Putin in Charge
Can the United States take back control?
In October 1960, Nikita Khrushchev, premier of the Soviet Union, famously took off his shoe at a UN General Assembly meeting, pounded it on the table in front of him and shouted, “We will bury you!” Fighting mad, he was reacting to Western behaviors, citing specifically his opposition to US spy planes flying over territory then known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
During that time period, the USSR and the US were engaged in what was called a “cold war,” basically a standoff of nations holding nuclear weapons the use of which would likely make the entire planet uninhabitable by humans and other mammals. US media explained that Khrushchev’s words should not be taken literally; the meaning was about the success of Soviet communism over US capitalism. Neither side wanted a real war.
Since then, through the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a succession of USSR leaders culminated in the rise of Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, who might less raucously proclaim, but in a slightly more literal sense, “We will bury you.” I can imagine him reveling in our current situation. Do divisiveness and chaos in the US gratify his deepest feelings, or is he gravely disappointed that a moderate Democrat took to the helm and is striving now for national unity?
Putin is a nationalist and a power monger. Though typically reserved, his megalomania drives him to achieve Russian and personal superiority by readily climbing over the corpses of his adversaries. He is also brilliant and, having risen through the ranks of the KGB, is experienced in manipulating people. In international relations, he has bribed other rulers on the world stage, intimidated, incarcerated and allegedly murdered opponents, and most likely blackmailed powerful people into compliance to meet his objectives.
If you think Putin’s health problems witnessed throughout 2020 will stop him, think again. Rumors of the seriousness of these problems may be true, and he may step down soon, but not to worry. His replacement will carry on in much the same manner.
To what extent can the United States be subjected to Putin’s methods of taking control going forward? Can he bribe, intimidate or blackmail President Joseph R. Biden? Not likely. Despite Biden’s generally gentle demeanor, he is a strong ethical leader with tremendous political savvy. But what about after Biden — four years from now? Can Putin groom a bootlicker between now and then?
Democracy in Trouble
The United States is struggling in several arenas. It is working to recover from a global pandemic that has ravaged the nation with a cumulative per capita death-toll that is eighth among 152 countries reported by Statista as of January 25, 2021. Further, it has undergone substantial loss of political standing worldwide, has been infiltrated at the highest levels of government by Russian hackers, is wracked by unemployment, rampant racism and poverty, has been weakened by international market-share losses due to ill-conceived tariffs and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and harbors millions of insurrection supporters, including congressmen, who continue to imply or assert without evidence that the recent election was stolen, a belief underlying the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 after incitement by the former president himself. Can Putin further weaken the United States and ultimately bury us? Will he try to kick us while we’re down? You bet.
How might he do that, and how can the US guard against it?
Perhaps the most effective route for Putin is to install a malignant narcissist controlled by bribery and blackmail. Putin would need to target an American stooge who is more interested in personal gain (power and wealth) than in protecting his/her country. This stooge must be rich enough to be doing business in Russia and can be tempted to commit unsavory or illegal acts for which he or she can be blackmailed. I’m NOT suggesting that all Americans doing business in Russia can be bribed or blackmailed. I AM suggesting, however, that if you’re doing business in Russia, you better be smart enough to keep your nose clean.
As a candidate for the presidency or other high-level federal office, the stooge/puppet needs to have a convenient, secret and secure backchannel to the mentor puppeteer, and the stooge must be willing to follow instructions and never ever render criticism of the malevolent benefactor whose superior intellect will determine the candidate’s success. Further, the stooge must be willing to misdirect and misinform his/her constituency, knowing that weak minded hero-worshippers can be easily duped, not just in the United States. Read about 1930’s Germany.
We may never know the full extent of Putin’s past participation in furthering existing United States problems. We don’t need to know, though it’s certainly a matter worth investigating. What we do need to know and act upon is how to mitigate the potential of future interventions of Putin in US affairs. We need to prevent Putin and his minions from building the current chaos to a higher crescendo. Government agencies must do their share in a number of ways, like enhancing information security, but US individual citizens can also do their share.
What can individual citizens do?
- We can be alert to political lies and malicious innuendo. Politicians often lie by not answering questions and delivering a barrage of falsehoods too numerous for an interviewer to address one by one. Insinuation and innuendo are inappropriate when asked simple yes or no questions. For example, in a January 23, 2021 interview of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul by George Stephanopoulos, Paul repeatedly avoided the question, “Was the election stolen?” Instead, Paul switched the dialogue to related areas but never answered the original question. Clearly, Paul wants to make the case that the election was stolen, but he must do so without directly saying so, because he knows the allegation is false, and he doesn’t want to be caught in a lie. However, no answer is also an answer, and astute listeners need to have that awareness and not proliferate dangerous lies. I’m not accusing Senator Paul of willfully supporting Putin, but illegitimate claims of widespread election or voter fraud help the Russian cause, willful or not.
- We can avoid being duped by social media bots. Such bots utilize artificial intelligence to deceive users that the bots are real people and inform or misinform users to think a particular way that satisfies an objective, like having the user vote a certain way or spend money a certain way or hate somebody. By some estimations, social bots may constitute as much as 19% of all tweet volume! We should assume that inflammatory content on social media is probably not real and needs to be considered planted, probably by malicious parties. This awareness may help to recognize conspiracy theories and reduce their spread. People need to read more than headlines, which will contribute greatly toward understanding reality and civility.
- We can restore faith in our electoral process. It is highly probable that Republicans in Congress who contend that the election was stolen know that it was not. Most of these folks are smart people with an agenda, namely to lead the gullible of their constituency to question the legitimacy of the Biden Administration. Without a shred of evidence for massive voter fraud, their contention holds no water. They know that. They are lying. Their lies can lead to further insurrection. Let’s not play further into Putin’s hands. They need to tell the truth. If they cannot admit that they were lying, they can at least declare, based on further investigation, their “new” understanding that the election was not stolen. Those who fail to do so should be held accountable by demanding publicly that they produce actual evidence of massive voter fraud within a certain time period or face charges of seditious conduct. Those of us who care about upholding our constitution must demand this accountability of our legislators. People make mistakes, but lying is not simply a mistake when it supports sedition; it’s willful and dangerous. Putin is laughing.
- We can vote for legislators who do not support sedition nor lie for personal or party advancement.
- We can educate ourselves. Democracy demands constant learning. States and the federal government can play a role by making education available and absorbable through a variety of media, but we can each hold ourselves accountable to learn facts over “alternative facts” by understanding the roots and responsibilities of good journalism and learning to differentiate media that relies on facts from media that only seeks an audience regardless of the facts.
Beyond these recommendations, there may be nothing more effective than mutual respect to shield ourselves from the wiles of Vladimir Putin. He thrives on the chaos we ourselves support by failing to see any merit in opinions counter to our own. He thrives on lies and misunderstanding and hatefulness. He thrives when we hurt one another and build walls between ourselves. Putin is in charge right now — distorting our thoughts with misinformation and pitting us against each other. We can resist. We must resist.
Let’s take back control.