When we see the tanks roll into Ukraine it’s easy to feel it’s a world away.
Yet, as we saw with the January 6 insurrection in our nation’s Capitol, TrumPutin authoritarianism got traction because we were unable to hold bullies accountable in Atlantic City, Trenton, Washington D.C. or in Moscow.
TrumPutin is an invasive predator weed that thrives in a compost of fear, greed and corruption which have always been in ample supply in the Garden State.
We have this ambivalent affection for bullies, the killer weed’s colorful flower. Chris Christie and Donald Trump, they can be entertaining. And then they go too far and then it’s a lot harder to reclaim the ground you have ceded to them.
Yet, thanks to the bravery of the Ukrainian people standing up to Putin’s onslaught, the era of the bully may be waning. There’s a new ‘united we stand’ cohesion in our state, our nation and around the world. After years of building up Putin, even Donald Trump had no choice but to scramble to express support for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Christie took to twitter to thump Trump. “How can anyone with any understanding of the world call Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine’ genius’ and ‘very savvy’ as we watch him unite the rest of the world against Russia in nearly an instant?” the former governor, and first member of the GOP establishment to back Trump for president tweeted.
While there’s much to critique about transnational corporations, like their ability to evade taxes, but when they act ethically, as the energy giants have in pulling out of Russia, they can have a greater impact than the diplomats.
For some reason, a broad swath of Americans can see totalitarianism on the march in the Ukraine but not a sufficient number yet grasp just how intertwined operationally the white supremacist anti-immigrant Trump movement is with Putin’s push to restore the U.S.S.R.
It’s important to not forget that the Trump junta actually tried a geo-political squeeze play. The Trump White House delayed a $400 million weapons shipment that the struggling democracy was counting on to fend off Russia in hopes of forcing the Ukraine to launch an investigation into the business dealings of President Biden’s son Hunter with a Ukrainian energy company.
At the time, Trump was impeached but the vast majority of Republicans in the U.S. Senate protected the TrumPutin axis by not voting for conviction. Similarly, here in New Jersey, we went through a show trial prosecution in the Bridgegate scandal where the list of powerful players that were involved remained concealed despite the news media’s best legal efforts to have that list unsealed.
To this day, Gov. Christie, the man whose bullying style paved the way stylistically and tactically for TrumPutin, has managed to reinvent himself because he successfully used the levers of power to deflect a deeper dive into his brand of transactional politics that made TrumPutin possible in the first place.
There’s a continuum starting with the use of the Port Authority Police on the George Washington Bridge for Bridgegate, through the events of 01-06-22, to the tanks that rolled into the Ukraine. It’s not just the authoritarian ethic of ‘I can do this because I am above the law’, it’s the same cast of characters who were spawned in the swamp of our own state where we struggle to hold the powerful accountable.
Just as New Jersey casino regulators rolled over for Trump in Atlantic City, the world looked the other way when it failed to hold Putin accountable for invading Crimea in 2014 or his 2008 incursion into Georgia. New Jersey’s power elite saw Trump’s economic “success” in Atlantic City as their own. Up until this latest move into Ukraine, the world’s wealthiest nations didn’t want to hold Putin accountable and risk disrupting their relationship with a country upon which they relied for energy.
TrumPutins thrive where cash is king and everybody has their price when politics is reduced to a series of economic transactions with self-interest the only imperative. It was American fecklessness during Trump’s tenure that benefited not only Putin, but Brazil’s Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Urban.
Even now, in places like London where Putin’s oligarch posse has so much real estate, there’s a reluctance to seize their properties for fear of worrying the rogues of the world whose investing their ill-gotten gains is the foundation for luxury property markets.
Our flinching from deep pocketed bullies has real consequences because when accountability evaporates so does societal cohesion that comes from subscribing to a common set of values. This societal fiber is further weakened when we permit the wealthy to break the law with impunity, but throw the book at the poor for “quality of life offenses.”
This crisis in legitimacy that comes from knowing the fix is in undermines our ability to respond to major global challenges like climate change or a once in a century mass death event that’s killed close to a million Americans. We felt it even here in blue New Jersey with our population’s fractured response to the COVID public health challenge which resulted in one of the highest per capita death rates on the planet.
Every public health measure put in place to combat COVID became subject to a near call to arms because societal trust had so thoroughly eroded. Decades of letting big Pharma settle corruption cases as civil matters where they admitted no guilt but paid huge fines didn’t help give confidence to millions of Americans who didn’t trust that the same sector of the economy that cut corners, would save the day with a COVID vaccine.
This fracturing of the public trust was well under way before Donald Trump exploited it to rise to power. He harnessed the kinetic power of this unraveling born of the great selfishness behind the widespread ethical failures of just about every foundational institution including the media, the church and our corporate board rooms.
As a result, the United States, faced COVID as a fractured along its red blue state fault lines drawn by Trump as he described blue states as overrun by undocumented immigrants as violent criminals preying on the native born. By using fear and hatred as his fuel, he sent the signal that America was under attack from within and only he could restore order.
Amidst this mass death event an unprecedented number of Americans came out to vote in 2020 and elected President Joe Biden yet just a week then New Jersey GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt convened a broadcast conference call headlined by Bill Stepien, the former Christie operative who was Trump’s campaign manager. On that call they rallied the troops to fundraise around the “Stop the Steal” cause that highlighted “various instances of alleged voter fraud, none of which have panned out,” according to InsiderNJ reporter Fred Snowflack.
A key member of Christie’s Bridgegate brigade Bill Stepien, who went on to become Trump’s Svengali, was subpoenaed by the House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“As manager of the Trump 2020 re-election campaign, you oversaw all aspects of the campaign,” wrote Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the panel, in a letter to Stepien. “You then supervised the conversion of the Trump presidential campaign to an effort focused on ”Stop the Steal” messaging and related fundraising. That message included the promotion of certain false claims related to voting machines despite an internal campaign memo in which campaign staff determined that such claims were false.”
The letter continued.“The ‘Stop the Steal’ messaging was echoed by individuals who attacked the U.S. capitol on January 6 in an attempt to interfere with the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Additionally, the campaign reportedly urged state and party officials to affect the outcome of the November 2020 election by, among other things, asking states to delay or deny certification of electoral votes and by sending slates of electoral votes to the United States Congress.”
While the eyes of the world may be on Ukraine, those of us from New Jersey also need to take a deep look within our own garden so we can find and pull out the rootstock of the killer weed we can call TrumPutin. We owe it to the planet.