As the left-wing establishment weaponizes U.S. law enforcement, how might these actions be viewed in Beijing or Moscow?
As the left-wing establishment conducts the lawfare equivalent of carpet-bombing former President Donald Trump, aiming to render his presidential comeback aspirations burnt-out rubble by November 2024, it’s an interesting exercise to understand how these actions might be viewed in Beijing or Moscow.
In the West, generally, politicians usually just win or lose elections. If they lose, they simply return to private life, free to try again.
In nations lacking rule of law and fair elections — whether autocracies such as Russia or totalitarian states like China — the practice of politics is more akin to the sort of royal jockeying of the medieval era. Machiavelli’s The Prince is a manual on how to survive in this environment. “Game of Thrones” is an appropriate modern adaptation: poison, assassination, exile, disappearings, or official condemnation take the place of fair election contests.
Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping would both see the effort to use the government’s prosecutorial power against Trump as a standard tool in any dictator’s toolkit. As Lavrentiy Beria, Joseph Stalin’s secret police commissar said, “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”
But while Putin and Xi surely recognize the form, they likely mock its sloppy and slow execution — Trump is still a free man and he’s still running for president, an existential threat to the continuance of President Joe Biden’s remaining in the White House. For dictators used to removing their would-be competitors from the chessboard, the fact that Trump is still standing is a sign of weakness.
Similarly, the growing trail of evidence being brought to the public linking Biden via his son Hunter to millions of dollars in foreign bribes from China, Ukrainian oligarchs, and Romania over five years would also be viewed as weakness. Dictators ruthlessly control information. America has its own struggles with corruption and official misdeeds, but nations ruled by dictators reap corruption on a vast scale, far exceeding our own. Practically speaking, Xi and Putin are among the world’s top 10 wealthiest men. Corruption is so pervasive in China and Russia that most any rival can be credibly accused and convicted of corruption to remove them from power.
And while federal law enforcement and intelligence officials worked to undermine Trump with false allegations of Russian collusion — still largely believed by substantial numbers of left-leaning Americans — the attempt was only partly successful in that it crippled some of Trump’s capacity to act while president but failed to eject him from office.
Putin’s Murderous Past
In contrast, Putin, while serving in the weak office of prime minister in 1999 for the very unpopular outgoing president Boris Yeltsin, likely executed a series of “terror” bombings of apartment complexes, killing more than 200 Russians. The bombings were blamed on Muslim Chechen terrorists, allowing Putin to rebrand himself as a strong leader. After four bombs had already detonated in various cities, two residents of an apartment building in Ryazan reported a suspicious car in September 1999. Local police didn’t find the car, but they did find what appeared to be an improvised bomb and a detonator in the basement. The building was evacuated and the device removed only to have the successor to the KGB, the FSB, announce the next day that the bomb parts were part of a civil defense test. All the evidence was subsequently sealed up — move along, nothing to see here, citizen.
Of course, Putin didn’t much have to worry about a vigorous, independent press to put forward a counter-narrative. Since Putin’s ascent to power in 1999, some 43 journalists or media workers have been killed in Russia, and at least 26 were murdered, many under circumstances that suggested they were running afoul of Putin. The last Russian journalist to be officially listed as murdered was killed in 2017 — it’s almost as if Russian journalists now know the boundaries of acceptable reporting.
The Truth Is More Accessible in the U.S.
While America is burdened with corporate media that skew left, tend to lazy acceptance of the official party line, and are profoundly uncurious, the truth does often get out into the public. For that, we can thank three things: the First Amendment, the democratization of information sharing via digital platforms and the proliferation of cable news outlets, and competitive pressures that often act to force legacy media to cover stories — albeit reluctantly.
This makes it difficult for the central government to conduct information operations that stick. Whether the official line on Covid-19, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Biden family corruption, or Trump-Russia collusion, all of these stories, which were once the official line, have fallen apart to one degree or another.
That these official cover stories are imploding is a function of our system and culture, as lurching, slow, and imperfect as it seems. In each, our system of divided government with co-equal branches has a role — imagine the state of these stories if Republicans didn’t win the U.S. House in 2022 — as well as our press freedoms and the new age of digital journalism.
The latter factor, by the way, is why China has invested so much in the Great Firewall of China, rapid-response online censoring, and the social credit system. It’s all designed to insulate the Chinese Communist Party from any criticism.
Insulation from the Truth Leads to Weakness
While Putin and Xi would view our relatively freewheeling exchange of information as a weakness, the opposite is true.
In Russia and China, the dictators hear what they want to hear. This reduces the opportunity for corrective feedback within a regime while extending the life of that regime, regardless of its effectiveness and responsiveness to the people’s needs. In Putin’s case, it led to a dangerous and mistaken view that Ukraine’s government would collapse as soon as the lightning invasion was unleashed in February 2022. In Xi’s case, it may lead to a fatal miscalculation on attacking Taiwan.
In America, we have yet to see the consequences for the official lies over Covid-19’s origins and U.S. gain-of-function funding for the Wuhan virology lab, for official FBI and intelligence community coverups on behalf of President Biden and his extended family, and for the federal assault on Trump that started in 2016 and never stopped. But whether it be in the form of individuals being held to account or entire organizations being reformed, eliminated, or restructured, something will likely happen and America will be the stronger for it.
But government reform just doesn’t happen spontaneously. It will take a concerted, disciplined effort, something that only Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appear inclined to take on. The task will be Herculean — akin to cleaning the Augean stables. And, with Trump able to serve one term and DeSantis two, the trick is not to let the vital task of agency accountability become a tale of a day in the life of Sisyphus.