Ruining the brand

The Times addresses the question of why Putin wanted Trump; what’s in it for him?

Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth and a contributor to The Upshot, made the case succinctly:

Trump has flouted the norms of American elections and governance at every turn, including calling for the jailing of an opposing candidate, encouraging violence against protesters, endorsing the torture of prisoners, suggesting he might not respect the results of the election, falsely claiming that millions of illegal votes were cast, failing to resolve unprecedented conflicts of interest or to even disclose his tax returns, and attacking a federal judge based on his ethnicity (and that’s of course a highly incomplete list). I can’t directly assess the IC report, but it’s fair to say that the liberal democratic order is being disrupted both in the U.S. and around the world.

Putin doesn’t like the liberal democratic order, because it’s not his kind of order. He’d rather have a kind of order that favors authoritarian strongmen like him. Breaking the legs of the liberal democratic order helps with that.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, sent me his thoughts:

One, the Russians have known for a long time that Trump was susceptible to flattery, especially from major authority figures. Two, he had a significant following in the US as a mega-celebrity. Three, if he got engaged in politics, it would be divisive — a good early example being his birther efforts. Four, he would perplex, frustrate and divide Republican establishment figures, most of whom were hostile to Russia, but a divided major party serves to disrupt the democracy. I doubt they thought he would win, but he would encourage or exacerbate divisions in the society, challenge many fundamental norms over his own narcissistic sociopathic views of himself and his entitlements, and break a lot of crockery without a second’s misgiving. His victories, with the GOP nomination and the election were unexpected icing on the cake.

It’s a tiny bit reassuring that even someone at the AEI can see that.

Another scholar put it as a matter of weakening “the West’s desirability, credibility and moral authority.” It’s an effective way of doing that, for sure. I’ve lost a huge amount of trust in our desirability, credibility and moral authority since last July. I still have no desire to move to Pakistan or Somalia, but the gap is closing. That’s no good. Pakistan and Somalia need to get better; we don’t need to get worse.

David Leege, a professor emeritus of political science at Notre Dame, wrote me:

Trump was a willing but unwitting accomplice because he loved the flattery, saw it only as a business opportunity, and had so little understanding of international relations to recognize how affairs of state could be caught up in it.

Along similar lines, Sandy Maisel, a political scientist at Colby, argued that Trump’s

ego is such that he never asked, nor does he ask yet, what playing into the Russians needs and desires meant for our system. An unwitting — ego-driven — tool of Putin’s goal to undermine faith in our system and in the Clinton candidacy.

Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, was outspoken in his response to my question asking why the Russians favored Trump:

His shameless mendacity, narcissism, authoritarian instincts, inability to tolerate opposition or criticism, hostility to formal institutions and the media, vast ignorance of foreign and domestic issues, indifference to constitutional restraints and eagerness to whip up and exploit xenophobia and (barely disguised) racism. We might add his affection for authoritarian leaders and other tough guys. Have I left anything out? Probably. All of these characteristics lead him to say things and propose actions antithetical to democratic norms and standards.

Trump is so terrible it’s difficult to give an exhaustive account of his terribleness.

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