What Trump and Putin Have in Common

Many years ago, the Israeli Bedouin expert Clinton Bailey told me a story about a Bedouin chief who discovered one day that his favorite turkey had been stolen. He called his sons together and told them: “Boys, we are in great danger now. My turkey’s been stolen. Find my turkey.” His boys just laughed and said, “Father, what do you need that turkey for?” and they ignored him.

A few weeks later the Bedouin chief’s camel was stolen. His sons went to him and said, “Father, your camel has been stolen. What should we do?” And the chief answered, “Find my turkey.”

A few weeks later the chief’s horse was stolen, and again his sons asked what they should do. “Find my turkey,” the chief said.

Finally, a few weeks later his daughter was abducted, at which point he gathered his sons and told them: “It’s all because of the turkey! When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.”

.. how and why we failed to contain the egregious behavior of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

They each started by — metaphorically speaking — stealing a turkey. And when we didn’t respond, they kept ratcheting up their wretched behavior to the point where Trump thinks he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and Putin thinks he could poison a wayward spy in London, and get away with it.

Trump’s turkey was his tax returns. During the campaign he promised to release them after the I.R.S. finished auditing him. Then, after he was elected, Trump said, sorry, not going to release them ever. And nothing happened. Trump, I am reliably told, has actually said to people close to him, “Can you believe I got away with that?”

.. Once Trump saw that he could get away with not disclosing his tax returns, he knew he could get away with anything.

.. Any Bedouin chief who watched the steady acceleration in the breadth and pace of Trump’s lying — like his recent boast that he had fabricated a trade deficit with Canada in talks with Canada’s prime minister or his dishonest statements to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation — would tell you: Get me Trump’s tax returns.

.. Because there must be something very important in them that he wants to keep hidden.

.. Maybe it’s just the embarrassment that he is not as rich as he claims, or, maybe, it’s something more fundamental — like how dependent he is on Russian oligarchs for financing

.. Putin’s turkey was even more serious. It was the shooting down of that Malaysian civilian airliner, Flight MH17

.. Putin’s proxies in eastern Ukraine had requested that Russia send them an SA-11 surface-to-air missile launcher.

.. Putin did not push the button on that missile, but he created the conditions for it to shoot down that plane — and he walked away from it as if the plane were brought down by lightning, making up one implausible story after another. He got slapped on the wrist with a few sanctions, but his complicity faded away into a mist of baldfaced lies.

.. Who wanted to confront Russia, with all its gas exports to Europe and all its oligarchs throwing money around London or buying condos in places like … Trump Tower in New York?

.. Why not poison a former Russian spy in London with a banned military nerve agent or perpetrate genocide in Syria? Who’s going to stop me?”

Trump and Putin are cut from the same cloth. Their strategy is: keep pushing, keep grabbing, keep lying, keep denying, no matter how implausible the denials — and never apologize. Because when you lie on an industrial scale, it overwhelms everyone else. Normal people just don’t behave that way, and the sheer shamelessness eventually exhausts them.

..  when people keep eroding the norms of society, stealing — turkeys or the truth — eventually becomes the norm.

.. That steady erosion of norms is what Trump is doing to America and Putin is doing to the world.

.. American voters have to go to the polls and deal a resounding electoral defeat to this Republican Party, which Trump has taken over like an invasive species.

.. America needs a healthy conservative party in our two-party system. But this G.O.P. is not a conservative party and it is not healthy.

.. As for Putin, the only way to brush him back is with economic sanctions that truly hurt him and his corrupt clique of oligarchs, and an offensive cyber campaign that exposes just how much money they have all stolen from the Russian people.

.. Bullies like Trump and Putin are relentless. They will keep driving through red lights, smirking all the way, as long as we let them.

.. As the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”

Megyn Kelly saw an aggressive, peeved Vladimir Putin. That behavior could hurt him.

Russians probably liked Putin’s combative performance: That’s part of his brand, and he’s indisputably popular at home. But the day’s events also showed how allegations of Russian meddling abroad, though they’re seen here as evidence of Russia’s revived power, also cloud Putin’s efforts to lure more foreign investment and expand Russia’s global role.

 .. Kelly questioned Putin bluntly and repeatedly about hacking and other controversial topics. This drew various pained responses, including an exasperated jab at “hysterical” critics: “Maybe someone has a pill that will stop this.” At another point, he said that the U.S. media should “stop this idle prattle” about Russia, which was harming diplomacy.
.. “Institutions are not well developed,” said Andranik Migranyan, a politics professor and former government official. “It’s a highly personalized system,” which Putin feels he must steer “manually.” And Russia is still too dependent on energy exports, even though Putin said in his speech Friday that the export share of other industries is rising.
.. Corruption also remains a big problem, despite talk here of more independent and dependable legal institutions. Sergey Karaganov, the director of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, addressed this issue head-on in a conversation earlier this week in Moscow: “I would agree that institutions are weak” and that contracts often go to “those who play the game.” The problem, he said, was that in 1991, “we introduced capitalism without the rule of law.”
.. That’s Putin’s problem, in essence. His tough-guy, strongman style has certainly helped him to govern Russia. But it may also obstruct his desire to move the country to a more advanced and prosperous state at home and in global markets.
Video: Putin says that accusing Russia of hacking was like Anti-Semitism and that the hack was invented.
In another video, he conceded that a hack could have happened, but was done by Russian freelancing patriots.
This is similar to the argument that the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine were patriotic freelancers.