Donald Trump

Trump's Putin Praise Highlights His Authoritarianism

The strength the Republican nominee admires is the strength of an autocrat.


Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, use the same word to describe Donald Trump's praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "unpatriotic." Satisfying as it may be for Democrats to deploy that adjective against the nominee of a party known for its flag-waving jingoism, it is neither accurate nor adequate in describing what's truly alarming about Trump's admiration of the Russian strongman.

"He is really very much of a leader," Trump told NBC's Matt Lauer last week. "I mean, you can say, 'Oh, isn't that a terrible thing.' The man has very strong control over a country."

Trump, who also cited Putin's "82 percent approval rating," allowed that Russia has "a very different system" of government, and "I don't happen to like the system." Nevertheless, he said, "in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader."

Clinton slammed Trump for "taking the astonishing step of suggesting that he preferred the Russian president to our American president," which she called "unpatriotic and insulting." Kaine said the "irrational hostility toward President Obama, which started the very first day of his term from some of these people, is unpatriotic, and we've got to call it out."

Note how Clinton and Kaine equated Trump's insult to Obama with an insult to the nation. If you hate Obama, they suggested, you hate America.

Teddy Roosevelt, no stranger to jingoism, thought conflating love of country with love of the president is the opposite of patriotism. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong," he wrote in 1918, "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

Patriotism is in any case a dubious virtue at best. An emotional attachment to the land in which you happen to be born is natural, but when elevated to a moral principle it easily morphs into state worship and warmongering.

As a guide to judgment, patriotism is utterly subjective and unreliable. If it is unpatriotic for an American to say Putin is a better leader than Obama, it is equally unpatriotic for a Russian to say Obama is a better leader than Putin.

The problem with Trump's comments about Putin is not that they show a lack of patriotism. The problem is that they reflect authoritarian instincts no president of a liberal democracy should have.

Trump cannot credibly claim to dislike Russia's system of government while admiring Putin's strong leadership, because that system is what makes his strong leadership possible. In Russia's "highly centralized, authoritarian political system," the State Department notes, the executive branch dominates the legislature, pressures the judiciary, and routinely flouts notional guarantees of civil liberties.

According to the department's 2015 report on human rights in Russia, "the government increasingly instituted a range of measures to suppress dissent," including politically motivated arrests and prosecutions; discriminated against sexual, religious, and ethnic minorities; and "failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity." The report says torture by police was common, there were "numerous extrajudicial killings," and "corruption was widespread" in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Freedom House, which classifies Russia as "not free," reports that Putin's regime last year "intensified its tight grip on the media, saturating the information landscape with nationalist propaganda while suppressing the most popular alternative voices." The report also notes that "the judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch," "there is little transparency and accountability in the day-to-day workings of the government," and "vague laws on extremism grant the authorities great discretion to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support."

Trump's Putin partiality is of a piece with his praise of the strength shown by autocrats in Iraq, China, and North Korea. It does not bode well for his performance as president.

© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Trump’s praise of Putin isn’t a big deal and is simply buttering up someone he will have to work with if elected. Clinton’s just mad we didn’t get to bomb Assad and do to Syria what we did to Libya. Like it or not, Putin is someone we should, someone we’ll have to, work with if we want to get certain things done and antagonizing him needlessly is just stupid.

    1. “Get things done.” Ah, the refuge of the progressive.

  2. “Trump cannot credibly claim to dislike Russia’s system of government while admiring Putin’s strong leadership, because that system is what makes his strong leadership possible.”‘

    What an absolute crock of shit.
    Obama is a very weak leader. Jimmy Carter and GHW Bush were weak leaders. Bill Clinton, GW Bush, and Reagon were noticeably stronger leaders. All within the same system of government.

    Russia’s system is not what makes “his strong leadership possible” any more than our system is what makes “Obama’s limp wristed leadership possible”

    Yet another article entirely based on Trump Derangement Syndrome

    1. The people who throw out “TDS” around these parts tend to quickly reveal themselves to be moronic Trump fans. I’m not sure what Trump seeks to gain by complimenting Putin at all, leadership or otherwise. Putin is despicable. Why feel the need to say anything else? The answer is obvious, by the way, if you were paying attention.

      1. Pointing out an article’s premise to be full of shit doesn’t equate to Trump support. A large majority of people who bother to post here are libertarians so fuck off with your bullshit. They can support Trump or Clinton if they wish even though they’re misguided.

        1. Fully agree with this. I’m voting for Johnson, but even I can see that the journalism establishment, including some Reason writers, are terrified of outsider candidates like Trump. Any talk about him being some kind of authoritarian is IMO jumping the gun, because he has been known to make these kinds of statements purely for publicity, no matter good or bad.

        2. Says the guy who praised “getting things done” above. That’s the real bullshit.


        a majority of Americans see Putin as a “strong leader”. they must all be authoritarians and moronic Trump fans.

        Lambasting Trump for comments that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if said by anyone else is the epitome of “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.

