By Patricia Lee Sharpe
After PBS called the election in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I tried to sleep. Nightmares, some involving a nuclear holocaust, kept waking me up. The idea of a President Trump terrified me. But the fact that Trump had won the election fair and square (even if nastily) was also a reality that I and others who’d supported Hillary Clinton would have to live with, so I decided to see if there was anything I might have missed as I watched his candidacy through oppositional eyes. I think I found something.
As I recall, American President-elect Donald Trump said something like this of Russian President Putin at one point, “It would be nice if we could get along.” Then he added a qualifier, something like, “We’ll see.”
Listening selectively, the Russian power elite is now basking in Trump’s victory. Putin himself is smirking. Let them. It may well be that the Russians have already been outsmarted by the greatest political con artist of them all.
Sure, when challenged during the presidential debates, Trump refused to concede that Moscow might be giving him a boost by hacking and leaking emails from his opposition. And Trump’s speculation about the possibility of leaving NATO should NATO partners not contribute more appropriately to Western joint defense might also be contributing to the probably false confidence that Moscow appears to be wallowing in.
So, what else suggests that Hillary might have been right when she accused Trump of being Putin’s puppet? For one, his refusal to criticize Putin’s authoritarianism, calling him instead an admirably strong leader. Also his pathetic purring when stroked by Putin. Add the Paul Manafort connection with Russia via Ukraine, and although the Trump team has denied meeting with Russian officials before the election, as Russian Foreign Ministry spokespersons have recently claimed, it is true that Trump's national security advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn sat next to Putin during a 1915 dinner sponsored by a Russian propaganda machine masquerading as a TV station. And how about Trump's shocking (or convenient) ignorance of Russia's appropriation of Crimea? Maybe the fear that Trump will indeed be Putin’s patsy is not entirely unfounded.
And yet it's more likely that the Russians are crowing too soon. First of all, there’s nothing about Trump’s personality that suggests that he wants to be anything but top dog, which he will be as President of the United States. Not only is he unlikely to subordinate his (or America's) interests to Putin's, his personal mode isn’t as team player, but as team Captain. What’s more, as leader of Team USA, he’s unlikely to want anything less than an Olympic gold medal, especially since he scorns and abhors losers, which means he’s not about to be one, if he can help it.
Vladimir Putin is clever. He’s very good at keeping the U.S. and the rest of the world off balance. He may have met his match, however. Trump executed almost flawlessly a brilliant strategy for winning the presidency, all the while making it seem as if he were nothing but an ignorant, bigoted boob. By so appearing, in fact, he's fooled jubilant Russian officials into coming very close to admitting to the hacking they were accused of.
Putin doesn’t understand any of this yet, because he has fallen victim to a critical element of the Trump strategy, an element that Trump actually made explicit in the course of his political campaign: keep the enemy guessing. Keep him off guard. Why else would Trump have pretended to ignorance of Russian hacking? He was briefed, after all. He knew everything that Hillary knew. Why else would he let it seem as if he wanted nothing more than to be best buds with a rival big power president? Because that’s what deal makers do. Even professional diplomats are nice to those they hope to outsmart. Then they walk away with the pot. Finally, Trump is an empire builder. His instinct (like Putin's) is to acquire properties, not to toss them away for nothing.
My hunch is that the new Captain of Team USA has every intention of making sure the country he’s about to head up is a winner and a leader on the international stage. Yes, he spoke only of domestic policies in his victory speech, he's said a few things about not being over extended internationally and he's not a joiner unless there's plenty in it for him, which means pacts and alliances will be approached warily, but if there's anything we've learned about Donald Trump it's the malleability of his positions. Weasel word Trump! And see above for his love of misleading other players.
Nevertheless, I still worry about Donald Trump's twitter tantrums when it comes to nuclear decisions. And other things, too.