Politics & Policy

Trump Confesses Admiration for Strongman Who Offs Journalists, Fans Applaud

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

There are no sharks left to jump. At long last, we have reached the extinction point:

US presidential hopeful Donald Trump has said it is a “great honour” to receive a compliment from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The property tycoon hailed Mr Putin as a man “highly respected within his own country and beyond”.

It comes after Mr Putin said Mr Trump was a “very colourful, talented person” during his annual news conference.

Goodbye, Selachimorpha. It was nice knowing you.

Now, we must wait for the inevitable cycle to play itself out. First, we will see the predictions that “this time” Trump has gone too far. Then, a few days later, we will watch in resignation as the polls tell another tale. And then will come the renunciation and the irritation and, worst of all, the explanation.

It is typically asserted that Trump’s rise is the product of the Republican party’s rank unpopularity among its traditional electoral base. “Of course the voters are rebelling,” the argument goes. “For years now, the GOP has overpromised and under-delivered; it has failed to do anything substantive on immigration; it has been too keen to cozy up to its donors. And then along comes this guy, and provides an outlet. What did you think was going to happen?”

Evidently, there is something to this critique. But it is not the catch-all excuse that some believe it to be, and nor does it justify the extent to which many Americans are happy to indulge the man. It cannot explain, for example, why Trump’s obvious lack of interest in liberty and limited government is so steadfastly ignored by his apologists. It cannot explain why his open hostility to the Constitution is met with equanimity. And it most definitely cannot explain why, as I write, thousand of his fans are running around justifying Trump’s admission that he admires Vladimir Putin.

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And make no mistake: Just a few hours ago, Trump confessed exactly that. He was not caught in a “gotcha.” He was not misquoted. He was not led down the garden path by the “liberal” or “mainstream” or “pro-Obama” media. Rather, he said, as plain as day, that he has “always felt fine about Putin”; he called him “strong” and a “powerful leader”; and he suggested that he should be respected for his “popularity within his country.” Nothing could prise him from this reverence. When it was pointed out to him that Putin is a man who “kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries,” Trump said flatly, “At least he’s a leader,” which I can only imagine sounds an awful lot better in the original German. Then, for good measure, he took aim at the American system: “Unlike,” he added, “what we have in this country.”

#share#When pushed to explain why he was happily accepting the endorsement of a man who “kills journalists that don’t agree with him,” Trump channeled Noam Chomsky, submitting that “our country does plenty of killing, also” and proposing that “there’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world.” It was only when asked straight-up whether he would at least “condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents” that he deigned to acquiesce — and even then he did so in the phlegmatic, half-assed, “oh absolutely” style of a man who has been asked for the ninth time if he will remember to pick the kids up from school.

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This, it should go without saying, is a disgrace of the highest order. It would, of course, be unseemly to hear anybody in the United States downplaying the murder of dissenters. But a presidential aspirant? In the Republican party? Two of Donald Trump’s opponents in this race are in America because their parents were forced out of Cuba by exactly the sort of regime that Trump is now applauding. How quickly the center of gravity would change were he the nominee. “I know not what course others may take,” Patrick Henry exclaimed in 1775, “but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit,” argued Ronald Reagan in his second inaugural. “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader,” says Donald J. Trump.

#related#This will not “finish” Trump off, of course, for Trump is the focal point in what has essentially become an unfalsifiable conspiracy theory in which the “establishment” is always wrong and Trumpism is always the solution. Facts, frankly, no longer enter into this calculation; reason, too, has become an afterthought. It is quite the spectacle to watch a group of voters simultaneously slamming Barack Obama as an inexperienced, Constitution-hating celebrity, and then to enthusiastically propose a mirror-image as his replacement. But watch this you can. Fire up Twitter right now and scroll through the excuses that are being advanced in favor of Trump’s pro-Putin lovefest. Do you think the incumbent president would have got away with this? Would Ted Cruz?

Cincinnatus, where art thou? Cleveland turns its lonely eyes to you.


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