Most Wednesday nights, when I run my hand over this column, it’s easy to focus on cutting-edge economic or political developments emerging on the West Coast. But today, I’m worried about other things. There are Trump’s cascading legal problems: the Epic takedown by New York Attorney General Letitia Jamesand the investigation into his bizarre hoarding of highly classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as his open penchant for QAnon rhetoric and his not too subtle hints that if instructed will mobilize its armed base in response. then there is Putin’s Hitler speech about the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people in an all-out national effort to “defend” the homeland, including illegally annexed Ukrainian lands in a blatant war of aggression. As I find my attention temporarily drawn away from the western US, consider this a column of the Left Coast, instead of one on the Left Coast.
Let’s start with Trump. For years, this king of charlatans has gotten away with one alleged crime and one sleazy activity and one dubious business practice after another, always managing to avoid the legal repercussions of his actions. Now, in Letitia James, he has an adversary who seems determined to keep her feet in the legal fire. Even though his investigation is civil, and the penalties he seeks for Trump’s serial lying are financial rather than jail time, he made it clear Wednesday that he believes the Trump family violated state and federal criminal laws, announcing that she had forwarded the relevant details to federal prosecutors.
James explained, vividly, why fraud to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars is not somehow a “victimless” white-collar crime. He reminded viewers that former presidents are just as legally responsible if they defraud banks and tax collectors as ordinary citizens are, mocking the author of the art of the deal for specializing instead in “the art of theft.” There was something magnificent about the steely tone of outrage that James managed to project during his televised statement announcing the lawsuit.
I don’t know if this is the one that will finally burst the Trumpian bubble, but I do know that with this added to Trump’s growing legal to-do list, and his inability to present coherent and consistent legal arguments as to why he should No facing legal consequences for his heinous actions, the net has tightened dramatically around the former president. for more than margin of two to one, Americans surveyed about Trump’s handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago think it’s serious business. By a wide margin, Americans also believe that the various investigations into Trump’s alleged wrongdoing should continue.
All this drip-drip-drip is hurting the Trump brand. Earlier this week, in NBC poll found that Trump’s approval rating had dropped to a mere 34 percent. For a man of Donald’s insatiable ego, knowing that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of him, many of them passionately, must feel like an almost unbearable burden.
And yet, the more Trump falls, the more dangerous he becomes, the more willing he is to burn down the American house and mobilize the millions who still adhere to his vicious cult to seek revenge.
Trump against the wall’s personality is too similar to putin’s. Russia’s converted amoral apparatchik emperor has unleashed Europe’s most murderous war since 1945, acting on explicitly Napoleonic ambitions. He does not show the least capacity for self-reflection or humility regarding his actions in Ukraine and the consequences they have for peace in Europe or for the global economy in general.
Ukrainians, like Czechoslovaks in the late 1930s, have the misfortune to reside alongside a land-hungry despot who believes he has a God-given mission to seize the land, either as habitat for his people, or in search of some vision of bringing all of those with a shared ethnic heritage together under one imperial roof. If someone had somehow previously given him the benefit of the doubt, if he was working under the illusion that former KGB agent Putin was merely correcting the mistakes of the post-Cold War period, when Russia was humiliated unnecessarily, this week’s events have surely put pay to that.
In announcing a partial national mobilization, Putin made it clear that he would sacrifice untold numbers of people for his “victory” in the charnel house, whatever that word means in the context of a clearly unwinnable war. By relying on the idea of annexing large swathes of territory and then declaring that efforts to liberate them would be seen as attacks on Mother Russia itself, Putin has created a narrative as historically empty, and at least as potentially dangerous, as the one that used to gird the creation of the Third Reich. By threatening a nuclear attack on his opponents, most of whom are NATO members, Putin has brought the world closer to the nuclear brink than he has been in decades.
You have to see, in the banal and horizonless sea that is Putinism, a wild implosion of one of the truly great cultures of the world. There is, in his unleashing of the security state, and in his willingness to terrorize domestic opponents, including through marching frog anti-war protesters straight to the recruiting offices: a national collapse into a paranoid, conspiracy-based miasma, the power is right.
In America, we have people like Stephen Bannon and Alex Jones using their vile platforms to stoke hatred and undermine democracy and pluralism. In Putin’s Russia, foaming-at-the-mouth commentators now openly call for the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield and strategic nuclear weapons as apocalyptic avengers against enemies in the United States and Europe. There is a drumbeat of destruction from these nationalists, a constant demand for Putin to use hydrogen bombs against the UK, against air bases in Germany, against the Ukrainians, even against queen elizabeth funeral. There is a death-cult glee in these commentators’ yearning to fight a nuclear war to preserve Russian greatness, and the Kremlin does nothing to disassociate itself from it.
In such a world, it is sometimes difficult to concentrate on regional politics. But next week, dear readers, I promise this column will return to its western turf.