As Hillary Clinton’s campaign is turning up the heat on the Trump campaign for its chairman’s ties to the government of Vladimir Putin, there’s a temptation from some on the left to accuse Democrats of “red baiting,” as this Salon piece written by Patrick Lawrence has argued.
In truth, however, there are very good reasons for people on the left to be wary of the Putin government’s desire to see Trump elected president, and they have nothing to do with Cold War-era bread lines or five-year economic plans.
Below we’ll go over four reasons why progressives should be concerned about the budding Putin-Trump bromance.
1.) Putin’s government has been overtly supportive of far-right political movements that demonize immigrants.
As this Bloomberg report shows, German officials say that Russia’s propaganda operation intentionally ginned up a false story about Muslim immigrants raping a 13-year-old girl to damage German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party in elections and help the chances of anti-immigration parties such as the National Democratic Party and the Alternative for Germany.
In France, the far-right National Front party has received Russian funds and its leader, Marine Le Pen, has been openly supportive of Putin. Other pro-Putin far-right parties in Europe include People’s Party, Our Slovakia in Slovakia; Jobbik in Hungary; and Golden Dawn in Greece.
Intelligence analysts believe Putin wants these parties to succeed because they all promote a form of nationalism that will undermine European unity and, he hopes, NATO itself.
So the fact that Putin is supportive of Trump isn’t an isolated coincidence, but part of a broader strategy of pushing far-right nationalist movements all across the western world.
2.) Putin’s government has systematically eviscerated press freedom over the past 14 years.
When Donald Trump talks about opening up libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters who write negative stories about him, he’s making a not-so-veiled attack on the freedom of the press.
And if Trump ever wants advice for repressing unfavorable media, he can ask Putin for tips.
International watchdog Freedom House has found that Russia’s press freedom ranking has fallen all the way from 114th in the world in 2002 to 180th in the world in 2015.
And Russia keeps finding new ways to muzzle prospective opposition media sources, even if they are just random people writing blog posts. As Freedom House notes, “a Russian law that took effect” last year “placed new controls on blogs and social media, requiring all sites with more than 3,000 visitors a day to register with the state telecommunications agency as media outlets. This status made them responsible for the accuracy of posted information, among other obligations.”
And as Politifact notes, a total of 34 reporters have been murdered in Russia since 2000, which is an alarmingly high number even for a large country that lacks press freedom. For comparison, Politfact says that just two reporters were killed in China over the same period, while three were murdered in the United States — and two of those American reporters were killed on camera by a disgruntled former colleague.
3.) Gay rights in Russia have gone sharply backward during Putin’s reign.
In many western countries, rights for LGBT people have steadily expanded over the past ten years. In Putin’s Russia, however, they’ve gone backward.
In 2013, Putin signed laws that banned gay couples from adopting children and that punished people from handing out “propaganda” aimed at minors that depict heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships as “socially equivalent.”
Earlier this year, Russia’s parliament debated a bill that would have fined gay couples for showing public displays of affection, and gay people have increasingly found it harder to find places where they can meet up publicly.
Trump himself is unlikely to enact bills such as these, of course, but his admiration for Putin despite such repressive laws is disturbing — especially when you consider that his Supreme Court appointments would have the power to significantly roll back victories for LGBT rights.
4.) Putin jails people for publicly criticizing him.
In 2012, members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly committing “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
In reality, the band was jailed for performing an anti-Putin song called “Holy Shit” inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour that was intended to criticize the Orthodox church’s support of the Russian president.
While there was a massive right-wing freak out against the Dixie Chicks for speaking out against George W. Bush last decade, they were never locked up in a Siberian prison for criticizing him.
Trump, in contrast, has regularly shown a fetish for deploying violence against protesters — remember, for example, when he told supporters to “knock the crap out of” protesters and then promised to pay for their legal fees.
And that’s not even taking into account Trump’s view that the Chinese government showed great “strength” in putting down a pro-democracy “riot” that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Combine all these factors together, and you see there are legitimate concerns about Trump’s love of Putin that go beyond Cold War-style red-baiting. Rather, they’re concerns that Trump sees Putin’s authoritarian regime as a blueprint for governing the United States.