Rutledge: Democracy in danger at home and abroad

When historians write the history of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they will look to the personal motives of Putin, historical patterns and events in Russia, tensions between Russia and the West, and numerous other factors. They will consider missteps by the West in the Post-Cold War Era, particularly by both Europe and the U.S., from the first Bush administration continuing into Biden’s.

But it will be the previous administration that will be particularly remembered for weakening Ukraine and working actively to put it under Russian domination.

Trump was an admirer of Putin, a murderous dictator who waged vicious wars in Chechnya, Georgia, the Crimea and Syria. The GOP happily followed Trump’s embrace of Putin in lockstep.

It’s important to review the past seven years of history, as Trump is the presumed Republican frontrunner for 2024, and may need to navigate a confrontation with a nuclear power.

In 2016, Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort inserted language into the GOP platform pledging to withhold aid from Ukraine, a fragile and struggling democracy that had recently elected Volodymyr Zelensky president. That’s not surprising, as Manafort had been a lobbyist for years for Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s former president, a corrupt Putin loyalist now residing under Putin’s protection.

The former GOP position had been to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression and encroachment, in part responding to Obama’s reluctance to provoke Russia by increasing assistance to Ukraine. That led GOP platform committee member Rachel Hoff to complain to the Washington Post, “This is another example of Trump being out of step with GOP leadership and the mainstream in a way that shows he would be dangerous for America and the world.”

Later, in the midst of the 2016 campaign, Trump invited foreign interference in the election by saying: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” a reference to opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s close ties and open admiration of Putin were no secret among Republicans.

Kevin McCarthy told then House Speaker Paul Ryan, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Trump and (Dana) Rohrabacher ... Swear to God!” Ryan replied, “No leaks ... This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

To Trump and Rohrabacher, then serving in the House of Representatives, we can add the National Rifle Association — essentially a Russian asset, as a Senate investigation later revealed.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump dangerously claimed “NATO is obsolete!” Never mind that Europe is the United States’ largest trading partner, and that our economic prosperity relies on European stability and defense, particularly of European democracies and the NATO partnership.

Trump’s son Don Jr. welcomed Russian interference in the election in June of 2016. During this time, Trump received cash infusions from Russian oligarchs, doubling his money on Florida real estate.

During his presidency, Trump held five meetings with Putin that were shrouded in complete secrecy. It’s reasonable to assume his re-election and pulling out of NATO — something John Bolton, his national security advisor, states was in the works — were among subjects discussed.

Further, Trump used the Helsinki meeting to discredit our intelligence community’s report that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, putting trust in Putin’s intelligence agency over our own.

The former president was not, strictly speaking, a Russian asset. But he’s openly acted the part for seven years or more now.

He spread Russia’s nonsensical propaganda that Ukraine interfered in our 2016 election, repeating Putin’s lies. In 2019, he fired our ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a highly qualified foreign service diplomat who warned of Russia’s threat.

He withheld a White House meeting from Zelensky to extort non-existent dirt on Biden. He attempted to withhold $400 million dollars in congressionally approved defense assistance to Ukraine after an extortionate phone call with Zelensky — a call serving as the basis for his first impeachment.

Despite the thuggish shakedown, 99% of Republicans refused to remove him from office, which Putin likely interpreted as U.S. insouciance towards strategic interests in Ukraine.

And that’s not all.

There are his family’s close ties to Russian oligarchs. Then there is the cheerleading for Putin from what one hopes are party outliers, including Tucker Carlson, who spreads Kremlin misinformation and tellingly appears on Russian television.

This year at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s annual conference,  participants sported Russian flags emblazoned with Trump’s name just as the Russians started bombing Ukraine.

Perhaps most damaging, Putin likely interpreted Trump’s Jan. 6 attempt to overthrow our government, and his subsequent impunity, as a collapse of American values. After all, if Americans didn’t care about their own democracy, why would they care about Ukraine’s?

In the midst of Putin’s invasion, Trump praised him as a “genius.” He called Putin’s Orwellian claim that invading soldiers were peacekeepers “very savvy.”

Then, seeing which way the winds were blowing, he back-pedaled. He went so far as to promote reckless and illegal acts of war.

Where will Trump stand on Putin tomorrow? Whichever way serves him best.

Just remember, a nuclear standoff with the added element of a capricious, self-serving personality substantially lessens the chances of its survivability.

