I was wrong about Trump

Once I had great – inflated – hopes for Trump. I was disappointed by Obama’s reluctance to actively resist the Kremlin’s aggression. Obama’s 2014 sanctions, I thought, were inadequate, even counterproductive. It would have been natural for Trump – it seemed to me – to move against Putin:

If Trump were truly a narcissist, triumphing over Putin would give him the greatest satisfaction in his life…

If the POTUS is indebted to that leader to any tangible degree, the latter’s demise would instantly incinerate the former’s IOUs.

Nothing like taking revenge on your blackmailer, right? When the US sanctioned Deripaska’s Rusal in April 2018, it felt like the beginning of a strategic assault. It was a smart move – a segment of Deripaska’s business ended up under American supervision – but there was no follow-up. Moreover, Deripaska is not a member of Putin’s inner circle, not a Putin creation, and not an (ex-)KGB man. The sanctions made him poorer but didn’t hurt Putin’s regime more than Obama’s measures had. They didn’t last long anyway – less than a year, in fact.

The fall in oil demand during the coronavirus crisis created another opportunity – a chance to put Russia out of the oil business, I would claim with just a little exaggeration. However, it was clear by then that Trump wasn’t interested. In October 2019 – quite late by the reasonable person’s standards, admittedly – I conceded that Trump might, after all, be “a coward and a bully, an impotent worshipper of cynical force.” That’s what he probably is: “Bullying Jerome Powell into cutting [interest] rates is his idea of triumph.” Still, Trump’s weakness for Putin specifically, out of all those dictators, remains underexplained.

As I conjectured in July, it’s probably something psychological, playing on Trump’s fear of getting demoted to beta status in the eyes of his crowd.

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