Trump gives Putin an ‘A’ for leadership. Here’s why that’s terrifying.

A mural in Vilnius, Lithuania depicts Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “affection” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo by Michael P. Murphy. Used with permission.

According to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump would keep some pretty despicable company if elected president. In her major foreign policy and national security speech in San Diego on Tuesday, June 2, she discussed the presumptive Republican nominee’s affection for tyrants.

“He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength,” Clinton told the crowd. “He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea — something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat…And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an ‘A.’”

It’s that last part that really gives me pause.

Maybe Trump likes Putin’s machismo, his penchant for posing shirtless on horseback, tranquilizing endangered Siberian tigers, or his uncanny ability to locate sixth-century artifacts while scuba diving. Trump and Putin’s egos certainly align in a bizarre and undying quest for the spotlight, even if they themselves hired the spotlight operator.

But in the nearly seventeen years that Putin has been in power, his “Grade A Leadership” has created a system that stands in diametric opposition to the uniquely American values that (have and continue to) make our country great.

The Kremlin arrests and imprisons anyone who stands in peaceful opposition to its policies. It liquidates media outlets that are critical of Putin’s policies, leaving only state-owned publications and stations to broadcast the Putin Show all day, every day. Critics who are deemed to have gone “too far” end up dead, like investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

In the United States, no matter a person’s political convictions, we respect the rights of assembly and free speech. The ability of our citizens and their elected representatives to entertain a variety of opinions makes our democracy stronger.

Putin’s leadership hasn’t only affected his political opponents. It has greatly reduced the quality of life in the entire country. Since his third term in office began, Russia’s economy has imploded. The decreasing price of oil, on which Russia’s economy depends, is certainly part of the problem. If Putin hadn’t attempted to bolster his approval ratings with his military escapades in Ukraine, however, the West would not have been forced to implement biting sanctions on Russian banks, and Russia’s economy would be more stable today. Putin spent over $50 billion on defense, despite the World Bank’s warning that poverty in Russia would reach 14.2 percent in 2016. Retirees live on about $150 a month and try to make ends meet despite swiftly rising prices. And 10 percent of Russia’s population controls 85 percent of its wealth. Russia’s economy is not great. It is, to use one of Trump’s favorite words, “pathetic.”

If Trump intends to model his presidency on Putin’s Grade A leadership of Russia, he will not “make America great again.” He will destroy everything we stand for — our freedoms, our values, our security, our prosperity — in a quest to bolster his image and duke out his personal battles on the world’s stage.

In a vacuum, Putin’s Russia is not a country that any American voter would seek to emulate. The United States should not elect a demagogue who intends to do exactly that.