        “Putin is despicable. Why feel the need to say anything else?”
        So…your foreign policy experience tells you that a candidate for POTUS show just say “Putin is despicable” whenever asked about Putin? sure….that’s some high level political astuteness you have there.

        1. when you want to work with people you don’t say bad things about them unless you can back up your bluff like Reagan did. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone will fall for that bluff again.

          Wouldn’t Hillary’s reset with Russia be just as much an evil statement as Trumps comments except that with hillary no one ever believed her since she never tells the truth

        2. I’d argue the more accurate phrase is “Lambasting Trump for comments that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow if said by someone not running for president is the epitome of “Yeah, makes sense I expect more sense from a presidential candidate””

          1. “expect more sense from a presidential candidate”. Huh. Are you even aware of the topic?

            Saying that Putin is a strong leader, with the caveat that you don’t like the Russian governmental system, is about as vanilla a comment a politician could have said in response to Lauer’s questioning.

            Trump’s comments, if said by Obama, Hillary, Johnson, etc, wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, let alone been worthy of an article detailing how it proves he’s an authoritarian.

    2. Trump has to say some good things about Putin just to get Americans over the idea, now ingrained in the public by the neocons, that cooperation with the Russians is either impossible or a bad thing. Trump’s laying the groundwork for his 1st term; it’s about time someone took such steps.

      Russia has had its current system for a while, yet previous leaders had nowhere near the popularity of Putin. Putin’s been so popular that he had to do like George & Lurleen Wallace in having Medvedev keep the seat warm for him to finesse their rule against succeeding yourself. So Trump’s praise of Putin’s leadership is significant & not an endorsement of Russia’s system of gov’t.

      And yeah, this is TDS, but of an institutional sort, because I can’t believe Jacob believes it. It must be from orders on high.

    3. If the Russian system makes strong leaders, explain Yeltsin and Medvdev please.

  3. I won’t read any further than the stupid title. One thing does not prove another. BTW show us what politician is not authoritarian and I’ll show you a politician who’s not in office.

  4. I won’t read any further than the stupid title. One thing does not prove another. BTW show us what politician is not authoritarian and I’ll show you a politician who’s not in office.

    1. So you came to comment on the title rather than the article? Me, I just came to comment on your comment…

  5. Reason’s with her on starting World War III.

    For more than thirty years the US has coddled and praised the totals of Saudi Arabia and no one suggested that these presidents were religious fanatic tyrants.

    Suggesting that Trump is an authoritarian for not advocating war with Russia an acknowledging what is obvious to even the casual observer (that Putin has brought his country more international victories than our own) is rubbish that I would expect from Slate or Salon.

    Meanwhile, mushy moderate Johnson praises our past intervention in Kosovo and pledges his support for ‘humanitarian wars’ (would Syria be classified as a humanitarian intervention?).

    This magazine has shown that ‘libertarian’ has now become synonymous with ‘coward’. Too cowardly to oppose the prevailing narrative and too cowardly to offend the Left’s perverse narrative.

    1. You have clearly done no research into Putin, Russia, or his “victories.” This is just another load of horse shit you’re being fed by Trumpkins (if you yourself aren’t already one).

      You’ve conflated power with leadership, as has pretty much everyone who has commented in this space.

      No one is calling Trump an authoritarian for not advocating war with Russia (that’s a straw man). What we’re saying is that Trump has nothing but praise for a guy that’s clearly run his country into the ground and rules with an iron fist.

      And once again, the “Reason’s with her” bullshit reveals the kind of nitwit you are.

      Just say’n

      1. You clearly are all about knee-jerk reactions and hyperbole with little to no balance or perspective.

        Chavez ran his country into the ground. Putin, not so much. Russia is a basket case and always has been, but Putin’s not running it into the ground any faster than Obama is running the US into the ground.
        Personally I wouldn’t want Putin as a leader, but at the same time I don’t swallow everything the west claims about him and have no idea what kind of leader could be successful in Russia at the moment. Historically, Russians have always preferred strongmen. Why do schmucks like you project your own desires for a limp wristed leader onto entirely different cultures. With the mafia power in Russia, it’s unlikely anything but a strongmen could hold the country together.

        If Reason wasn’t so anti-Trump we’d probably see more “Hillary has had more people killed than Putin” articles.

        1. I’m not interested in being led, asshat. I’m perfectly capable on my own. I’m not one of these pathetic jackasses looking for a leader.

          As for Putin’s supposed strength, having your enemies killed is hardly the sign of great leader. Check out what China is doing to Russia. How’s Russia’s economy doing? Putin may be a hard-ass in a lot of ways, but that’s not the same thing as being a good leader.

          1. And none of this, by the way, explains why Trump can’t just stop sucking Putin’s dick? Why can’t he just shut the hell up about it?

            1. Because the media keeps asking him about it.

              What’s your excuse?

