If you’re like me, you’re probably tired of hearing comparisons of Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Aside from some similarities in worldview, Putin’s understanding of and experience with government, as well as his understanding of power, make him quite unlike the former reality television host. Still, I do believe in being part of the solution when I can, so here I go. People, if you want to compare Trump to Russian autocrats, there are some additional, and better, choices:

  1. Emperor Peter III (1762) – Peter was the grandson of Peter The Great who passed up the Swedish throne to rule Russia, even though he identified most strongly with his Holstein German heritage. Due to miserable childhood experiences, Peter became an actively indifferent student and was considered shockingly ignorant, even by the proudly anti-intellectual Empress Elizabeth. A reasonably proper comparison would be that Trump was the Peter to George W. Bush’s Elizabeth, though Elizabeth was amazing in many other ways (such as the extraordinary collections of jewelry and ornate carriages that you can go see in Moscow’s Armory Museum). Once he finally ascended to the Russian throne, Peter proceeded to piss off just about every pillar of Russian society before starting a pointless war that was perceived as being more about defending his holdings in the Duchy of Holstein than the Russian Empire. (Remember how Trump’s Muslim ban ignored all the countries with whom he did business?) He was deposed by his estranged wife Catherine, later known as The Great, who had him executed shortly afterward. The film The Scarlet Empress depicts him memorably as a disgusting monster, though Bob Massie’s book portrays him as more a tragic, sad figure. Who says they can’t both be right? Trump is arguably both.
  2. Emperor Paul I (1796 – 1801) – Paul followed Catherine the Great and his main legacy was making it so that women could no longer ascend to the Russian Throne. That’s pretty much it. Specifically, he made the monarch’s firstborn son the automatic heir to the throne, which he did mainly because of the poisonous relationship he had with his mother, who kept him in suspense about his status for quite some time. But you can also see this as a blow for men’s rights and an angry resentment at the preponderance of female monarchs during the 18th century of Russia. The contemporary version of Steve Bannon no doubt approved. Also, Paul was stupid as well, didn’t understand politics or power, and only lasted five years in office.
  3. Emperor Alexander I (1801 – 1825) – Alexander I, the liberator of Europe? Again, none of these parallels are exact. But yes, Alexander I goes on this list for a single reason: he was a pretend reformist who was actually a total reactionary. Much like how Trump talked about “draining the swamp” and opposing draconian spending cuts, Alexander promised new liberties to the long-oppressed Russian people that he never delivered on. He’s best known for the Napoleonic Wars, which ended with the Russian Army chasing Napoleon all the way to Paris. This allowed the mainly peasant soldiers as well as the more well-to-do officers to see what life in Europe was like at the time, something that Alexander really didn’t want them to see. He spent the last of decade of his life trying desperately to crush the movement he’d inadvertently created, which would later become known as the Decembrists and came damn close to derailing the crowning of Alexander’s reactionary successor. Ultimately, Alexander sort of clueless and self-defeating, not unlike Trump. But it’s the totally cynical posturing as a champion of the people that most closely resembles Trump.
  4. Emperor Nicolas I (1825 – 1855) – This is Alexander’s reactionary successor. Nicolas was sort of the prototypical Russian autocrat, who over his decades-long reign clamped down on even the meager liberties afforded to Russians, including throwing Fyodor Dostoevsky in prison. Nicolas was quite Trumpian in personality, a proudly uncultured man who was singularly obsessed with military power. He starved funding for just about everything else and made military worship central to every holiday celebration. Nicolas also felt that Russia’s having saved Europe from Napoleon gave him license to stick his nose into just about every conflict going on there, to the endless irritation of the other European powers. The irony is that the army Nicolas loved so much led to his downfall: in spite of lavish funding the military fell far behind other nations’ capabilities during his reign (as it turns out, military strength doesn’t exist in a void, and sealing Russia off from Europe’s dangerous liberalism also meant sealing it off from its scientific advancement), so when he instigated the Crimean War, his army was torn to pieces. This led to Nicolas falling to pieces himself, ending with a hilariously wimpy (but successful) suicide by means of wearing a wet blanket outside in the middle of the Russian Winter, by which he contracted pneumonia as he’d planned. What a punchline to the grim joke of his reign! But a warning to people of isolationist/nationalist/militarist tendencies.
