Sunday, February 12, 2017

Kasparov on Putin and Trump

Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov talks about Putin and Trump on

Playing the calm voice of reason isn’t my strong suit despite my chess background, but it’s important to focus on what matters most so you don’t lose track in all the noise and chaos that Trump creates so effortlessly. During the campaign, even during the GOP primary, I wrote extensively about the menacing and, to me, familiar nature of Trump’s rhetoric. He used, and continues to use, the language of the strongman. Things are terrible and only he can solve the problems, we are surrounded by enemies and only he can protect you, etc. It’s very similar to the framing that Putin and other dictators use to justify their power.
The US president shouldn’t need to speak like a tyrant. But Trump’s still obsessed with legitimacy; hence his constant falsehoods about overwhelming victory and crowd size. You have an entirely unqualified president with autocratic instincts and dangerous advisers, who is quite possibly compromised by a malign foreign interest.
We gave Putin a chance in Russia, and it was the last free election we ever had. It’s far better to act and later admit you overreacted than to do nothing until it’s impossible to act. Still, the United States is not Russia; institutions are far stronger. They’ve just grown atrophied through lack of rigorous use, like an immune system that hasn’t been under a direct attack in so long it can’t respond to an infection.
You have to reinforce the institutions, steadily and legally, and work through them. If you go too far, and react violently, it will only play into the hands of the Trump administration, which is already portraying all opposition as paid agitators and other ridiculousness straight from Putin’s playbook. When I talk about these things on Twitter or Facebook, I immediately receive a bunch of “Here too!” responses from people living in other authoritarian regimes, from Venezuela to Vietnam.
Riots will only frighten the “moderate middle” you will need as allies sooner or later. If Trump convinces them with lies that the opposition is controlled by dangerous thugs, you’re going to have eight years of Trump and another of his kind to follow. Stick to the facts, repeat them boldly and frequently, so his supporters see the would-be emperor has no bathrobe!
The courts are important, but things won’t really change unless enough Republicans start to see Trump as a liability to their fundraising and reelection chances. That could be quite soon if he can’t fulfill his many campaign promises. Making him look like a loser is crucial. Either the GOP will turn on him or he will be chastened and more likely to compromise. If a demagogue succeeds in claiming credit for wins and scapegoating his enemies for losses, he’s very hard to stop.
Trump will continue to push the limits, to find the cracks in the system that constrains him. America is finding out the hard way that much of its government is based on tradition and the honor system, and not explicit laws. There will be a crisis every day.
Everyone must do what they can themselves and not wait for others to act. If you want change, you have to initiate action, even at a personal level that might seem insignificant. As the motto of Soviet dissidents went: “Do what you must, and so be it.”
It is a scandal that this (Trump's ties to Russia) isn’t the biggest scandal in Washington. It illustrates my point about how the constant outrage and chaos Trump creates can work to his advantage by distracting from far more serious things, like his conflicts of interest and Russia interfering in the US election. Trump obviously doesn’t want it looked into, since even discussing it undermines the legitimacy he’s obsessed with. Plus, he publicly called for Russia to hack more!
The subject also makes nearly every elected politician nervous. But this is a matter of US national security, not simply rehashing the 2016 election. There must be a special investigation. Ignoring it is the worst option, since it only encourages Putin, and others, to do more of this, as is already happening in France and Germany.
I still want to know who suggested Tillerson’s name, if not one of Trump’s Russia contacts, perhaps someone with the Kissinger group that is working with both sides. Tillerson is a serious guy, not a lightweight or crony like so many of Trump’s nominees. If he is actually dedicated to serving the United States, he could be a moderating force on Trump, because he won’t let Trump push him around and his leaving would be a huge embarrassment after such a battle to confirm him.
Maybe I’m too optimistic, of course, and he’s just there to facilitate oil deals and lift sanctions for Putin and Exxon Mobil. If the worst case is true, the circumstantial case for Trump being compromised by Russian intelligence will be incredibly strong. Don’t forget Wilbur Ross for secretary of commerce, who has big dealings with Putin oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
GOP politicians are putting party over principles by supporting Trump so loyally, and by so doing, they reveal they don’t actually have any principles at all.
Even if only half of it (the Steele dossier on Trump and Russia) is true, it’s incredibly incriminating: Some items have already been verified, so it can’t be discarded purely as slander or fantasy. Second, some items are likely spurious and easily disproved, which Trump’s defenders will use to say that it’s all a fiction. They will shift the conversation to the one or two parts that have been falsified and discredit the entire thing. This is also the pattern for weakly reported news stories in general, and why the media has to be twice as careful verifying things with regard to Trump instead of jumping at shadows to get a scoop and discrediting themselves in the eyes of the public. If facts are reduced to being considered nothing more than partisan opinions, we are in deep trouble.
There are many levels with which to like or dislike Trump’s executive order, and on most of them, I’m a critic. As an immigrant, if not quite a refugee, to the US myself, I’m generally very sympathetic to people forced to flee their homelands, as my family and I escaped ethnic pogroms against Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1990.
It should concern every American that Trump was so hasty to sacrifice security for a quick PR move with his base. Even the biggest fans of doing this should be alarmed by how incompetently it was handled.
Immigration has always been one of America’s greatest strengths, both for its reputation in the world and in practical matters of economic and cultural wealth. Being the destination of choice for so many of the world’s best and brightest has been a huge advantage, and anything that detracts from that “brain magnet” will hurt the US economically, including the workers who benefit from the startups and other jobs created by immigrants. Trump’s executive order has a big symbolic effect of making the US less attractive as a destination. Many Trump supporters will see this as a feature, not a bug, but this is ignorance and xenophobia.
Living in the USSR, the image of the United States as a shining city on a hill and beacon of hope to the oppressed was very real to me. I understand that many Americans, especially on the left, may think this is corny mythology, but don’t try to tell that to immigrants and refugees! Even if you are cynical, there is no denying this image is a big element of American soft power in the world, as a nation to be envied and imitated despite its flaws.

No comments: