Trump’s Affinity for Russia, Finally Explained
The President has a historical appreciation of Russian military might that goes much deeper than his bromance with Putin.
On Wednesday, the New York Times published excerpts from a wide-ranging interview with President Trump.
After a tense lunch with Senate Republicans, whom Trump faults for allowing the repeal and replace of Obamacare to collapse, he invited lead White House reporters Maggie Haberman, Peter Baker, and Michael Schmidt into the oval office.
Addressing the healthcare debate, Trump said, “It is tough. It’s a very narrow path, winding this way. You think you have it, and then you lose four on the other side because you gave. It is a brutal process. And it was for Democrats, in all fairness.”
He appears to have learned that working with Congress is more difficult than expected, although it’s unclear whether he intends to focus the bully pulpit on his policy goals — which he has expressed limited interest in understanding.
During his interview with the Times, Trump revealed just how little he seems to grasp about healthcare policy, saying in part, “you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.”
In this particular moment, Trump appeared to conflate some aspects of health insurance with life insurance, and undermined arguments he had just made to various Republican Senators at lunch.
As the Times interview proceeded, Trump veered slightly off-topic while reminiscing about his visit to Paris and said, “Yeah. It was beautiful. We toured the museum, we went to Napoleon’s tomb …”
After some crosstalk, Trump continued, “Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: ‘No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.”
“The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather?”
It is unclear what “extracurricular activities” Trump was referring to, but the way he described Napoleon’s fall as “finish[ing] a little bit bad” was curious. He also expressed a rare historical insight, noting the impermeable nature of Russia’s geography throughout multiple failed invasions.
After more crosstalk, Trump continued, “Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.”
“But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.”
Finally, he realized he’d digressed farther than he intended to, ending the history lesson with a non-sequitur, “So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.”
This brief glimpse into Trump’s historical perspective both throws up some initial red flags, and offers the most likely explanation yet for the President’s unique appreciation of Russia and its leader.
Particularly troubling was his use of the euphemism “consolidate” to characterization Hitler’s fascism, genocide and attempted world conquest.
Demonstrated by his characterization of Napoleon’s attempt to invade Russia in the winter as the French emperor’s “one problem”, the implicit appreciation and condoning of past conquests on behalf of the Commander in Chief of the world’s largest military is concerning to say the least.
Combined with the deferential treatment he’s afforded the Russian military and it’s leader, former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, this interview begs the questions of just how much Trump feels he’s empowered to do, and if he does — in fact — have a worldview, what it might look like.
Additionally, it makes the question of just what Trump discussed with Putin during their originally undisclosed meeting at the G20 summit, where the only other person present was a Russian translator, even more salient.
Former Obama advisor David Axelrod wrote on CNN that when he learned of the meeting, he was reminded of an anecdote former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev shared with him in 2009 during a visit to Russia for bilateral talks.
Axelrod recounted that Gorbachev said of President Reagan, the oldest man to hold the office before Trump, “He would sometimes go off on tangents and (Secretary of State) George Schultz, who was sitting next to him, would gently place his hand on Reagan’s. And Reagan would just stop.”
We do know that Tillerson wasn’t there to gently place his hand on Trump’s when he got too far off topic.