On January 29, 2002, in his State of the Union address, George W. Bush, the president who fumbled and lurched us into a disastrous war in Iraq, did something that made sense:
He introduced the term the “axis of evil.”
As we all know, this club was originally comprised of Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. (Since then, nations such as Russia, China, Syria, Venezuela, and Cuba have been assigned to this camp of oppressive military dictatorships, and more recent additions may include Turkey and the Philippines.)
What do these so-called axis-of-evil governments have in common? A penchant for weapons of mass destruction, for one. But more importantly, they all stand in firm opposition to the United States.
Despite this qualification, there’s good reason to believe that, more than anything, the US president Donald Trump aches to be a part of the axis of evil cohort. The fact that recent hearings just resulted in a 230 to 197 vote in favor of impeaching Trump offers some support to this argument.
But there’s an abundance of other proof that Trump wants to be part of the axis of evil.
A Trump for life?
There’s a tendency for authoritarian regimes to be run by dictators for life. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Cuba’s Raul Castro—and those two axis hopefuls, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte all show signs they are settling into life-long appointments.
In March of 2018, Trump hinted to a private group of Republican donors at Mar-a-Lago that he’d like to be a dictator for life, like China’s Xi, reportedly saying, “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give it a shot someday.”
A fickle friend, a fickler foe
One call from Erdogan was enough to persuade the US president to pull out of Syria virtually overnight, abandoning the Kurdish allies who have been instrumental in evicting ISIS from their territories. Shortly after the Turkish government launched an offensive on those same Kurds, driving more than 160,000 out of their homes, Trump entertained Erdogan in the White House.
Meanwhile, Trump has more or less handed Putin what he wants the most—the dissolution of the Western alliance. Leading up to recent NATO talks, Trump trashed NATO and did everything in his power to telegraph his feeling that NATO is obsolete—but somehow still cheating the US out of money. Trump delivered an even more ominous message to NATO in October when he pulled out of Syria pretty much overnight, handed the Middle East to Putin, and left our Kurdish allies to be ravaged by Turkish forces.
A Russian affair
Not convinced that Trump wants to join the axis of evil? Let’s look way back in time. In 1987, the Russian government flew Trump—merely a fraudulent real estate magnate at the time—and his then-wife Ivana to Moscow for an all-expenses-paid trip to discuss developing a Trump tower in Moscow.
Trump reportedly came back from the trip and immediately began to spout a Kremlin-implanted, Western-alliance-breaking meme—that America’s allies were ripping us off.
Or, as his spokesperson at the time put it, “He’s sick and tired of seeing other countries take advantage of America.”
Trump felt so passionately that this Russian propaganda was true that he took out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe to promote the Moscow-crafted meme.
It’s becoming more difficult to deny that ideas go directly from the mouth of Putin to Trump’s tongue—or more often, his Twitter feed.
During a February 2017 Budapest press conference with another eager axis of evil candidate, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Putin said, “As we all know, during the presidential campaign in the United States, the Ukrainian government adopted a unilateral position in favor of one candidate.”
He continued, “More than that, certain oligarchs, certainly with the approval of the political leadership, funded this candidate, or female candidate, to be more precise.”
According to Putin, the real meddlers in America’s 2016 presidential campaign were a crew of Ukrainian rich guys who bankrolled Hillary Clinton.
Trump has picked up this story and run with it, right down to reportedly proclaiming that “Ukraine is a terrible place, they’re all corrupt, they’re terrible people, they tried to take me down.”
Yes, thanks to Putin, Trump believes that it wasn’t the Russians who sabotaged the American presidential election of 2016. It was the Ukrainians.
Even the favors Trump tried to extort from the new Ukrainian president are based on the ideas Putin spoon-fed him, from investigating Hunter Biden’s Burisma deal in Ukraine to Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 American presidential election.
Or, as Trump put it in this White House transcript of his July 26th phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky:
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
For a quick glossary:
The server is Hillary Clinton’s alleged missing server.
CrowdStrike is the firm that ferreted out the Russian penetration of Hillary Clinton and former White House chief of staff John Podesta’s emails five months before the election, a company that Trump believes is owned by Ukrainians (it’s not, it’s owned by Dmitri Alperovitch, who came to the US as a child from Russia).
The “wealthy people” are the oligarchs Putin talked about in his Budapest press conference.
And the whole fantasy is very transparently one of Putin’s bits of tantalizing misinformation.
Trump has routinely violated the Constitutional principle of the eighth amendment, created to prevent the government from using the power of office for cruel and unusual punishment.
But Trump’s policies have been both cruel and unusual.
He seeks to deter immigration by inflicting maximum pain on people—including unaccompanied children—who are seeking a better life.
He pardoned three men the military had already convicted of war crimes.
Trump’s recent statement about Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch—“She’s going to go through some things”—shows the instincts of an intolerant totalitarian.
Trump’s condemnation of the press as the enemy of the people shows his desire for a media that acts only as his mouthpiece (like state media in Russia, North Korea, and China, for example).
For 27 years, we have stood by the Ukrainians and their aspirations for a Western-style democracy. Ukraine has historically been a bulwark against Russia. They are on the Russian border. And they have been attacked and invaded by Russia’s “little green men”—Russians on the Kremlin payroll whose uniforms don’t indicate what country they come from.
Since Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 it has run a continuing war in the country’s Donbass region to establish separatist people’s republics in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. So far, the war has killed 12,000 Ukrainians, and has forced 1.5 million to flee their homes. Ukrainian forces have had to dig a World War I-style trench 250 miles long to defend themselves.
In the course of the recent impeachment hearing and rulings, one thing has become clear: America’s Congress and State Department are deeply committed to the Ukrainian cause. Donald Trump is not.
Consider the Trump perspective
To understand Trump’s deep emotional yearning to join his buddies Putin, Xi, and Kim in the axis of evil club house, put yourself in Donald Trump’s position. First, you have to get into the mental and emotional mindset of a grammar-school bully. You are a coward when it comes to people your own size, but you know from experience that you can make yourself feel smart and tough by beating up on kids smaller than you. But you’ve heard of other bullies in other school yards who are even tougher than you are. And when you meet the top bully, the one with the biggest, baddest reputation of all, you simper, you cower, you cringe, and you become a sycophant.
If there’s a club where all the bullies meet, you want in.
And who is running the hottest inner circle of bullies on planet Earth today? Vladimir Putin. And Donald Trump wants in.
Most of his presidency so far has been in service of earning the acceptance and admiration of the bullies who established political play yard dominance long before he even entered politics.
Putin has been on the cover of Forbes Magazine more than once. In emulation, Trump had fake Time Magazine covers made featuring himself and placed them prominently on his wall long before he ran for president.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to belong. In fact, it might be one of Trump’s most human traits, one we can actually identify with.
But this particular club just happens to be the axis of evil, the gang that is out to replace American political values of democracy and freedom of speech with totalitarianism.
Totalitarianism and something Donald Trump is trying hard to establish: a cult of personality. A dictatorial presidency. And, in the manner of Kim Jong Un’s family, a dynasty.
Satire and ridicule aside, the radical rebalancing of alliances is one of the biggest political shifts a nation can undergo, short of war. Trump has delivered the axis of evil’s wet dream and has taken the Western alliance off the table. That is a tectonic shift in geopolitics. And in the long run, it will have an impact on your future and mine.