The evidence has been accumulating for a long time now --the connection to Yanukovych's former advisor Paul Manafort, the apparent Russian hacking of the DNC, the flippancy about NATO's responsibilities in the Baltics, the general conspiratorial tenor that sounds so much like a typical invited loon on the RT network, the mutual public praise-- that Trump is, at least unwittingly, an agent of Putin.
Whenever I try to bring this up as potentially damaging, Americans keep telling me that the Putin connection can't be made into a campaign issue, since "Trump's supporters don't really care about foreign policy." But that can't really be true. Surely they care about possible future foreign policies that diminish US sovereignty, or that shift the balance of geopolitical power in the world towards an autocratic Eurasia. It seems to me that the real problem is just poor information in the US: Americans seem to believe that Russia ceased to exist in 1991, that Gorbachev just gave up and closed up shop. This perception only strengthened after 2001, when US triumphalism over the fall of communism in the 1990s fused with racism and 'civilisational' bigotry to convince Americans that the Arab and Muslim world was the principal geopolitical hotspot in the world.
Tellingly, Slavic-studies departments in US universities downsized, and enrolment in Arabic courses skyrocketed (studying Russian in the early 1990s, we still got to use military-issue textbooks with helpful phrases about nuclear summits and fallout shelters). But this indifference only goes one way: Putinite ideology, while also working when expedient to cultivate small autocrats such as Le Pen fille or Viktor Orban, is monomaniacally focused on the US, all the nuclear weapons are still there, and of course Putin is interested in helping to install a leader in the US who has given up on the post-war Atlanticist liberal-democratic order. There are surely among Trump's supporters some casualties of the horseshoe effect, like Alex Jones, who would find a Putinite world amenable to them precisely because it rejects the liberal-democratic order that they see as a great hypocrisy and a lie. There are many of these people who may at first have had some progressive spirit about them, but who are too thick or too morally cretinous to allow their anger to be shaped by anything that resembles a principle: like a certain relative of mine whom I saw in 2002 wearing a t-shirt with a big tacky likeness of Yasser Arafat on it, and who by our next and last visit in 2006 was convinced that 'the Jews' are spraying us with chemtrails. I don't know what this kinsman of mine thinks about the current presidential elections, but I can say that it is his type that makes up Trump's base: those who are as far beyond placement on the ideological spectrum as we have understood it since the French Revolution as they are beyond rationality and decency.
But there must also be many, many Trump supporters for whom American anti-Soviet ideology of the 20th century remains a living memory and a still recoverable orientation in their understanding of what might actually constitute an existential threat to the country they claim to want to make great again. To try to convince these people of the extreme danger of a Trump presidency seems to me a worthwhile effort to make right now, and not to be shrugged off simply because Trump's supporters are supposedly too stupid to 'care about foreign policy'.
One often gets the impression that it is in fact the American left that finds it hard to think about foreign policy. I'm astounded, in particular, to see my friends on the left flatly denying that Russia could possibly be interfering in US electoral politics. Say you're glad Russia is interfering, or say you think there's no reason they should not interfere, given how much the US interferes around the world (yes, I'd even be happy to hear another invocation of the fallacy of relative privation, or 'А у нас негров линчуют', to adapt the Soviet slogan into the first-person plural, if the only alternative is flat-out denial of evidence). But why reject out of hand the possibility that Russia in fact seeks to play an active role in the electoral politics of other countries?
This role has been long and well established in Estonia, Hungary, France, and other European states, and there is no reason why, given the Internet-based nature of the interference, Russia should not expand its understanding of the ближнее зарубежье or 'near abroad' to include its principal 20th-century rival. Everywhere is 'near' when your preferred form of warfare is hacking. Americans seems surprised that Russia would engage in such low manoeuvres. My Bulgarian friends, meanwhile, are surprised to see that Americans think any of this is news. The only difference is that it is not some small former vassal state, but the superpower that supposedly became a hegemonic hyperpower a generation ago, that is now learning what Eastern Europe experiences all the time.
I used to find the most productive forums to be the ones, as Victor S. Navasky hoped for The Nation to be, in which liberals and leftists explore their differences, and find out what they have in common in order to help shape a better world together. Since the rise of Trump I've started to feel that the most productive conversations are those one might have with the 'decent right', all the Republicans who have stood up against Trump and really understand what an existential threat he poses to the United States.
Whatever the direct or indirect links, Trump is a Putinite. Putin, and all the other ethnonationalist and autocratic leaders throughout the world that I can think of, want to see Trump elected. Russia is not a joke, especially not for those of us in Europe who sort of remain attached to the post-war liberal-democratic order and don't want to see it overturned by people who don't just fail to live up to its aspirations --most importantly the aspiration to individual rights and freedoms--, but fundamentally reject those aspirations. Trump is not a Republican, or a conservative. He is an autocrat in the 'Eurasianist' mould elaborated by Aleksandr Dugin and tacitly supported by Putin. The Americans who seem to understand this most clearly are the commentators from the center right, those who rightly or wrongly continue to believe that there really is a way of failing to do one's part in American civil society that might be denounced as 'un-American', and one does not have to be a paranoid McCarthyite in order to see this. They correctly see Donald Trump as un-American.
Meanwhile the American left seems to think Russian cyberwarfare is not a real thing at all, either because they believe the myth forged in the 1990s that the US 'won' the Cold War and that Russia has been taken care of, or because they think it makes them look bad-ass in front of their friends to pretend they believe that anything at all, even the global triumph of Putinism, is preferable to the business-as-usual of American-led neoliberal oligarchy.
At the same time, all of those who posture in this way claim to be deeply concerned with the rights and freedoms of all people, particularly persecuted ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. But under a Hillary Clinton presidency, however crappy her brand of corporate elite rule may be, you or your loved ones will not end up in a labor camp in Oklahoma wearing a pink triangle. By contrast this is a real possibility under a Trump presidency, and there is no source of moral authority in the global order whose ascendancy Trump's election would clinch to which we might appeal to help you get out. Liberal-democratic rulers, for all their hypocrisy, still speak a language in which it makes sense to say things like, 'This is not right', 'This is unjust'. They understand what these expressions mean. Trump and Putin don't speak this language. They are on the same side. Putin knows this, Trump might know it. And Putin is in fact capable of acting on this knowledge to shape the world in his image.