The Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin meeting in Helsinki earlier this summer has sparked an intense debate about the details of the discussions between the leaders of the two superpowers.
There is little known about these discussions, and the agreements reached remain shrouded in secrecy. This has fed speculative frenzy about the possibility of Putin controlling the president of the United States.
Some members of the U.S. intelligence community have contributed to the frenzy by suggesting that the Russians may have something on Trump that compromises American national security.
The situation is chaotic and fuzzy, though even chaotic situations, as we learned from the mathematical theory of chaos, have some defining patterns and organizing dynamics.What alternative hypotheses can rationally explain the nature and content of these discussions, beyond simplistic explanations based on conspiracy theories, even if those conspiracy theories also turn out to be accurate?
Preferences, prejudices and politics
Trump’s revealed preferences and prejudices, along with the beliefs that he would like others to hold, can serve as useful guides as to what could explain the Trump-Putin relationship, and what they discussed in Helsinki.
The president has made it clear that he has a preference for white people, Christians and the rich and powerful. He perceives the economy, trade and money as zero-sum games. His world is full of competitors but no partners, deal-makers and deal-breakers.
His end game with Russia could be to drive a wedge between the Russians and the Chinese, and another between the Russians, Iran and Syria.
After all, Russia is white, Christian and not a real economic competitor. The Chinese are non-white, non-Christian and a growing formidable economic power that is contesting American dominance in almost all economic domains. Iran and Syria are primarily Muslim countries and enemies of Israel, and belong to a group of nations for whom Trump has shown nothing but disdain and contempt.
But why would Trump attack traditional partners (the European Union, Great Britain, Canada and other NATO countries) when presumably he could have courted the Russians without having to insult his old partners?
Well, it could be that Trump is demonstrating and setting an example for Putin to follow.
Pressuring Russia to dump China?
The argument goes along these lines: If Trump is willing to dump old allies, why shouldn’t Putin dump his old ally China for a new alliance with the United States? Trump has also shown a preference for populism of the type that is gaining steam in Europe, particularly eastern Europe, and among the current liberal democracies in power whose ideologies he does not share.
Trump believes that the commonalities between Russia and the U.S. are myriad and deep, including a new common and shared interest in a higher price for oil.
In many respects, Russia is still an oil- and gas-dependent economy where oil and gas export revenues represent two-thirds of its export earnings and half of its federal budget. What happens to the price of oil is a matter of national security and survival for Russia. The last thing it needs is the U.S. competing with it in the European oil and gas market.
Fixing the price of oil at a level that helps Russia meet its budgetary needs cannot be achieved without American support and collusion. Saudi Arabia, the Russians know, will toe the U.S. line as it has always done; besides, the Americans are now increasingly assuming the role of the swing producer that the Saudis have played for decades.
Will Russia ditch China?
Whether Trump and his advisers have succeeded in this possible pursuit is yet to be seen.
But one thing is clear: U.S.-Russia relations are at a very low point today, and Trump apparently believes the potential for improving ties is real. The U.S. needs Russia to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, unlike the Chinese, who apparently seem willing to manipulate the crisis to serve their own strategic purposes.
Russia needs the U.S. to stabilize Syria, restrain Israel and constrain Iran’s influence without allowing the Middle East to reel into an unmanageable crisis.
The real question for Russia is whether they are ready to ditch their long-established alliance with China for what could be a temporary respite in U.S.-Russian relations. Trump is increasingly meeting resistance to his plans from both Republicans and Democrats. Apparently, there are many Americans who still believe that the Cold War has not ended, particularly amid evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
The world, nonetheless, is today safer with the two superpowers working together. But as consumers, we will pay heavily at the pumps if the U.S. and Russia are colluding on oil prices.
Trump is openly colluding with Ukraine to smear Biden
President Donald Trump is defending his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, one that recent media reports suggest may have been made in order to dig up dirt about one of Trump's likeliest and strongest opponents in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden.
This article first appeared on Salon.
"The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate a story about me and a perfectly fine and routine conversation I had with the new President of the Ukraine," Trump tweeted on Saturday. "Nothing was said that was in any way wrong, but Biden’s demand, on the other hand, was a complete and total disaster. The Fake News knows this but doesn’t want to report!"
It’s ‘Clinton Cash’ all over again as the media blow the Trump whistleblower story
Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
We would praise the reporters who revealed the content of a whistle-blower’s complaint that the Trump regime has refused to turn over to Congress as the law requires. But it appears that the outlines of the story were already known in DC political circles. Two weeks before the whistleblower story broke, The Washington Post ran an editorial noting that Donald Trump was withholding $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, and that while “some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence,… the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force [Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden." The authors added, "Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”
The new Rambo movie is essentially a MAGA fever dream of bigotry
"Rambo: Last Blood," the latest in the long-running franchise about a traumatized war veteran (Sylvester Stallone) turned on-demand badass, is less an escapist action movie and more a dramatized manifestation of the most notorious sentences from Donald Trump's presidential campaign announcement speech: "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people." Even for a series that has always been shaped by a right wing worldview, the only reason for this latest sequel to exist — besides generating profits from die-hard Stallone fans — is to validate MAGA-world bigotries about Mexicans.This article first appeared in Salon.