I would so love to not write about Donald Trump this month. He's rude, crude, and lewd, noxious, obnoxious, and tedious. He's crowded the real news out of journalism and—this I take personally—virtually destroyed multiple forms of fiction, the political novel, spy thrillers, and satire.
Here's the question for us all: Is Donald Trump a Russian agent? Is he consciously and actively pursuing a Putin agenda because he loves Russia or hates America? Or is he under Russian control? Blackmailed, in debt, or otherwise susceptible? Or is it possible that he is fulfilling Russia's greatest desires—to the detriment of our nation—without being cognizant of it?
Russia today is significantly smaller than at its peak under the czars or when it was the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin said, "the collapse of the Soviet Union was the major geopolitical disaster of the century." Also that he would reverse it if he could. There is little doubt that he means it. He has taken territory from independent nations that were once part of both the royal and Communist empires—Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.
They are not part of NATO.
Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, which were once part of the Soviet Union are now part of NATO.
Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria were part of the Warsaw Pact. That meant they were so far within the Soviet sphere, that the Russians could invade at will if they stepped out of line.
All those countries are protected by a wall. It's not a physical one (which could well be why Trump has no love for it). The wall is NATO, a treaty whose strength comes from Article 5, which is simply the motto of the Three Musketeers, "All for one and one for all!" writ large. Very large, 29 members, and nuclear. The US, the UK, and France, are nuclear powers. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Turkey are nuclear weapons-sharing nations, meaning they don't produce them, but they have them, with their own means to deploy them, though they can't really do so without the agreement of the US, which supplies them.
It is not merely a protection against direct invasion, it's a restraint against Russian bullying and influence.
Estonia is a country of just 1.3 million people. A quarter of Estonians are ethnically Russian. One of the reasons the Russians used to justify the invasion of Crimea was the protection of the Russian minority. It is easy to see how vulnerable Estonia would be to pressure—backed by the threat of force—if the NATO wall—including eight nations with nuclear weapons—was not an absolute protection.
Trump has tweeted, "NATO is as bad as NAFTA. It's much too costly for the US," and cast doubt on whether America would live up to Article 5. That's like D'Artagnan mumbling that he won't draw his sword in defense of Athos, Porthos, or Aramis when the Cardinal's Guards assault them or the Huguenots are firing on them. (For those not familiar with the tale, when the Musketeers were at home in Paris, they were a gang of street thugs under the protection of the king and fought with another gang allied to the cardinal. When they went to war, it was for Catholic France against Protestant rebels. Which is why the Huguenots went into exile and ended up in New Paltz.) We've recently learned that Trump was actually speaking about leaving NATO and it was only his aides that restrained him.
As NATO is the hard wall, the European Union is the economic, political, and social bulwark against Russia and against autocracies—the living, breathing example of why life is better in a world following and upholding the American ideals of democracy, the rule of law, the free press, human rights, peaceful and civil relations between nations. Trump has supported Brexit, Marine Le Pen, and other movements to break up the EU. He also favors leaders like Viktor Orban of Hungary, who, like Putin, retain the electoral facade of democracy while suppressing those things that make it worthy and valuable in order to create authoritarian regimes.
This preference and this support is not limited to Europe. Trump adores and supports authoritarians wherever he finds them—China, the Philippines, Egypt, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Some might ask if that matters. After all, the US has often supported dictators, especially if they're on the Right. The excuse, in the past, was that anything was better than Communist totalitarianism, because that would be forever, and right-wing oppression would fade into democracy. But with Communism gone, it is no longer making an alliance with what's bad against what's worse, it is saying authoritarianism is to be preferred.
Trump's pulled US forces out of Syria. Or said he was doing so. It could be a good thing, since Syria is a quagmire. But the manner and the timing of it is such that the beneficiaries are Putin and Assad. Assad is one of the world's most oppressive dictators, running a regime sustained by secret police, political prisons, torture, and murder.
Now, Trump has brought the American government to its knees. Ostensibly over the Wall That Mexico Won't Pay For. As a drama being played on the world stage, it is a propaganda piece exposing democracy as utterly dysfunctional. Also, xenophobic, cruel, and quite prepared to abandon the rule of law.
The Moscow Project, an initiative of the Center for American Progress dedicated to analyzing the facts behind Trump's collusion with Russia, lists 101 contacts between the Trumpians and the Russians. Whenever Trump or his associates are asked about them they lie. Automatically. Adamantly. Every time. Trump has had five meetings—that we know of—with Putin. Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to hide what was said in them. Even personally destroying the translator's notes. What we do know is that when they appeared together in Helsinki, Trump conducted himself like a just-humbled poodle who'd just been disciplined by his master and then told the world he had more belief in Putin's word than in his own intelligence services.
Trump has done more for Putin than a president owned by the Russians in a fictional spy thriller. He has done more to defile democracy than any character in a political novel. He is, of course, beyond satire. Those are only his literary crimes.