Indifferent to Life
The world is watching what happens when a grievance-filled dictator has been empowered to pursue his deadly delusions. Can it wake up the GOP from its infatuation with violent strongmen?
The photos would be hilarious if they weren’t so tragic, indicative of a troubled, paranoid, isolated and unwell man. You’ve probably seen the images before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, in which he’s at one end of a ridiculously long table and French President Emmanuel Macron or German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is at the other end. Last week he was sitting by himself at a small desk in a massive, high-ceilinged room while a small coterie of yes men are seated far, far away.
These may be documents of his continuing fear of Covid-19. His protocol has included not permitting anyone near him who hasn’t quarantined for at least a week. Some of his operatives are said to quarantine for weeks at a time just in case they might be asked to speak to their Kremlin boss.
But the photos—in their surreal set-up—also suggest the increasingly disconnected state of a dictator who no longer listens to advisors and permits the release of these photos, no longer grasping (or caring) just how untethered they show him to be.
“In recent years—and especially since the start of the pandemic—he has cut off most contacts with advisers and friends,” writes Mikhail Zygar, Russian author of All the Kremlin’s Men. “While he used to look like an emperor who enjoyed playing on the controversies of his subjects, listening to them denounce one another and pitting them against one another, he is now isolated and distant, even from most of his old entourage.”
As the world has watched the increasing horror, this isolated decision-making—inflamed by decades-old grievances toward the West, delusions of his ultimate power to achieve his ends, and a singular conviction that only he can save Russia—is now raising the possibility of bloody conflict expanding beyond Ukraine’s borders. While Ukraine may be winning the information war and demonstrating their profound resolve to maintain their sovereignty and resist Putin’s brutal invasion, the criminally depraved and intensifying attacks on civilians illustrate his determination to achieve his goals no matter how much suffering and death it causes.
This should not be a surprise, not after the buildup of an estimated 190,000 troops along the Ukraine border last month, not after invading and occupying Crimea in 2014, not after his calling the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” in 2005—and not after the former KGB agent’s cold-blooded willingness to eliminate his political rivals and critics (some shot, hanged, poisoned and beaten to death).
That’s the thing: Whatever the precise confluence of circumstances that led to this misery-strewn moment, the murderous impulses of this man were knowable and known. It may have been increasingly challenging for Russians to push back against his hostile ways. But what of the previous occupant of the White House and far too many of his Republican enablers who expressed their admiration and support for this “strong leader”—flattering him, empowering him, convincing him of his ability to do what he wants?
At the risk of stating the obvious, we should expect leaders who care more about improving lives than ending them for their own political advantage. And yet: Tens of millions of Americans ignored or applauded when the GOP candidate for the US presidency, then occupant of the Oval Office, expressed his comfort with—or even sadistic admiration for—killing.
Don’t forget Trump in February 2017 telling Fox host Bill O’Reilly, who had called Putin a killer, “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?”
Or two years earlier when he told Joe Scarborough, who noted that Putin kills journalists, “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.”
Or, after the bone-sawing murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, when Trump sickeningly sided with the Saudi prince, Mohammed bin Salman, despite the CIA’s “high confidence” that MBS was behind it. “America First! The world is a very dangerous place!” he said in a statement, adding, “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn’t! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Before he lied about the deadly dangers of Covid or incited the deadly attack on the US Capitol after losing the 2020 election, Trump’s sociopathic mindset was both knowable and known. There’s a serious sickness in the body politic when a man like that can be voted into office.
Tragically, we are now witnessing in Ukraine the consequences of failing to reject with unanimity the butcher of Moscow’s murderous ways—or worse, praising and glamorizing it—and we are still in danger of letting this “tough guy” type of leader finally succeed in America. It’s intolerable to think there’s nothing we can do about this downward spiral from democratic idealism to corrupt gangsterism.
In a world fraught with dangers—when growing complexity, uncertainty and fear create the conditions for demagogues and wannabe dictators to exploit people’s hatreds and doubts—we should demand leaders who rise above the most basic standard of human civilization and reject killing and killers. That should never be too much to ask.
I am determined to sustain this work, but I need your support. I hope you will consider becoming a paid subscriber if you’re not already.
Steven, so truly appreciate your insightful thoughts. Great, superb writing. Really hope you continue spreading your wisdom. _/\_
I found this paragraph in a book I am reading.
All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be . . . The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan.
Sound familiar?Trump: Build the wall !! The election was rigged !!
Written in Mein Kampf by Hitler. Were he alive, trump would be his doppelganger. His followers might want to read up on the Third Reich, see how it ended.
As for Putin. Countries are man made boundary lines drawn on maps. When you think about it, we are all one people separated only by water. So it must just be a stretch of land he wants, not the allegiance of people, for he is murdering them, making them hate him, fight against him.
Both men are psychopaths. with sociopath tendencies towards violence. Putin is smarter having attended a high school that only took those with perfect grades, then graduated from University with a law degree. Trump? A prof at Wharton said he was the worst student he ever had.