“The Manchurian Candidate,” a political thriller written by Richard Condon, published in 1959, was made into a movie directed by John Frankenheimer and released in 1962. The title has since become a term of art and part of our pop culture shorthand, referring to someone in the government who is “run” by a foreign power.
What has occurred, as pundits and editorial writers attempt to understand Donald Trump’s BFF relationship with Vladimir Putin, the moniker “Manchurian Candidate” has been used in the pursuit of cause when analyzing the president’s inexplicable posture and behavior regarding Russia.
The superordinate question is how to comprehend Trump’s failure to respond to Russia’s attack (meddling is too benign a word) on the cornerstone of our democracy, most specifically the 2016 election. But let’s start with the rather straightforward judgment that the president is enamored of strongmen and resists the constraints of a government with three co-equal branches. He longs to be the titular head of a nation wherein, as he said admiringly of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, “When he talks, people sit up and listen. I want my people to do the same.”
But after watching and listening to what the press has tenaciously reported is but the tip of a very large iceberg, and observing Trump’s defensive posture for over a year, repeating and insisting that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” it’s becomes increasingly difficult to not conclude that there are layers of sinister complexity to the Trump-Russia connection that have yet to be fully disclosed.
Begin with the fact that the president has consistently said, from podium to tweets, that Russia’s denial of election interference is credible while questioning the unambiguous conclusions of our own intelligence-law enforcement agencies. The Senate Intelligence Committee, in a recent report, stated that the Russians did attempt to manipulate the 2016 election in favor of Trump, and did so successfully. This means, in effect, that Trump was not elected by just the American voters but by Russian trolls, taking direction from the Kremlin and, ultimately, Putin.
For reasons still being sorted out, this administration has failed to take any direct action against Russia; instead, remarkably, Trump has courted Putin, saying he is “fine,” and constantly suggesting he wants to get along with what is essentially a murderous and thuggish regime.
The question is: why? What are we missing? How to comprehend Trump’s fealty to Putin? Hence the seemingly far-fetched idea that our own president is perhaps a Manchurian Candidate, meaning a Russian asset, enters the conversation.
I know you’re thinking that this narrative, this stunning proffer, requires a suspension of disbelief. After all, this is neither Hollywood nor is it a novel. But consider the op-ed that appeared in the New York Times, written by Susan Rice, U.N. ambassador and national security advisor during the Obama administration. While never alleging any Manchurian Candidate connection, she did ponder the why of the following:
Immediately upon being elected, Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ceding trade dominance to China and Russia; he withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord; questioned NATO’s relevance and has suggested members pay more, despite the fact that this unwavering alliance invoked Article 5 when the U.S. was attacked on 9-11; he has denigrated the European Union and Canada and used as a cudgel imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum under the guise of America’s “national security,” for reasons that lamely championed the perfect over the imperfect, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal while romancing the results of an empty summit with North Korea; he referred to third world countries (Haiti) as s---holes; a southern border immigration policy was put in place that still separates some 4,000 children from their parents; a Muslim ban was enacted (recently ratified by SCOTUS0; he showed up late and left early for a G7 summit, suggested Russia be readmitted, and later refused to sign a joint statement.
If Putin had a wish list, the items above would surely be on it. Anything that drives a wedge between western democracies only strengthens Russia’s kleptocratic dictatorship. And the question still remains: why?
Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.