Opinion |

Was the Longest Shutdown in U.S. History Putin's Idea?

Without Trump's help, Putin could not do to the United States what the United States is now doing to itself

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

If we have learned one thing in the past two years, it is to look past the normatively plausible for the truth about Donald Trump.

Because it's right there, in an area light years beyond the normative and certainly far from the plausible, that Donald Trump feels most securely, most triumphantly at home.

Given this, well, reality, is it truly at all a stretch to suspect that the longest shutdown in the history of the United States government, came at the behest of Vladimir Putin?

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Over the years, we've come to know much about the Russian president's management style where it comes to manipulating foreign countries to his advantage.

Consider, then, the shutdown in the light of Putin's menu of preferred tactics:

Sow chaos? Check. Foment strife? Check. Undermine foundations? Check. Sap confidence? Check. Exploit suspicions and play on fears? Check and check.

This is where it gets worse.

For Putin, who has made no secret of his ambition to make Russia great again, the potential advantages of a colossal leveling operation to stun and cripple the U.S. government are clear. But Russia's power and influence are still far from where they once were. Enter Trump.

Without Trump's help, Putin could not do to the United States what the United States is now doing to itself.

According to economists and scientists, if the shutdown continues, the consequences for America, and for an astounding number of Americans, could be devastating.

A terrifying NBC report last week detailed the very possible dangers of keeping the government shut down for, in the president's words, "months or even years."

In the relatively short term, the scenario includes the specter of millions
of low-income Americans who receive government assistance for food, heating bills and housing, facing the prospect of going hungry, cold, and in many cases, homeless.

A severe shutdown of food inspections by the Food and Drug Administration has sparked fears of outbreaks of salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. Inspections by the Environmental Protection Agency have also been significantly curtailed, and disaster relief has been stalled.

A wide range of financial factors could lead to an "economic hellscape," NBC quoted experts as saying. Already-mounting fears of recession in 2019 could be reinforced by the government's inability to pay tax refunds during the slowdown, by tens of billions of dollars in reduced spending by Americans on food stamps, by catastrophic damage to tourism due to shutdowns in airports and national parks, and by plummeting stock prices, as scores of planned initial public offerings remain frozen.

All of which may - and should - focus renewed attention on Trump's evasiveness and non-transparency regarding his one-on-one contacts with Putin. Of particular interest is Trump's breathtakingly inexplicable behavior surrounding his Helsinki summit with the Russian president in July.

Much has been written about the peculiarities of the summit - among them, the absence of aides, the lack of any documentation of what was said, Trump's repeated insistence that he believed Putin's denials of interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

It is well worth considering that one reason that no notes exist of the Helsinki meeting, was that Putin may have laid out a timeline for Trump, one which would have kept the stock market well-ahead at least until the November 6 midterm elections, after which public consternation over a shear drop in the Dow Jones could be diverted by a Trump-incited and Fox-amplified fictitious border crisis leading to, yes, a Trump-instituted government shutdown over an anti-migrant wall.

Sure enough, on November 20, exactly two weeks after the election, stock prices had erased all gains for the year. One month and two days after that, Trump - and perhaps Putin as well - had his shutdown. For all we know, Trump's abrupt and solitary decision on a troop pullout from Syria, reports of which emerged just three days before the shutdown, may have been part of the same timeline.

The question is often asked: What does Putin have on Trump? Whatever leverage or evidence of scandal the Russian leader may once have had over Trump, Putin may have a much more powerful lever now - Trump's need to hide real-time collusion over here-and-now policy.

In any event, the man in the Kremlin cannot but look with satisfaction on the direction the shutdown has already taken America. In a penetrating Forbes opinion piece Sunday titled "How the shutdown is a win for Trump's authoritarian agenda," Steve Denning writes that "to see Trump as a harmless toddler or his misbehavior as a mere temper tantrum is to misjudge this cunning politician whose behavior has already undermined fundamental principles of the U.S. constitution."

The bottom line as the shutdown grinds on: A lose-lose proposition for America is a win-win for Vladimir Putin.

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