Donald Trump's friendliness with Russia's President Vladimir Putin has mystified Western observers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Donald Trump's friendliness with Russia's President Vladimir Putin has mystified Western observers. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There are three theories put about to explain US President Donald Trump’s behavior toward Russia, and for unknown reasons the two most likely ones are almost entirely absent from US electronic media. The theories, in ascending order of likelihood, are:

  1. The Manchurian Candidate: He’s being blackmailed or has been a Russian asset for years.
  2. The Wanna-be Dictator: He believes that countries should be run like companies — in essence autocracies.
  3. The Deadbeat: He’s not only not rich, but he’s badly in debt, and Russian billionaires are among his main creditors.

The Manchurian Candidate theory was largely the one Democrats implied during the 2016 presidential election, and most have implicitly embraced since then, along with many commentators on MSNBC and CNN. It’s the least likely, although if it’s true, Robert Mueller will probably be letting us know soon. But there’s little in Trump’s past that would suggest this is the case other than his embrace of Russia over the Barack Obama administration’s reactions to the annexation of Crimea and Russian activity in Ukraine.

But it’s far more likely that his support of Russia during the Obama administration had everything to do with hating anything the United States’ first black president had done (impose sanctions on Russia and expel diplomats, etc) as well as wanting to trash the presumed 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Even his dislike of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is the sort of standard-variety right-wing stuff that has been promoted within the Republican Party from the days of the John Birch Society to Steve Bannon’s recent White House advisory role, and reflects an isolationist fear of alliances rather than an affection for non-Nato actors like Russia.

The Wanna-be Dictator theory has a lot more credibility and explains much of why Trump gravitates to strongman types like Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman, and China’s Xi Jinping.

Trump knows very little about the history behind democratic republics (it would be shocking if he could even identify Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, or define the Enlightenment) and virtually nothing (based on public pronouncements) about the fundamental reasons “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Businesses are basically serfdoms. The CEO is the king, the board and senior executives are the courtiers and landed gentry, and the workers are the serfs. This has been Trump’s experience ever since he inherited his daddy’s business, and he has never in his life been accountable to any principle (like “democracy”) or to any persons.

So, much like George W. Bush’s “joke” that “If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier … as long as I’m the dictator,” Trump not only may think it would be easier but, even more ominously, may think it’s desirable for the country.

Republicans have long used false analogies of “government as business or home” (particularly with regard to debt) that distort the real reasons for the existence of, and functions of, government. So it wouldn’t be surprising if Trump were to believe this nonsense, out of both ignorance and temperament.

The Deadbeat theory is the most likely, although it doesn’t preclude either or both of the above.

… there’s one huge, simple explanation for Donald Trump’s perpetual unwillingness to even hint at direct criticism of Putin.

When given a variety of explanations for something, the principle known as Occam’s Razor proposes that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. And there’s one huge, simple explanation for Donald Trump’s perpetual unwillingness to even hint at direct criticism of Putin. And it’s not the rumored pee-pee tapes.

Here’s how and why.

Trump is both a terrible negotiator and a terrible businessman. Dozens of his companies have failed, many small businesses and workers have been denied money he owed them, and his bankruptcies are legendary.

If the American people don’t think this is a big deal, the American banks sure do. After Trump’s last bankruptcy, so far as press reports indicate, he could no longer borrow money at reasonable rates in the US. A real-estate developer who can’t borrow money is rapidly out of business.

So Trump, as his son Eric tells it, turned away from US banks and went to Russian billionaires for his money. In 2014, when asked directly how he could have acquired US$100 million in cash for new golf-course acquisitions, Eric Trump famously said: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

So if President Putin were to order his own billionaires to get their money back out of Trump’s properties and refuse to give him any more, Trump could well end up broke.

Really broke.

As in, losing all his properties, from Mar-a-Lago to Trump Tower.

It could wipe out all of his remaining businesses.

His kids would have to get real jobs, and enjoy no more big-game safaris.

His wife might leave him, and take their son.

He could end up living in a cardboard box on skid row.

Trump’s cringeworthy sycophancy explained

If he’s seeing that collection of pictures in his head when he looks at Vladimir Putin, it would go a long way to explain his prayerful body posture and cringeworthy sycophancy.

This also would explain why Trump has been so unwilling to release his tax returns, even after he won the election.

As journalist David Cay Johnston has pointed out, Trump is almost certainly nowhere nearly as rich as he brags, and has a history of connections with shady/mafia characters to get the money he needs.

But this is not about just being embarrassed for inflating his net worth — Trump’s a man who has little ability to feel shame, as we have seen over and over again. Similarly, it’s not about the pee-pee tapes.

After bragging that he can grab women by the crotch — and having dozens more accuse him of other sexual misdeeds — he must know that if he’d paid a couple of white Russian hookers to urinate on the bed that America’s first black president and his wife had slept in, it might well have actually helped him with his base. It surely wouldn’t hurt him politically, and he knows that.

Russian oligarchs hold the trump card

Trump isn’t afraid of being exposed as a lout or a racist; he’s afraid of being financially wiped out if Russian oligarchs pull out of Trump properties.

It’s why he’s even willing to take the risks and political hit by defying the US constitution and hanging on to the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. — he needs the money to keep his businesses afloat.

In 2016, Fortune magazine analyzed his federal public filings and concluded that he’s both less wealthy than he says he is and that he regularly lies about it.

Like everything else in Trump’s life, this is all about money and its relationship to his own fragile self-image. If a few Russian oligarchs say “Nyet,” he would suffer severe damage, both reputational and business-wise, and it might well be damage from which he can’t recover.

It may also explain why Russia (and a few other countries with billionaire oligarchs and/or Trump business interests, from the Middle East countries with Trump properties to China with Trump’s daughter Ivanka’s manufacturing) were enthusiastic about Donald Trump becoming president.

A debtor is more willing to compromise

A man who depends on others for his financial lifeblood is a man more willing to concede ground in governmental and policy areas.

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has, according to some reports, acquired access to Trump’s business records, all this may come out, which may explain why Trump seems so obsessed with — and frightened by — Mueller’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “witch hunt.”

If Mueller exposes Trump’s financial fragility, it may tip the first domino, leading to the collapse of the entire Trump empire.

It would be interesting to see if the Chinese, for example, would then claw back the billion dollars they just pledged to Trump’s Indonesian property, or his daughter’s hundred-million-dollar Chinese trademarks, which coincidentally preceded by days Trump’s decision to let ZTE resume selling spy-able phones to US citizens.

Equally interesting will be if the Middle Eastern billionaires and state wealth funds that are lending more than a billion to bail out Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner decide he’s no longer a good bet, either.

This is one of the few scenarios that help explain everybody’s behavior within the Trump enterprise, as well as the people in the family’s orbit.

As FBI associate director Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) memorably urged Watergate journalist Bob Woodward: “Follow the money.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of more than 25 books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

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