  5. Emperor Alexander III (1881 – 1894) – Alexander III was not supposed to be Tsar. His older brother, a cultured and intelligent young man, was supposed to do it instead. But he died, so Alexander wound up getting the job instead, in spite of a blockheadedness similar to Peter III’s in many ways. (Radzinsky’s book on Alexander II tells a story in which the elder Alexander is implored to disinherit his middle son on account of his ignorance and instead make his youngest son, Vladimir, his heir. Vladimir was pretty undistinguished and average but nowhere near as hopeless as his brother. Alexander was too grief-stricken to consider it.) At any rate, Alexander III is probably the answer to the question, “What single person made the revolution possible?” A reactionary nationalist and bigot, Alexander picked up where grandpa Nicolas left off and began a “tough” policy against dissidents and revolutionaries, which mainly involved hanging them a lot. One of these was a provincial university student named Alexander Ulyanov whose brother Vladimir wound up being sort of a big deal revolutionary as a result, though not until he adopted the pseudonym Lenin. Alexander was an avid conspiracist who underwrote the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the loathsome Bible of anti-Semitism for many decades to come. He also undid the admirable steps that Alexander II made toward integrating Jews into Russian society on an equal footing, and instead put them into pogroms. Bereft of a way to succeed in mainstream society, many Jews (like Trotsky) chose violent rebellion against the state, which would no doubt happen again if the Trump/Bannon/Sessions dream of Muslim camps came to pass. Though the biggest difference between Alexander and Trump is that Alexander wasn’t much of a hawk and was, in fact, known as “The Peacemaker” because of his (fairly atypical for a Russian monarch) desire to live at peace with his neighbors. Admittedly he was busy enough warring with his own people, initially with those aforementioned groups but increasingly with the working classes at large, whose poverty and miserable conditions facilitated the spread of socialism. But he’d die before the true consequences of his reign could be seen.
  6. Emperor Nicolas II (1894 – 1917) – Nicolas is the best-known Tsar outside of Russia for a lot of reasons, and in terms of personality, he could not have been more different from Trump. Nicolas was known for an unfailing courtliness, exemplary manners, and a brooding, introspective nature, which is pretty much the opposite of Trump’s brash, volcanic personality. But aside from that, the similarities are stunning. Nicolas was also not a very smart man – there’s a (possibly apocryphal) story I’ve read in several places to the effect that Alexander III was going to teach his son everything he knew about governing when young Nicolas turned 30, so that he could live some semblance of a life and gain experience before taking on the burdens of rule. Then Alexander died when Nicolas was 27. Who knows if it’s true, but it does illustrate the major truth about Nicolas, which is that he had no idea what he was doing. Nicolas took power in a challenging, polarized environment, in which industrialization had created new working classes and rural Russia was failing due to the Tsarist government’s inability to enact land reform, while old pillars like the Russian Orthodox Church were falling apart due to corruption. Socialism was on the rise everywhere, propelled as a way of socking it to disliked, uncaring elites. It may have been impossible for even the greatest statesman to have figured out these problems. Nicolas was not a great statesman. He mostly neglected all of these problems and frustrated attempts to deal with them, preferring to spend most of his time doing busywork instead: presiding over peasant disputes, planning elaborate balls, doing low-level clerical work that he pretended was what kept Russia going. Not all that unlike Trump taking credit for a few hundred jobs not being sent overseas while spacing out in briefings. The true Trumpian core of Nicolas, though, was in his obsession his own personal power and with how he was seen. Nicolas put all his faith in the mythical union of Tsar and people, a pillar of autocratic belief. He saw the divisiveness as being led by agitators and not the true sentiment of the Russian people, and was persuaded by his advisers to launch a war against the Japanese to restore the old unity. Nicolas wasn’t an exceptionally bigoted man for his time and place (this was not a high bar), but due to a bad experience as a young man he hated the Japanese and his racist advisers convinced him that the war against those backward Asiatics could be easily won. It wasn’t. The tragicomic high of the Russo-Japanese war was when the Russian fleet sailed halfway around the world to fight the Japanese Navy, and after months of sailing all the Russian ships were sunk as soon as they arrived, at the Battle of Tsushima. What’s more, Nicolas himself was almost tossed from power in the near-revolution that followed, and only survived by swallowing the bitter pill of a constitution that he felt was a personal humiliation. After this, Nicolas went years between public appearances, so worried was he–not just about assassination attempts, but about protests and other public signs of discontent with him. He couldn’t stand evidence that he wasn’t loved. Sound like anyone you know? So he went back to his busywork. You’d think after this, Nicolas would be wary of war, and of all people in Europe he would know just how bad modern warfare could be. But then he was a prime instigator of World War I! He learned absolutely nothing from the Japan experience and not only repeated the disastrous mistakes of that conflict, but also made a bunch of new ones, such as putting his bonkers wife Alix in charge of running the state (who essentially made Grigory Rasputin her chief of staff). This is an astounding level of world-historic derp. Terrifyingly, though, of all the Russian autocrats, he may well be the most Trumpian, ignorant, incapable of mentally grasping the details, incapable of learning from his mistakes, trigger-happy. Let’s hope it turns out better for us than it did for the Russians.
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What god do I need to pray to in order to prevent this preening self-obsessed asshole from re-entering public life?  Joe Fucking Lieberman??  Really???

Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, is the front-runner to be named FBI director, according to several White House officials and advisers.

Senior administration officials have told others in the last 12 hours that Trump is expected to pick Lieberman to replace FBI director James Comey, who was abruptly fired by Trump last week.

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I have no problem with impeaching Trump (provided that Dems win the House in 2018, not a sure thing at all) knowing full well he can’t be convicted in the Senate. He has already done things that are precedent as impeachable offenses and it’s not like wasting a few months on impeachment proceedings takes attention away from useful things. Still, this is not a substitute for strategy, and even if Dems manage the federal trifecta by 2021 (and take back most statehouses too), I’m still not really sure what happens “next.” One assumes a bit more regulation and social spending, sure. Perhaps some voting rights measures too. But actual legislation aside, if history is any guide, Republicans will raise holy hell again in a very recognizable way, perform a quick rebrand to convince people that Trump was never a thing, and grab a chamber of Congress at the first midterm. At which point they’re going to burn it all down. If their brand is so tarnished (or if Democrats are able to write new maps that gerrymander the other way) that they can’t win one back, I think paramilitary stuff starts happening. The basic problem is that the Madisonian Constitution is essentially dead without anyone really wanting to say so–you can say Mitch McConnell hacked it but in an alternate universe where Bill Frist runs for another term in 2006 and remains in charge of the GOP Senate caucus in 2009, I don’t think things turn out all that differently. McConnell put it in the crass party/ideology first terms that the GOP understands so well but ultimately GOPers under Clinton and Dems under Dubya both significantly escalated the obstruction status quo. McConnell escalated it by a factor of a hundred thousand, sure, and gave it a sleazy intellectual underpinning, but now Democrats are escalating it a bit more, which I can’t really fault them for because unilateral disarmament is for suckers. But eventually this escalation leads to one side not being able to supply the votes for a must-pass bill and shit will blow up. I doubt Democrats do this because they actually give a damn about people, but you never know! Most likely it’s when President Booker can’t make a deal with Senate Majority Leader Ted Cruz in 2023. (Also true: John Boehner was a bombthrowing Gingrich intimate in the 1990s and was a voice of reason in the 2010s. It’s hardly impossible that Cruz is positioned more to the reasonable center of the GOP by then. Fun prospect!) Barack Obama was right to see that renewed bipartisanship to some degree is essential to making the government work, but the impossibility of that bipartisanship given polarization was something he never could deal with, since the only real conclusions are ones that it’s safe to say he would reject out of hand.

