Trump is bowing to Putin more brazenly than ever in embracing fascism
He's getting his followers used to the idea of Russia further invading Eastern Europe. The GOP is falling right in line. And much of corporate media, as usual, is downplaying it.
It was startling—even for Donald Trump—when the orange menace openly encouraged Russia to militarily attack U.S. allies, promoting the idea of allowing Russia to do “whatever the hell they want,” during a campaign rally over the weekend:
“NATO was busted until I came along,” Trump said at a rally in Conway, South Carolina. “I said, ‘Everybody’s gonna pay.’ They said, ‘Well, if we don’t pay, are you still going to protect us?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They couldn’t believe the answer…
Trump said “one of the presidents of a big country” at one point asked him whether the US would still defend the country if they were invaded by Russia even if they “don’t pay.”…No, he said, ”I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”
This was the most stark recent example of Trump taking orders from Vladimir Putin, who is more desperate and becoming more demanding, especially if he’s going to help Trump with election interference again in 2024. But the way Trump expressed this idea gave journalists—who damn well should know better by now—the excuse to call it a “riff” or an “outburst” and question whether he really means it. And one thing we all know by now: When Trump says something he really means it.
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At the rally, Trump relayed a story he’s told since 2016—about NATO allies supposedly not paying their fair share into the alliance—but, as national security writer Marcy Wheeler of Emptywheel.net noted in an interview on my SiriusXM program yesterday, this time it had a new twist, which reflected a demand from Putin made clear in Putin’s recent interview with Tucker Carlson.
But first, let’s set the record straight: the issue of lack of payments into the NATO alliance by countries bordering Russia, countries that are threatened by Putin, is not a thing. NATO member countries make an aspirational commitment—a guideline, not a requirement—to spend 2% of their GDP on NATO defense. And it’s true that there are countries that haven’t reached that target.
But Poland, for example, having committed 3.9% of its GDP in 2023, actually did better than the U.S., which gave 3.49% of its GDP. As The Washington Post reports, “Most of the countries that spent beyond the 2 percent mark either share a border with Russia or sit near the front lines of the Ukraine war. Trump’s insinuation that they’re not paying their share is false.”
As noted, Trump has made the claim before, relaying a story about an unnamed foreign leader he spoke with who allegedly told him he didn’t meet the 2% target, but Marcy Wheeler pointed out that this time Trump added the part about letting Russia attack those that didn’t pay—”do whatever the hell they want.” That’s a bold, outrageous statement that surely would have gotten attention if he'd said it before. Why was it coming now?
Marcy astutely notes that it came one day after Putin, in his interview with Carlson, lectured the talk show host, giving him a Putinesque, revisionist history.
Putin told Carlson that his beef wasn’t with the NATO alliance itself threatening Russia with weapons on its border—a theory that blames the U.S. for all the troubles and for inciting Russia, having pushed for the inclusion of more countries into NATO. It’s the narrative that the MAGA defenders of Russia have pushed: By forming NATO and expanding it, the U.S. and its allies instigated Russia, creating a threat on its border.
No, Putin told Carlson that that had nothing to do with it. Putin simply has a right, he told Carlson, to take all of the Eastern European countries—Greater Russia—because they were once within the Russian Empire, and he telegraphed that he planned to do so.
Trump obviously got the message, and, in that rally, he was beginning to train his MAGA base to embrace the notion.
Historian and authoritarianism expert Ruth Ben-Ghiat has talked about this phenomenon often in her newsletter Lucid and in interviews on my SiriusXM program and elsewhere. She points to Trump following the template of current and former authoritarians, of “re-educating” his followers—and attempting to “re-educate” all Americans—to accept a new, fascistic reality, most pertinently the use of violence to achieve ends.
In the same few days in which Trump made the alarming remark at his rally, he was, according to news reports, urging Republicans in the Senate not to vote for a new aid bill for Ukraine (and Israel and Taiwan) that didn’t include the border deal that Trump had previously torpedoed.
It’s clear then that Trump’s sinking of the border deal was never really about the border—at least not solely—and always very much about Ukraine.
