Trump’s adulation for Putin gone too far

by LZ Granderson

I enjoy reading books about former presidents. One of my favorites is 2012’s “The Presidents Club” by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It’s a peek into the world’s most exclusive fraternity — U.S. presidents — and shares what members have accomplished together and why.

Take Harry Truman, a Democrat, and Herbert Hoover, a Republican. After World War II, during the Truman administration, former President Hoover helped persuade Congress to aid 22 European nations facing famine, which saved millions of lives. The effort also salvaged the idea of what it meant to be human, after the world had witnessed six years of inhumanity.

Their pitch to Congress was that America should be, as the book says, “promoting European recovery as a counterweight against Soviet influence.”

You know, that whole communism/Marxism thing. From that era until the 1990s, being “a counterweight against Soviet influence” was the hallmark of U.S. foreign policy. We even called our Russia strategy “containment.”

So why is a former president of the United States rooting for Russia to be uncontained? Yes, as Russian forces surrounded Ukraine on Wednesday, preparing to invade on Thursday, Donald Trump praised the Russian president as being “pretty smart” for “taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people.”

And why are Republican leaders — the same folks who like to throw the word “communist” around like a poisoned dart — remaining silent about this bizarre and stunning endorsement of the Kremlin?

Sure, I get it, they hate President Joe Biden, they want to own the libs, all of that. But what exactly is the endgame here? Which aspect of the American dream does Trump represent when he responds to Russian forces encircling Ukraine with “this is genius”?

Americans have died because they answered when their commander in chief called on them to be a “counterweight against Soviet influence.” We lost more than 30,000 in the Korean War. At least 58,220 Americans died in Vietnam. These sacrifices came to mind while listening to Trump praise Russian President Vladimir Putin. Critics of protesting during the national anthem said kneeling was disrespectful to the troops. Well, how about a member of the Presidents Club openly endorsing Putin on the eve of a war that could grow to claim American lives?

On Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the deployment of parts of the organization’s response force, saying: “This goes far beyond Ukraine. This is about how Russia is actually contesting core values for our security.”

This month, 12,000 U.S. troops have been sent to Europe.

So I repeat: Why is Trump gushing over Putin?

It’s one thing for Fox News charlatan Tucker Carlson to flippantly tell Americans to ask themselves “why do I hate Putin so much?” But an American president who sent soldiers to die fighting the Taliban does not need to ask. That’s because he’s aware that Putin had been supporting the Taliban with weapons.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan opened the door to Russia’s march into Ukraine.

I believe Putin was emboldened when he saw America tear itself apart after the guy from “The Apprentice” got fired.

To think, in 1945 a one-term president joined a sitting one to help save Europe and work against Soviet influence. Today, a one-term president hangs pictures of himself with the dictator from North Korea and marvels about Putin.

Imagine what might have happened to Europe had Hoover used his influence to talk about the brilliance of Josef Stalin after the Soviet dictator decided the best way to stop his political foes was to kill them — ultimately more than 750,000 people between 1936 and 1938.

Last week the U.S. told the United Nations that there was “credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of unidentified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.”

A Kremlin kill list?

It’s just like the old days.

But sure, let’s reconsider our distrust of Putin because the former president who looked directly into the sun during a solar eclipse said so.

On Thursday, I checked on a friend who is originally from Ukraine to see how he was holding up and whether he had heard from his family.

“Yes. They are all getting weapons,” he replied. “There’s no other way. We must end this tyranny.”

On Friday when I checked in, all he wrote back was “bad.”

These aren’t trained soldiers. These are the people of a sovereign nation that has been invaded without provocation by a longtime U.S. adversary. There shouldn’t be a partisan divide about Russia on this, especially one instigated by a former U.S. president. In praising the “savvy” of Putin’s military forces circling Ukraine, Trump even said “we could use that on our southern border,” casually floating the idea of threatening war with Mexico.

Each time he disregards decorum and decency, Trump draws us closer to the cliff’s edge. It seems as if our debilitating partisanship has lured us into a dangerous game of chicken, with only a tattered sense of patriotism as our safety net.

But no matter what happens between Ukraine and Russia, Putin will still be Putin and Trump will be Trump. They aren’t hiding who they are.

The most pressing question of the moment is: Who do we want to be?

LZ Granderson is an op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.