Putinism and Donald Trump

I’ve been working my way through Jennifer Welsh’s The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century. The title, of course, is a dig at the naivete that informed much of Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalist announcement of “the end of history” back in 1990. Welsh’s book, on the other hand, might be considered a further contribution to “chaos literature”, as we might call that — the literature on sudden reversals of fortune.

A while ago I remarked, in the context of the rise of regimes of the authoritarian right, that the man who seemingly stood to profit most from this was Vladimir Putin. Welsh seems to have come to much the same conclusion, noting with some irony that countries formerly under the thumb of the USSR, such as Poland or Hungary, now look to Putinism and Putin’s authoritarian nationalism of “illiberal democracy” as a model (Putin apparently calls it “sovereign democracy”, but that’s just another term for authoritarian nationalism).

It was while reading her description of what we might describe as “Putinism” that I was struck by how closely it resembled the Trump-Bannon agenda and prescription for the United States. That would account for the apparent chuminess and mutual admiration between Trump and Putin and between Putin and some members of Trump’s administration. Putin’s plans for the rebuilding of “Great Russia” seem to anticipate Trump’s own for “Great America”, including a big dose of restored Czarism. I would suggest that, if you want to know what Trump’s “vision” of America amounts to, that you look to Putinism and his plans for restoring “Great Russia”.

There’s a certain irony in all that — the apparent shifting of the political centre of gravity and dreams of “The New American Century” from Washington to Moscow and, perhaps, to “The Slavic Century” instead.

(And now, it’s reported today, Mr. Putin is thinking of making a “gift” of Ed Snowden to Donald Trump).

These ironic “twists of fate” and reversals of fortune in our times are certainly jaw-dropping. It’s also something tragicomic that in the name of “Patriotism” and “loyality” Trump’s supporters may just well be handing the keys to the kingdom to Vladimir Putin.

We are in the midst of all kinds of such reversals or twists, or what we might call “Cadmean Victories”. The sudden shock over how social media has become a force for disintegration and disinformation being another example. One might as well anticipate that the incipient “tech revolution” of artificial intelligence will be just another Cadmean Victory (which is just another way of talking about the karmic law of action and reaction, after all).

In any case, you might want to investigate “Putinism” and his plans for “Great Russia” for a clue as to what Trump (and Bannon) are prescribing for how to “Make America Great Again” as well.

It’s this process of enantiodromia — or reversal — that is, I think, why so many find the present “surreal”, but without their being able to put their finger on just why it appears so surreal.


27 responses to “Putinism and Donald Trump”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Great post, and very interesting book reference. Did you happen to notice that Welsh is of Metis descent? Seems like a particularly rich synchronicity.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. She’s the proverbial local gal done good. She grew up not too far from here.

    • donsalmon says :

      somewhat tangential point – I noticed in the New Republic there is a discussion of Trump as being mentally ill (this is being discussed in many places, of course).

      I often find people saying, well, he couldn’t be mentally ill because he’s been so “successful.’

      This is really worth a post – I don’t think I need to argue here at the Chrysalis that someone can be successful AND mentally ill.

      What I would love to see is a post elaborating on the meaning of the fact that Trump is successful BECAUSE he’s mentally ill.

      If you just get quiet and let that sink in, it really tells a lot about today’s world.

      I signed up for “Auronet” – the email server for the city of Auroville – early last summer. One of my first posts was on the political scene of the time. I immediately was invited to a private list by an Aurovilian. She was by that time already convinced that Clinton would start WWIII and Trump would issue in a new era of world peace.

      I wrote back and forth a few times when a long time Aurovillian warned me this person is crazy. boy was she right. Over the next six months, i discovered this Trump supporter was reading – and believing – Breitbart and similar sites; in the 41 years that I’ve been associated with Auroville, I never imagined anyone living there would fall for such insanity (though many in India are Trump supporters simply because he is anti-Muslim, not realizing that Trump is not anti or pro anything but Trump).

      We have truly landed in Bizarro world (for those who were never comic fans, Bizarro lived on a parallel earth which was in most ways the “opposite” of this earth, and one of Superman’s great nemesis’. )

      • Scott Preston says :

        Other’s have tackled the question of Trump’s narcissism and megalomania, supposedly in some childhood trauma (perhaps the reason why he counts “Citizen Cain” as his favourite film? The question of Trump’s sanity (or lack thereof) does not I think lead to anything really fruitful. Of course, it’s also a question of interest why a man so evidently mad would be considered by so many fit to be president.

        I’m assuming the mad king has some role to play in the present drama — as Trickster figure — even if it’s akin to the role Gollum played finally in The Lord of the Rings.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I was watching an interview with Chomsky on Al Jazeera, where he stated that the most predictable thing about Trump was that he was unpredictable.

        I’m not sure that this is the case at all, if, indeed, his model is Putin and he envies and wants to emulate Putin’s easy manner of getting his way. If Putin (and Putinism) is Trump’s model, Trump becomes somewhat predictable in his motives and actions.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    I was trying to recall an example of a Cadmean Victory from contemporary literature, but the only thing that came to mind was Agent Smith’s “victory” over Neo in The Matrix. I’m sure there are others.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    Canada has its own Putin wanna-be in the form of another reality TV celebrity and candidate for the Conservative Party named Kevin O’Leary, who has described himself as “right-wing of Atilla the Hun”. Also a megalomaniac with an inflated self-image.

