One of Donald Trump’s favorite lines on the campaign trail and after his election as US president has been, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia?” The idea, as John Oliver puts it, is as dangerous as if you were to “walk right up to a bear and hug it.”
Last week Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after intelligence intercepts contradicted claims he made to vice president Mike Pence about his communications with Russian officials. In the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the British comedian pounced on Trump’s special relationship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s lingering popularity in Russia, despite the country’s struggling economy, is partly due to his ability to deflect blame for his own misguided policies onto the US. Oliver said Putin knows how to “delegitimize our ability to claim a moral high ground.” For instance, when asked about Russia’s human rights abuses in a 2015 interview, Putin dodged the question and instead criticized the US for suppressing human rights, citing Ferguson and police abuses.
Similarly, Oliver argued, Putin has capitalized on Trump’s undermining of the US electoral system. As Russia’s state media churned out stories about the US election being rigged, the narrative gained credence because Putin “had a major American candidate saying the exact same thing,” Oliver said.
Putin gained more soft power from Trump’s manner of discussing him in the media. When Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asked Trump last year how he would respond to Russian planes bombing US warships, Trump responded in the interview: “I would say Vladimir, don’t do it. Let’s go. Come on. We are going to have a good relationship. Don’t do it.” To Oliver, this made the US look embarrassingly weak. Trump “was using a tone of a dog owner failing to stop a spaniel peeing on the rug,” Oliver said.
Oliver pointed to another O’Reilly interview with Trump in February, in which O’Reilly pressed the issue of US-Russian relations, saying, “Putin’s a killer.” The US president responded: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
In conclusion, Oliver said, “Trump is basically the propagandist of Putin’s dreams.”