To his credit, Biden has done the hard work to warn and prepare Europe that Russia was set to invade. He built a coalition of allies united against Russia, and had the foresight to release real time intelligence on Russian military positions.

He rightly passed $13.5 billion in emergency aid, despite the objection of 30 GOP senators who later  attacked him,  disingenuously, for not doing enough.

Now Biden must withstand the natural human pressure to act in the face of bombarded maternity wards, 10 million people displaced and nuclear reactors held hostage. He must tread a tightrope, where brutal violence beckons human response, and weigh its use against the unspeakable risk of nuclear conflict.

But Putin works hard, too. A ruthless former KGB agent who has vowed to destroy the West, he has successfully launched campaigns to install sympathetic authoritarians in Europe, supported right-wing extremists to weaken and disrupt western democracies, and sown divisive misinformation.

We’ll never know for certain, but Putin’s interference during 2016 may well have elevated an authoritarian to national office.

Why do we think the monstrous Putin supports Trump and the GOP, but hates Clinton and named almost exclusively Democrats to Russia’s sanctions list? Hint: It’s not because Putin has the well-being of the U.S. at heart.

Our country’s divisive atmosphere, the pandemic and the attendant inflation, now likely to be amplified by war, give one little hope for the electorate to tap whatever reserves are left of wisdom and altruism.  Going forward, its first consideration will likely be, as always, not robust democracy, but the pocketbook.

We should expect no reckoning from a party whose authoritarianism has been decades in the making. Trump and his party will have a hard time washing off seven years of Putin’s stench.

As Ukrainians bravely die for democratic values — freedom, empathy, decency, and respect for human dignity — we have all too many Republicans cowering before an authoritarian Trump who cares nothing for those values. We can applaud the GOP majority for coming to reject Putin in the wake of the invasion, but need to see it to take the next step  — moving to reject fellow travelers as well, including Trump.

We now face challenges to democratic republicanism from both without and within.

Imagine if success in our wars against authoritarians in the last century had been attended by serious challenges to democracy at home. How well would we have defended democracy and freedom abroad even as we tried to ward off an existential threat to it here on our own shores?

I’m afraid we are in the midst of finding out.




Trump was an admirer of Putin???? The Far left will never understand Trump. Putin Tested Trump and did not like the result:

Were you aware of this report?

Reuters; By Maria Tsvetkova
Russian toll in Syria battle was 300 killed and wounded: sources
Since the battle, associates of Russian military contractors have said Russians were part of the pro-Assad force involved in the battle, and among the casualties." Read the full story.

That is why Putin Invaded Ukraine when Obama was President (2014 Crimea) and now under Biden's Administration. Putin learned how Trump would likely respond to an attack on Ukraine and decided to wait until a Democrat was President.


Putin waited to move into Ukraine because he thought Trump was doing his work for him, with his attempt to undermine the US agreements with NATO. Clearly Putin miscalculated the resolve of the NATO alliance.


This is a near incoherent, highly speculative, lacking sufficient understanding of foreign policy, rant. My goodness.

Trump pushed NATO nations to meet their 2% of GDP defense obligations resulting in hundreds of billions of additional NATO defense spending. Not in Russia's national interests.

Trump made America energy independent (fossil fuels). That is NOT in Russia's, a 'gas station with nukes', economic interests.

Trump increased American defense spending and sent lethal aid (e.g. Javelin ATGMs) to Ukraine that have sent many a Russian tanker to the grave.

Western Europe and Joe Biden's economic policies made them and us dependent on other countries for our energy needs. Putin has leverage and knows how to use it. He senses weakness and is making his move. After Afghanistan and Ukraine, Joe Biden is the biggest foreign policy disaster of a president in my lifetime. There isn't a close second.

Don Dix

Putin met with both Trump and Biden.

Trump was a wild card, not in anyway the typical politician. No telling what he might do.

Biden is exactly the opposite, a life-long politician, and because of that, quite predictable.

Putin chose not to test Trump, which might have been wise. He waited for the election to play out before invading Ukraine, even though his sites were set there back in 2014.

The only variable seems to be who sat in the White House and what reaction could be expected.

Bill B

This guy's slanted world view does not belong in this newspaper IMHO.


So the paper should only publish viewpoints you agree with?....as they say on ESPN...”C’mon man.”

Bill B

Nope I don't like slanted editorials from either side especially when their commentary never really changes.

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