Prof. Snyder, Trump, Putin, and Moshe Katsav

Going back to Timothy Snyder’s piece, what about the top man in the Kremlin? Last December, Putin said this about Trump (in The Guardian‘s translation):

He is a very colorful and talented man, no doubt about that… He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it.

Here, “colorful” stands for the Russian word that literally means “bright” but does not have the “intelligent” connotation. Bright as the sun or a stage light is bright: easily noticeable. “Flamboyant” would fit if it did not specifically refer to gay people.

The actual meaning of the passage hinges on the speaker’s way of saying it. Sometimes, hearing or seeing Putin speak, I feel he is inwardly smiling a little cynical smile. As if saying — in this particular case, “you know what I really mean, Donald: colorful like a clown, talented as an entertainer – we none of us are perfect.” Or, perhaps, “what a joke you are, you stupid Americans, a buffoon like that leading the race.”

Once you discern that sickly sneer inside, you recognize the double bottom line to the man’s statements. (It is a manner of thought and speech found among Russians of far greater learning and refinement than P.: a perverse kind of secularized yurodstvo, completely removed from its ethical motivation.)

Consider Putin’s remark about Israel’s then president, Moshe Katsav, made ten years ago. To quote The Guardian again, Putin said to Ehud Olmert, who was visiting Moscow as the PM:

Say hi to your president – he really surprised us. He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women. I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!

What’s the message below the surface here? “Your president turns out to be a rapist, hmmm… I’m not saying it’s that bad – I’m no hypocrite – after all, we all envy him, ten women is no mean feat – but guys, don’t tell us you’re without sin. After all, your president is a rapist.” (To Israel’s credit, Katsav is doing time for his sexual exploits. Olmert has been convicted of corruption.) It’s a familiar narrative weaving the Christian theme of human fallenness with the spymaster’s view of other people’s weaknesses as exploitable vulnerabilities.

In other words, it’s not at all obvious what Putin really thinks about Trump vs. Clinton, although I am pretty sure, based on an unsubstantiated hunch, that he fears Madam Secretary like very few other people.

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