I was raised in an era when we spent a lot of time worrying about Russia. That was because of communism, which was such an obsession in my Catholic school that the countries on the map were colored red (communist-controlled), pink (leaning communist) or green (safe — for now). Only the United States and Ireland were green.
For those of us who spent our childhoods getting drilled on how to be prepared to die for our faith in the event of a communist takeover, it was a relief when the Soviet Union broke up and nobody felt obliged to worry about Moscow any more.
But now things are getting scary. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, bombed the hell out of Aleppo, tried to interfere with our election. He’s just the kind of person Sister Mary Ingrid warned us about. But Donald Trump adores him. You can’t get into the Trump Cabinet unless you think Putin is a great guy.
The bromance seems to have started in 2013, when Trump was preparing to go to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. He wondered — via a tweet, naturally — whether Putin would be going there, too: “If so, will he become my new best friend?”
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Sometime later, at a conservative conference, Trump described how “great” the Russians had treated him: “Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present with a beautiful note.” What do you think it was? A gun? Putin had given the president of Egypt an AK-47. But the owner of a beauty pageant would probably get some nesting dolls, or a nice selection of teas.
No suggestion of an actual meeting. Then when speaking at the National Press Club in May 2014, Trump said that when he was in Moscow he “spoke indirectly and directly with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success.” What do you think “indirectly and directly” means? Sign language?
The bond was blossoming, at least in Trump’s mind. When the presidential campaign got underway, he began to brag that he and Putin had spent quality time together when they were on the same news program. “I think the biggest thing we have is that we were on ‘60 Minutes’ together and we had fantastic ratings,” Trump said. “So that was good, right? So we were stablemates.”
Innocent listeners probably presumed they met in the green room before the show. However, Trump was interviewed for the show in New York. Putin was filmed in Moscow, talking with Charlie Rose about foreign affairs. They were in different parts of the world.
Also, what about “stablemates”? Are you envisioning Trump and Putin in their stalls, kicking around some hay and whinnying affectionately? That came up again in a primary debate, when Trump claimed that he got to know Putin “very well because we were both on ‘60 Minutes,’ we were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”
The ratings, by the way, were not “fantastic.” But we’re sort of used to that by now. We know that if our president-elect plays golf, losing 10 balls and failing to finish the game, he will tell reporters that he did fantastic, and that the caddies said he played better than Tiger Woods. But the idea that he would create a friendship saga with a world leader he’d never met is … weird. Particularly since the world leader is a thug who wants to become a male, shirtless version of Catherine the Great.
Putin, when he heard about the political valentines being sent in his direction, called Trump “very colorful, talented.” But he did not drop any hints about quality time in the barn together.
Then something … evolved. At a rally in February, Trump told the crowd that he had “no relationship” with Putin “other than he called me a genius.” We will not waste any time on the fact that Putin did not call Trump a genius.
The real turnaround came during the week of the Democratic convention, when WikiLeaks revealed the hacked Democratic National Committee emails. At a news conference, Trump said he hoped Russia would hack the Democrats more. This was perhaps a joke. Hahahaha.
But at the very same news conference — the last one Trump has ever had, by the way — he told reporters he had “never met Putin. I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius.”
Their first verifiable conversation occurred when Putin called Trump to congratulate him on winning the election. We now know that Russia had been running a hacking effort that seemed intended, at least in part, to help Trump get elected. Wow, do you think it was a plot all along, people? Some kind of Manchurian Candidate thing?
Would be hard to have a plot with a guy you never met. Except for that time in the stable ….