The little orange kitten who thinks he's a lion
First, it paints a picture of Vladimir Putin's Russia which reminds me of Richard J. Daley's Chicago in some respects. The picture of the sleeping election judge reminds me of the time I had to report the fact that the policeman assigned to the polling place where I was a poll watcher was out in his car taking a nap. Of course, even in the heyday of the Chicago Machine nowhere near half the votes it garnered were fraudulent. They didn't have to be. If you simply added together every patronage worker and his or her spouse and assumed one adult child of voting age, the Machine entered every election with a formidable enough lead that cheating wasn't strictly necessary.
Especially in minority wards, where there was little opposition and little oversight and the precinct captains could get away with pretty much anything, standards were looser. But there was even less reason for outright fraud on the South and West Sides since everybody voted Democratic anyway. Only in very close elections were the cemeteries the precincts which cast the most crucial votes or the returns in the "plantation wards" artificially enhanced.
But I digress. Richard J. Daley, with all of his many faults, was one of the most effective mayors America has ever seen. He was also a strong leader. Vladimir Putin is a strong leader too. The trouble is that it's hard to make the case that Russia is better off for it.
When we shiny young liberal activists went to war against the Machine, it was all about dishonesty and corruption and nepotism and the triumph of process over substance. The Machine didn't exist to change society or improve the lot of the citizens of Chicago or Cook County. It existed to win elections, to gain and consolidate power. It was like a malignant tumor. It existed not to promote the welfare of the body politic, but simply for its own benefit. Power was primarily an end unto itself. And for those of us who thought it ought to be primarily a means to other ends, this was a problem.
But most voters didn't see it that way. In retrospect, they weren't entirely wrong. Power might have been the Machine's real objective, but in many ways it ended up being good for people in spite of itself. It's hard to remember this today, but back then Chicago's nickname was "the City that Works." Garbage was picked up on time, roads were kept in repair, the city's public transportation system was unmatched, and city services generally were the envy of the nation. It's all the more remarkable that these things were true in a city that ran on patronage rather than merit. But abstract concerns about the ideological rootlessness, venality, and shamelessness of the Machine were generally not persuasive arguments to citizens who were being served better than the inhabitants of any other big city in America. Chicagoans could confidently boast about their quality of life compared to people in, say, Detroit or Philadelphia or New York. And if things were a little shady and rough around the edges, well, them's the breaks.
But in Putin's Russia, the economy is in a shambles, the nation's international reputation is in the dumpster, and nobody is as defensive about the regime's shortcomings as Chicagoans were about the Daley regime back in the day. The statistics in the article speak for themselves. The regime is corrupt. the country is in terrible shape, and for all his emphasis on national pride and power, people understand that Putin has not served Russia well.
The sometime thuggishness of the Daley machine was one of the things that offended young idealists like me the most. But in Russia, official illegality and bullying are at a different level. I know of no case in which the Machine ever resorted to murder. But no serious person doubts that Vladimir Putin was behind the murder of dissident Alexander Litvinenko. In a riff on comedian Yakov Smirnov's joke about the difference between America and Soviet Russia, a meme I recently saw portrayed a bare-chested Putin carrying a high-powered rifle with the caption, "In Russia, President assassinates you!"
Enter Donald Trump, an admirer of Putin's who has a very similar personal style. The Donald would love to be Vladimir Putin and flatters himself that he is. Putin, being much smarter than Trump, plays along, pretending to reciprocate Little Donald's hero worship. Trump, too, likes to play the macho man, bragging about the size of his genitals (admittedly after Marco Rubio somewhat tastelessly called it into question) and the strength of his personality and the hairiness of his Y chromosome. But while Putin might be fond of being photographed bare-chested and riding horses or hunting, or perhaps as a great hockey player, he doesn't brag. Real alpha males don't have to.
But Trump does. The surest sign of a weak man is how often and how loudly he has to try to convince others- and himself- that he's a strong one.
Now, don't get me wrong. Trump, like Putin- and like Mayor Daley at his lesser moments- is a bully. In fact, being a bully defines Trump. His reckless statements during the Republican debates about ordering the American military to commit war crimes "and they'd have to obey" and his constant bragging about his own superiority and strength no doubt are tipoffs as to how he would govern if given the chance. I have no doubt that Evan McMullin, who points out that in his years as a CIA operative in the Middle East he saw quite a few characters like Trump, is right on target in his prediction that if elected Trump would treat his oath of office like every other contract he enters into: binding only insofar he wants it to be. Forget Trump's promise to appoint originalist justices to the Supreme Court, McMullin says; if elected, Trump will appoint whoever his whim of the moment dictates, subject only to the question of whose appointment will most empower Donald Trump. And having made his appointments to the Court, McMullin predicts, Trump will then ignore it and ignore Congress, riding roughshod over both precisely as he promised in the Republican debate to run roughshod over domestic and international law and order the murder of the innocent wives and children of terrorists.
Trump isn't Richard Daley, and he isn't Vladimir Putin. He's a bully, yes. But he's a weak man who wants to be a strong man. He lacks the intellect, the understanding, and the inclination to benefit the United States in the ways in which the Daley regime benefitted the people of Chicago. And his weakness, lack of judgment, ignorance, and impulsivity can only make an even bigger mess of the United States than Putin has of Russia.
Trump's most fanatical and scariest supporters sometimes use a lion as a logo representing him. Daley was a lion. Putin is a lion. But Trump is a just mewling little orange kitten who thinks he's the King of the Jungle who will be eaten in one gulp if he ever has the chance to play with real animals out there.
HT: Real Clear World