Surprisingly enough, 22 GOP senators defied Trump and voted for the aid package last night, which overcame the 60-vote threshold. But so far, it doesn’t look like the bill will get a vote in its current form in the Republican-controlled House, even as Ukraine aid has been held up for months.
MAGA Mike Johnson is pushing back, facing a motion-to-vacate threat from Putin-loving Marjorie Taylor Greene, who of course is taking orders from Trump—even though the bill has the support among both Republicans and Democrats to easily pass.
And some senators who were previously foreign policy hawks—like Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio—voted against the funding bill, standing with Trump and Putin and letting it be known what direction they’ll let Trump take the country and the world if he gets elected. These Senate Republicans and the House Republican leadership are so devoid of legitimate reasoning—which reveals their acquiescence to Trump and thus Putin—that they’re actually claiming they won’t vote for that aid unless a border bill is passed. Yes, even though they just killed the border deal that had their wish list of right-wing restrictions.
The American corporate media, meanwhile, has been really slow on the uptake in covering the story of Trump’s alarming threat. All weekend, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the cable networks were obsessed with Joe Biden’s age, following the partisan hit job the special counsel dropped. When they did focus on Trump’s comments, it was about Trump “blustering” and making friends with not-so-nice people, or they focused on how European allies were “concerned.”
For example, the BCC went with the straight-forward headline “Trump Encourages Russia to Attack NATO Allies,” but the New York Times offered this obscure one: “Favoring Foes Over Friends, Trump Threatens to Unpend International Order.”
In that story, Times reporter Peter Baker wrote:
Mr. Trump’s riff once again raised uncomfortable questions about his taste in friends. Encouraging Russia to attack NATO allies, even if he were not fully serious, is a stunning statement that highlights his odd affinity for President Vladimir V. Putin, who has already proved his willingness to invade neighboring countries.
A “riff”? An “odd affinity”? "Even if he were not fully serious”?
Why are they giving Trump the benefit of the doubt that he may not be “fully serious,” and how could anyone in 2024 call it an “odd affinity”for Putin, as if it’s a new phenomenon that hasn’t been explored a thousand times?
Putin interfered in the 2016 election for Trump. Trump tried to break up NATO for Putin and loves the accolades by the authoritarian, not to mention the way Putin rules by brute force. All of that has been very clear—nothing “odd” about it.
Some of Baker’s coverage of Trump’s threat is even through the lens of Biden’s age. I kid you not.
His latest is headlined, “Trump Steps Up, Helping Biden Just When the President Needs Him,” with the subhead, “Donald J. Trump’s stunning statement supporting a Russian attack against ‘delinquent’ NATO allies takes attention away from unwelcome questions about the president’s age and provides the Biden camp a useful contrast.”
Baker and the Times, I must admit, are the worst offenders. But much of the media was obsessed with Biden’s age over the weekend, as other issues were clearly much more important.
Regarding the media's saturation coverage of Biden's age, Margaret Sullivan, the longtime media critic, formerly of both the New York Times and the Washington Post, wrote in her Substack newsletter, American Crisis, “Yes, he’s old; and, never a gifted public speaker, he makes cringe-inducing mistakes. It would be great if he were 20 years younger. His age really is a legitimate concern for many voters. But for the media to make this the overarching issue of the campaign is nothing short of journalistic malpractice.”
We have never relied on corporate media consistently doing its job, and always realized that in the end, organizing carried us through. There have been moments, especially recently, when the media seem to rise to the occasion, where a turning point seems near. Then a shiny object flies by, and they all glom onto it. I’m now more resigned to their getting it right sometimes while going off the rails most of the time—and having to be lambasted by all of us, shamed into steering back to reality.
And this story about Trump more brazenly doing Putin’s bidding is one we must really hit them on forcefully. The ramifications are immense, as it’s clear Trump would back Putin taking all of Eastern Europe.
That’s a lot more urgent than obsessing over Biden stumbling on a few words when the man has almost single-handedly held NATO together—after Trump tried to destroy it—and has been the greatest thorn in Putin’s side, showing his mental acuity is sharp while Trump is clouded by his narcissism and compromised by his past.
That’s what we have to drive home.