So, are Vlad and Donald a thing? Are they a bona fide item, as America’s political and pundit classes are now telling us, two rheumy-eyed plutocrats destined for each other’s tender embrace? Dare we hope that Vladonald’s love is real?
At the very least it’s clear that at some point in the beginning of this election cycle, they both swiped right. Now, like Taylor and Tom, come Vlad and the Don. Sure, they’re not making out on a Rhode Island beach, but the budding bromance-with-benefits is beautiful nonetheless, at least in the minds of those thrilled by Trump’s sudden rise to power.
For the moment, this dashing pair is busy doing what any new lovers might: striving to give each other the best possible impressions of themselves. Trump is busily burnishing his image as a successful, non-bankrupt businessman; Putin wants us to believe that he influences global politics to the point of handpicking the next U.S. president — while riding shirtless on a horse. Trump publicly praises Putin, and in return Vlad digs up dirt on his boy’s opponents. Hard to imagine a more romantic gesture!
Putin and Trump are, after all, eminently compatible. Trump is a megalomaniac maybe-billionaire with a Moscow-ready aesthetic — all gilded faucets, Eastern European beauties, and an aversion to risking anything, especially for the sake of democracy. And Don tells it just the way Vlad likes to hear it: The press is biased and controlled by the government elites; everyone is corrupt; and human rights are simply a façade for an elaborate game of realpolitik in which actual people don’t matter — only power and those who possess it. Vlad has found a fellow traveler.
And Trump could use an ally like Putin. With “effective terrorist killer” Saddam Hussein dead, who’s left on the world stage to support him? Small-time white supremacists in Europe? Sure, but they can’t even afford a duplex, much less hack a server. For Trump, Putin is the only marginally credible international source of praise, the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council who’ll publicly signal that he’s ready to work with him. And it’s hard not to look up to Vlad: If it’s wrong to love an international symbol of machismo, a cold-hearted ruler of the distant north, a man who brainwashed his people into adoring him despite torpedoing an entire national economy — well, the Donald doesn’t want to be right.
As for the suggestion that Putin is stage-managing the election of his beloved bro, it’s as flimsy as a brochure for Trump University. In reality, Putin hasn’t been able to control elections in countries far more loyal to Russia and far less stable than the United States: He failed to install his guy during the Georgian presidential elections in 2003. He couldn’t even get a favorable outcome in the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine — a country where Darth Vader ran for mayor of a major city. Despite Russian intelligence services permeating the governments of those impoverished former Soviet satellites, they were still able to resist the Kremlin’s manipulations.
So is Trump a Russian creation, some Kewpie-haired Putin proxy? You wish. Pundits and pols here desperately want the Don to be the guy who was genetically engineered in KGB laboratories to destroy America from the inside; it’s simply too painful to imagine Trump as a purely American creation. A good conspiracy theory eases our collective conscience.
But get this straight: Trump is 100 percent homegrown, an heirloom horror show we raised in our own backyard. Just like Putin. The Vladonald chimera we’re so eager to blame for the state of the 2016 election is nothing but a reflection of how similar our countries really are — at least the bad bits. Racist demagogues exist everywhere, after all, but Putin’s little nudges toward the White House don’t change the fact that it’s still our job to decide whether we want to elect one. Judging by Putin’s ratings, Russia has made its choice. Now it is our turn.