    Strange how “reality TV” has had this effect.

  4. davidm58 says :

    You might want to explore the connection with Vladislav Surkov. From Wikipedia:

    Influence outside Russia

    Some outside Russia, such as Ned Reskinoff of ThinkProgress,[87] and Adam Curtis in the BBC documentary HyperNormalisation,[10] have claimed that Surkov’s unique blend of politics and reality have begun to affect countries outside of Russia, most notably the United States with the choosing of Donald Trump for the 2016 US Republican nomination and Trump’s subsequent campaign and election victory.

    In an editorial for the London Review of Books quoted by Curtis, Peter Pomerantsev describes Putin’s Russia thus:

    In contemporary Russia, unlike the old USSR or present-day North Korea, the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away. Surkov is at the centre of the show, sponsoring nationalist skinheads one moment, backing human rights groups the next. It’s a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused, a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.
    — Peter Pomerantsev, in “Putin’s Rasputin”, London Review of Books issue of 20 October 2011 [8]

    Curtis claims that Trump used a similar strategy to become president of the United States, and hints that Trump’s Surkovian origins caused Putin to express his admiration for Trump in Russian media.[88][89]


    • Scott Preston says :

      yes. Thanks. Surkov was a name I was trying to recall here. I’ll try to dig up more linkages among these dudes. (“Putin’s Rasputin”. That’s a good one!).

    • Scott Preston says :

      Good grief! It all sounds very, very familiar — as per this portrait of Surkov and of Putin’s Russia in The London Review of Books


      worth reading.

    • Scott Preston says :

      If you google up the name “Peter Pomerantsev” you’ll find a lot of very interesting material on Surkov, Putinism, “managed democracy” or “post-modern dictatorship”. And reading that material it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a kind of “convergence” occurring here.

      It does sound very “Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland”-like. But then, as you previously noted, Nature bats last and this may run into — and over — its limits in time.

      Pomerantsev has written a book about Putinism entitled “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible”, which, judging from watching a couple of his talks on YouTube, sounds very much like Adam Curtis’s “Hyper-Normalisation” described — the “New Normal” in a nutshell

  5. abdulmonem says :

    And they thought there is no divine referee watching over the games of the different human players across the earth, whose flag nobody knows when it will be raised. Some time I feel astounded at the neglectfulness of the humans despite their talk of the thermodynamic laws and other laws and their operative functioning in our universe yet they are in complete oblivion of their unexpected impacts. Take the law of reversal which most people think it is a mute and dumb law and there is no force operating it like so many other neglected commands that that have produced such havoc. It is the same human story that keeps repeating itself with different players and different time and space, but it is the same story of denial and falsifications. As if god knows that the humans can not function without that unhealthy atmosphere until they face their doom. All indications are pointing to that abyss despite all the wise voices we hear all around. It seems we are reaching time that the refereeship of god becomes a must in the light of the absence of a wise human referee and all these nationalistic claims for greatness away from demonstrating any signs for co-existence. We are in a time where no leadership are seeking for the light of the divine but arrogantly are pursuing the dim light of their misled boasting selves. Like Jacob I am raising my sadness and pain to Him and ask him to protect me from falling in the trap of denial and falsifications. It is a decisive time.

  6. dadaharm says :


    These are exciting times. Reality TV and reality itself have become confused. Facts, alternative facts and lies have become undistinguishable. (In fact, I think the Snowden story you referred to is fake news, but am not at all sure).

    I expect things to become much more insane.

    Comparing the pair Trump and Bannon with the pair Putin and Surkov reminds me also of the pair King Arthur and Merlin.

    The modern equivalent of an oldfashioned tribal king and his magician could well be a nationalist authoritarian president and his ideologue. It looks to me as being essentially the same thing.

    • Steve Lavendusky says :


      • mikemackd says :

        “the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant,
        and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.”

        Jonathan Haidt, 2012. The Righteous Mind.

      • mikemackd says :

        Steve, sorry to trouble you, but I watched the link – which prompted my quote below – and just tried to go there again, to get the poet’s name so I could Google it and find out more.

        But now I can’t get that link to work.

        So would you post the link again, and / or the poet’s name?

        Many Thanks,


        • davidm58 says :

          I haven’t been able to get any of Steve’s links of the past several days to work, but I chalked it up to my slow/difficult internet connection.

        • Leo says :

          Mike, it’s because the first ‘ht’ is missing from the ‘https’ header. To access the link just copy from the ‘www’ header section and your browser should do the rest.

          • mikemackd says :

            Thanks Leo. I had tried that before, and it didn’t work, but this time it did. Must have been some other reason then.

            Anyway, the poet’s Li Young Lee; now I’m going to look for him on Google.

            All the Best,


  7. Scott Preston says :

    The Guardian’s Owen Jones has published an article today on just this thing — Putinism and Donald Trump (and beyond the Donald).


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