          2. “asshat” lol…and the childishness ramps up.

            are you a US citizen? Then you have a “leader” in this context, the POTUS. Unless you are claiming Sovereign citizen status than you are also one of those “pathetic jackasses” you deride.

            1. Thanks for revealing that you’re either a shitty libertarian, or a clear moron. We’re done here.

              1. Great! I’m happy to see that you have accepted your own inability to sustain a coherent argument.

                Jasonbb in the comment below is offering some fine medication if you are feeling depressed.

      2. I didn’t realize that acquiring Crimea, forging closer relations with Iran, and preventing the ouster of Assad were just Trump propaganda. I suppose our success in overthrowing Qaddaffi, thereby creating a safe haven for ISIS in Libya, and throwing Mubarak under the bus, only to have the Muslim Brotherhood win elections, initially, are all reasons for jubilation.

        You’re with Her- World War III or bust

      3. Putin has run Russia into ground? Explain please. Putin has saved Russia form Yeltsin corruption and Medvedev Atlantic inter gratin

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  7. On every single count Clinton is exponentially worse than Trump.

    She openly insults a size able portion of Americans and adds that they are irredeemable. Maybe she could send them to those camps she says we need?

    She has vowed to shut down news organizations she claims have no right to exist. What’s that you say about others repressing dissent?

    She sold her office, she actively conspired to evade the law, lies after every breath, obstructed justice… Jesus I could go on all day with this

    After all that we get another deranged Trump rant?

    1. Remember “Journolist”, the web forum where writers were coordinating talking points with the DNC?

      Sometimes it seems like a few of the Reason writers are members of whatever replaced it.

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  10. What the hell happened to the libertarian party? Gary Johnson? William Weld? Geez! They both get a nice payday and do one hell of a solid to establishment assholes. I agree with the stance on crazy sentencing and the insane war on drugs. Instead Reason and the party are promoting TPP as though it’s free trade. Free market. It’s really a treaty. Less than 5% of the agreement has to do with trade.

    WTF happened to sound money?
    WTF happened to anti-war?
    WTF happened to pro second amendment?

    I’d much rather the US stop overthrowing countries for what ever reason. I’d much rather we stop putting missiles on Russia’s periphery and then have the nerve to say it’s defense of Europe against Iran. Can you imagine if Russia was putting missiles in Canada and Mexico saying it was defense against Australian missiles? Can you imagine what the US response would be if Russia backed and actively promoted a coup in Canada and installed some really nasty folks? Can you imagine our response if Russia tried to block our only sea port besides Alaska?

    Oh don’t get me going on “free trade”. It’s a fucking myth, a lie, bull crap. Tariffs are imposed all over in many different ways. It is not a free and open market. Elites create these fake free markets, control it and you applaud like market forces are actually at work. Freaking delusional. I’m done.

  11. Kaine said the “irrational hostility toward President Obama, which started the very first day of his term from some of these people, is unpatriotic…

    Funny how “dissent [was] the highest form of patriotism” ten years ago. I wonder what changed? /sarc

  12. In Russia’s “highly centralized, authoritarian political system,” the State Department notes, the executive branch dominates the legislature, pressures the judiciary, and routinely flouts notional guarantees of civil liberties.

    The report also notes that “the judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch,” “there is little transparency and accountability in the day-to-day workings of the government,” and “vague laws on extremism grant the authorities great discretion to crack down on any speech, organization, or activity that lacks official support.”

    Sounds like a Progressive’s wet dream.

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  14. Living in Pacific time zone I often miss these threads. Russia is a thousand year old civilization whose founder, named Ivan, was nicknamed the terrible. Many believe it is historically acceptable for Russians to accept a strong leader with a weak legislature. The judiciary may not be as submissive as Sullum says. Btw, our judiciary is not as independent as folks like to believe.
    I applaud commenters here for understanding Russian security needs better than Sullum and many semi neocons who write here. At least Cathy Young no longer seems to post her anti Russian rants. I hope Michael Weiss has neen exposed to the editors for the slimy Christopher Hitchens wannabe neocon slut he is and will not post again. O
    Russia is marked by corruption, it is a drug prohibition country, and it’s prisons are hellholes. There is plenty to criticize, but please, America shares many of these faults as well. The only actual advantage we have is gay rights, as gays are still 2nd class citizens there. The intellectuals and creative are generally opposed to Putin. The people generally support him. By most indications Russia is better off under Putin, much better off than under Yeltsin. If Russian politics today resembles Chicago politics, under Yeltsin it was Gangs of New York politIcs.

  15. These articles are dumb and dangerous. Sure Russia has a lot of problems, but it’s freerer now than at any time in its history. People don’t realize that one of the biggest blocs of opposition is the communist party, the same people,that brought Russia 70 years of darkness. The US has plenty of anti freedom and police state measures on the books, and we have acted aggressively against dozens of countries for decades.

    Trumps willingness to negotiate with Russia is maybe his only redeeming quality. I live in Alask and if the bombs start to fly will be one of the first people hit. Hillary is provoking something very dangerous here.

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