he seemed to shrug when asked. Trump suggests that maybe the U.S. would not come to the aid of NATO members in the Baltic States, as called for in NATO’s charter, unless they’ve met certain defense spending thresholds that few of its members meet.
It is not hard to imagine a future Trump administration looking the other way as Russian troops pounce on independent Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, each one a member of NATO. The potential result would be an emboldened Russia, a vastly weakened NATO alliance, and an America with decidedly much less clout in the world.
Trump says the Russian strongman — who controls his country’s media, has had journalists killed, routinely jails his political opponents, and siphons off billions to his own offshore accounts — is somehow better and stronger than the elected leader of the free world, Barack Obama. Indeed it’s no coincidence that Trump’s ludicrous claim that Obama was the founder of ISIS echoes similar Russian propaganda.
Trump is also untroubled by Russia’s direct interference in the U.S. election through a combination of cyberhacking espionage and then leaking the results of that espionage in order to discredit Trump’s political opponent. This has never happened before, even during the Cold War. It’s a dangerous escalation that threatens the integrity of the U.S. electoral process, which Trump has already called rigged.
Perhaps even more shockingly, Trump is explicitly encouraging Russia to commit further espionage against Hillary Clinton. Russian hackers need little encouragement since they’ve already stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Colin Powell and have been tinkering with various state electoral systems. And alarmingly, Trump’s campaign hints that there will be more of this before the election. This is also unprecedented. For a political candidate to condone and even encourage Russia’s cybercrime against our democracy borders on treason.
Trump’s otherwise inexplicable embrace of Putin can perhaps best be understood in the context of the New York developer’s financial self-interest. Because of his serial bankruptcies, Trump no longer has access to easy capital from U.S. banks. Instead, he has turned to Russian investors, various oligarchs and their bank of choice, Deutsche Bank. No one can say how many hundreds of millions of dollars Trump now owes these foreign investors — another reason voters should see Trump’s tax returns — but it is this motive of personal profit that seems to be behind the 180-degree turn Trump would steer the ship of state in regards to Russia.
It’s not too far-fetched to imagine that a President Trump will enter into business and trade deals with Russian leaders for his own financial benefit, whatever the U.S. national interest, since as he has shown again and again that everything is really only about Trump, his brand and his bank account, whatever the consequences may be for others.
While many of these issues have been written about before, most of the media coverage has been piecemeal, compromised and distracted by the circus-like environment of this election season.
We think it’s important for every American to see the big picture of the Putin-Trump nexus. We believe that when they do, nearly all Americans — regardless of their political affiliation — will come to see that electing Donald Trump President would be profoundly dangerous to our democracy and to the world, and can’t be allowed to happen.
Rob Glaser is an Internet entrepreneur and founder and CEO of RealNetworks. He has set up the Progress for USA PAC which supports the website, www.PutinTrump.org. Bill Buzenberg, the former head of NPR News and executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, is the editorial director of the PutinTrump.org website.