Donald Trump is a strange man, hard to pigeonhole into a simple ideological box.
All of us tend to be more kindly disposed to those who are nice to us and less so to those we think are being unkind. What makes Trump different is that, like in most things, he carries this to extremes. He seems to place great value on what people say to him and about him and as long as those things are complimentary, he responds in kind, sometimes with even effusive praise. But attack him or insult him, and he lashes back angrily. He does not do half-measures.
Nowhere is this more on display in the curious case of Russian president Vladimir Putin. At his annual news conference in Moscow, Putin had referred to Trump and first reports said he had described Trump as a ‘very bright and talented man’. Other reports gave the description as ‘brilliant’.
What Putin actually said is in some dispute. He was speaking in Russian and the word that he used does not have a straightforward translation and has been interpreted different ways, depending on which translator you talk to. The general tenor of the word has been more along the lines of ‘vivid’ or ‘colorful’, and while ‘brilliant’ has a similar connotation in some contexts, Trump has chosen to take it as meaning that Putin was praising his intelligence. That is of course the Trump signature move, to interpret everything in the light of how it reflects best on himself. Trump has been so pleased that he has gone out of his way to say nice things about Putin in return.
Trump’s vigorous defense of Putin, and his earlier calls to work with Russia to address some of the problems in the world at a time when the US political establishment has demonized him as some kind of tyrant who seeks to reconstitute the Soviet Union by force in necessary, shows an independent streak that will not endear him to the neoconservatives and others who want nothing less than have every nation bow to the power of the US and thus want to marginalize Russia and also China.
But Trump, whose lead in the polls has grown after a series of inflammatory Islamophobic slurs, called the Russian president’s remarks a “great honour” and described Putin as “a man highly respected within his own country and beyond”.
Trump was called out on the platitudes during an interview with MSNBC on Friday. Asked to condemn the Kremlin’s alleged involvement in the assassination of reporters, he responded: “Our country does plenty of killing also.”
In a heated interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Trump said: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has.”
His statement that the US does a lot of killing too is absolutely true but will not win him friends in the political and media establishment. His call for talking with Putin and working with Russia is also eminently sensible and goes against the grain of the current crop of Republican cold war enthusiasts.
This will only add to the efforts of the Republican party establishment to try and get rid of him.