During his stream-of-semi-consciousness speech in Montana last week, Comrade Trump addressed an issue that’s on the minds of a whole lot of people — his meeting with Vladimir Putin. I say he ‘addressed’ the issue, which is misleading; he mocked the issue. He said,
“They’re going ‘Will President Trump be prepared, you know, President Putin is KGB and this and that.’ You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”
No. No, he won’t be prepared. And no, he hasn’t been preparing for this his whole life. But Putin actually has.
Trump grew up pampered and privileged, of course. His grandfather made a fortune providing housing for prospectors during the Klondike gold rush before moving to New York and began buying and building houses and apartments. Trump attended the posh Kew-Forest School until his parents caught him sneaking into Manhattan and sent him to the New York Military Academy–a private boarding school. He did a couple of years at Fordham, picked up a B.A. in economics from the Wharton School, then took a position in the real estate business his grandfather created.
He eventually inherited a lot of money and a lot of lawyers and he’s counted on the lawyers to keep himself in the money. For much of his career, Trump’s business model seems to have been to personally meet with investors, make a number of demands, then leave while his lawyers work out the details. If the business succeeds, Trump takes credit. If it doesn’t, he blames the lawyers. His bankruptcies made it impossible for him to obtain loans from most major international banks, forcing him to deal with banking institutions in former Soviet client states, many of which have an international reputation for money laundering. He’s also become dependent on foreign nationals to buy or lease expensive apartments–also a common source of money laundering.
A pampered, ignorant rich guy.
Putin, in contrast with Trump, grew up in post-WWII Leningrad. Both of his older brothers died–one in infancy, the other from disease during the Siege of Leningrad. His father served in one of the infamous ‘Destruction Battalions’ of the NKVD during the war. After the war, the Putins lived in a rat-infested apartment complex; both of his parents worked in Soviet factories. Putin knows what it is to be poor, to be hungry, to struggle to survive.
He was a good student, though, and Putin was eventually able to attend college and law school (yeah, he’s actually a lawyer). After graduation, he joined the KGB and began his career in counter-intelligence. He monitored foreign dignitaries (which meant spying on them and gathering dirt) as well as consular officials (spying and gathering dirt) in Leningrad. He later spent half a decade undercover (spying and gathering dirt) in East Germany. His work wasn’t simply about spying and gathering dirt; it was grounded in an understanding human frailty coupled with knowledge of techniques to capitalize on that frailty. He eventually became a Lt. Colonel in the KGB.
As the Soviet Union began to collapse, Putin left the KGB–but he used his KGB training to become successful in politics. In seven years he went from being an advisor to the mayor of Leningrad to being a deputy chief on the staff of Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Putin succeeded because he prepared. He studied…well, almost everything about almost everybody he would come into contact with. For example, when he met Strobe Talbot, a representative of the Clinton administration, at an informal gathering, Putin casually mentioned the names of the poets Talbot had studied in college. Talbot understood this wasn’t Putin showing off; it was Putin letting Talbot know the KGB had a detailed file on him–and that Putin was familiar with it.
A seasoned counter-intelligence professional.
A year later, Putin was put in charge of the FSB, the successor of the KGB. A year after that he was appointed acting Prime Minister of the Government of the Russian Federation. He’s basically been in power ever since. His rise to power demonstrates a high level of espionage tradecraft combined with a ruthless determination.
So this is where we are. We have Donald Trump, whose personal and financial behavior has left him vulnerable to blackmail meeting with a guy who built the early part of his career on finding and using dirt to manipulate others. We have Trump who, when challenged, threatens his opponents with a lawsuit (and often fails to follow through on those threats) meeting a guy who, when challenged, imprisons his opponents. Or has them assassinated. We have Trump, who seems incapable of controlling his emotions, meeting with a guy trained to suppress his emotions. We have Trump, who talks tough, meeting with a guy who actually is tough. We have Trump, who never prepares for anything, meeting with a guy who prepares for everything.
And if that’s not bad enough, Trump has insisted his meeting with Putin take place without any official witnesses. No aides, no advisors, no staff, no official translators, and certainly no press. There will be no official record of what happens in the meeting. As far as that goes, there’s not even an official agenda of items to be discussed.
Spider meets fly.
It’s just going to be an over-confident and under-informed Donald Trump walking into a room with an experienced counter-intelligence professional who’s had an entire staff scouring through every moment of Trump’s life for leverage to use against him.
This is not normal. This is unprecedented. This is entirely irresponsible. This is fucking nuts.