Like almost everyone across the political spectrum in the US (and most of the world), I am appalled by Trump’s smarmy, self-serving, incompetent and cowardly behavior in Helsinki, before that at the NATO summit and in the UK, and since.

I am appalled because Trump is once again saying it’s all Obama and Clinton ‘s fault, while he is wonderful, and so is Putin.

I am appalled because Trump yet again equated the effort to uncover what really happened in the last election with a paranoid rant about all his enemies in his own government, with an attack on the press, and with actions that undermine not just on our allies but our most important democratic principles.

I am appalled that Trump is encouraging the growth of dangerous right wing nationalist and racist forces around the world and throughout Europe (and of course in the US as well). He is acting like a classic bully and the more he gets away with this, the more he is encouraged to behave in that way.

I am very concerned that there seems to be no effective check on his behavior in the US, and as a result we are going to see increasing polarization, racism and cruel behavior towards immigrants and others who are in a vulnerable position.

And I think nothing he did in the name of improved relations with Russia will actually accomplish this—in fact I suspect he has set us up the conditions for worse relationships over time.

But there is a dangerous trap in how we react to this. We need to beware of acting as if our only choices are to cozy up to Putin or to isolate him. Put another way, we should avoid behaving as if our only choices are to cooperate or to compete when in fact we must do both. (Department of Shameless Commerce—there is a chapter on just this in The Conflict Paradox.)

A genuine ownership of American responsibility for some of the problems we now face with Russia (e.g., a premature and aggressive expansion of NATO and the push for “austerity economic medicine” after the fall of Communism) delivered in a balance and meaningful way would be useful, but it must be coupled with holding Russia genuinely accountable for its aggressive and dangerous behavior (including its interference in our elections but that is far from the worst of Putin’s sins).

That is not what Trump is doing of course. Instead, he continues to blame everything on Obama and the US intelligence agencies (maybe also a bit on the Bushes and the Clintons), pretty much letting Putin off the hook. Not a wise or helpful approach. Not one that is an effective form of either competition or cooperation.
But we need to resist the temptation to let outrage or contempt for Trump get in the way of seeing the larger picture. Putin is dangerous. Trump is too. But the problems we are encountering with Russia go way beyond the two of them.

In the past, progressives have too often turned a blind eye to the evils of the Soviet Union (I regret times in my distant past when I did this). On the other hand, red-baiting has had an even more destructive influence on the post war politics in America and has paved the way for the ascent of the reactionary elite that now runs the US government. Let’s not repeat either mistake.

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