Is Trumpism a softer version of Putinism?
- A slight majority of Russians believe that Stalin mostly played a constructive role in the development of Soviet/Russian society
- “Make America Great Again” and “Make Russia Great Again” are the two faces of the same coin
- Trump poses a herculean challenge within the Republican Party
In Russia, polls show a gradual improvement in perceptions of Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from the late 1920s until his death in 1953. Another survey indicates that two out of five Russians had a more positive than a negative view of the Stalinist era. Furthermore, a slight majority of Russians believe that he mostly played a constructive role in the development of Soviet/Russian society.
As Stalin “rehabilitated” and “glorified” Russian nationalism during the Second World War, this piecemeal and emphatic show of sympathy toward the architect of the Great Purge and the Gulags started to emerge when the current president of Russia Vladimir Putin assumed the reins of power.
Both Stalin and Putin promoted and advanced law and order and a sense of superpower status. Although Stalin’s objectives were achieved through the systematic contempt and abuse of the Soviet people’s civil rights, the current Russian leader is trying to accomplish his much-vaunted Russian experiment through questionable methods reminiscent of the Soviet era, but to a significantly lesser degree. Sometimes, individual rights are sacrificed at the altar of collective interests and patriotism (jingoism?).
In the Great Terror (Purge) of the late 1930s, Stalin displayed as much harshness toward his own relatives as toward any other Soviet citizen who was challenging his cult of personality. Several of Stalin’s close relatives were arrested and executed. He ordered these crimes to show his people that he is a true revolutionary who did not exhibit favoritism and nepotism.
After this short historical overview, let’s draw some parallels between the rise of Stalin’s popularity in Russia and Trump’s near idolization and his famous “Make America Great Again” brand.
The enthusiastic embrace of Trump and his fiery and spurious rhetoric by mostly alienated and “disenfranchised” white men echoes with the nostalgia some Russian citizens demonstrate toward the defunct Soviet dictator. A feeling of powerlessness usually pervades a large chunk of Trump supporters. Such voters account for 13 percent of the American electorate.
Russians, following the end of the Cold War, displayed a feeling of powerlessness, and a growing sense of siege mentality, particularly during the Ukraine crisis. The introduction of the so-called market capitalism and its ensuing economic hardship facilitated the regressive movement toward the Stalinist period in which the Soviet Union was the equal of the United States.
“Make America Great Again” and “Make Russia Great Again” are the two faces of the same coin. The Soviet dictator’s paranoia and his propensity to solve challenging issues by abusing fundamental human rights and resorting to gratuitous violence are reminiscent of some of Trump’s words and actions. Again, I am not trying to equate Trump with Stalin, at least not yet. Hopefully never.
Republican presidential primaries exit polls suggest that in counties where Trump won the Republican primaries the disenfranchised white identity mixes with long-simmering economic dysfunctions. Trump supporters believe that the United States has lost its superpower status because of President Obama’s ineffective and impotent foreign policy.
Moscow’s political and military intervention in Syria highlights one of the major characteristics of revivalist superpower. Russia was once perceived to gradually lose its preeminent role in world affairs. Whether Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria to prop up an authoritarian regime, which has an abysmal human rights record, is justifiable or not is a completely different issue. Washington’s record is not significantly better when it comes to supporting brutal and bloodthirsty autocrats.
Trump wants to imitate the Russian president and “Make America Great Again.” If Trump is elected president, he might succeed in delivering some of his promises. But the overall impact on American society will probably be minimal and ephemeral. He will surely alienate more Americans than the crowds we are seeing at the pro-Trump rallies. If Obama, for some Americans, symbolizes political paralysis and economic stagnation, Trump’s presidency will embody political confusion and economic bamboozlement.
Trump poses a herculean challenge within the Republican Party. Republican presidential candidate John Kasich does not sound conservative enough and Ted Cruz does not have enough electoral punch and lacks a comprehensive political program. Republicans who are opposed to a Trump nomination are running out of time. They need to develop a compelling strategy to frustrate the real estate magnate’s drive. Is it too late? I guess we’ll find out soon and probably at the expense of the Republican Party’s voting strength and electoral unity.
Is Trumpism a softer version of Putinism? Yes, in terms of the Republican presidential candidate’s bizarre plans, misguided ambitions, and modus operandi. If Trump had been a Russian citizen, he would have probably employed unorthodox methods to accomplish his political and economic dreams. But, then again, at the end of the day, Putin would probably have outmaneuvered and outfoxed him.