The issue is that I don’t really see anyone in positions of power even thinking about this. It’s as though people simply are pushing the long-term out of their minds to resist Trump. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t be resisting to the max! But you have to have a vision about where it goes, and I would not put one goddamn dime on “the fever breaking” after one-term Trump.

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Democrats regain the House in 2018, vote to impeach Trump.

Republicans tell Trump this means he has to resign, not telling him that he has to be convicted in the Senate too.

Trump doesn’t know anything and angrily does it.

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Some people still argue that economic uncertainty and Trump’s populism were main drivers of the 2016 result, but Trump has broken virtually every promise on that front and kept all the nativist ones and yet his support among his core has remained consistent. Hmm. My take is that Trump’s populism was mostly a sophisticated way to give the media a “legitimate” angle to cover what was, in fact, a hatemongering campaign in an unusually pure form, and one the media was desperate to have because both sides. (Trump’s an idiot but he does know how the media works, clearly.) This study confirms that yes, it was reactionary social attitudes all along that got him enough votes to win by a technicality. Not saying that nobody voted for Trump because they thought he’d be better on the economy–no doubt most of the people who did thought that–but the detail about how Clinton won white working class who feared for their finances kind of puts a pin in it. The detail about how these folks oppose college funding surprised me–both of my grandfathers were working-class high school-educated whites and revered going to college above all else–but it shows just how much mopiness and a lack of feeling special is what drove Trumpism. Of course, these people will pay most savagely for it.

Incidentally, I saw several of the Times’s infamous sympathy for a Trump voter pieces pop up in their main feed over the past day. It occurs to me that in D.C. and New York there probably are a good portion of anti-Trump Republicans–you know, fans of Jeb! and all that, GOP pros who can’t stand the orange one–but outside of those pockets I don’t think there are very many at all. In my neck of the woods there are Trumpsters and Democrats and that’s just about it. Hiring Bret Stephens, then, was ultimately just the Times staying safely in the bubble. And those pieces smack of trying to get out of it in a not terribly convincing way.

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My wife and I were having a discussion on dumb characters in fiction a few days ago, brought on by our mutual love for Brad Pitt’s lovable dope from Burn After Reading. I actually think it’s incredibly difficult to write a great dumb character. Most of the time this is done it’s an average-to-smart person just limiting their own intelligence, which produces an unconvincing result. The real key IMO is creating a character that is unaware of their limitations, who thinks that they’re average or even smart, someone to whom the idea of participating in a political intrigue wouldn’t seem utterly absurd. My other personal favorites in this respect are Beavis and Butt-head, which is such smart dumb comedy that it fooled a huge number of people into confusing the intelligence of its characters for the intelligence of the content.

What are the chances that we’re living in a Stranger Than Fiction-type world of a hack novelist (with an admitted feel for a certain kind of characterization) with respect to Donald Trump? I’m joking, obviously, but Trump is a near-Shakespearean achievement of a dumb character. Not only does he not know his own limitations but he assumes that everybody else is operating at the same level as him (“Who knew health care was so complicated?”), and that truism-level insights are mind-boggling (“Hey, ever hear the phrase ‘prime the pump?’ I just came up with it.). It’s a fine piece of work. And if this is, in fact, what’s occurring, could the writer in question please just give up already? You’ve proven your point, but you need to work on your plotting.

I think we all deserve this:

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You gotta love that it came from the Russian Foreign Minister:

A reporter asked whether the firing of Comey “cast a shadow” over the talks.

“Was he fired?” Lavrov said in response. “You are kidding, you are kidding.”

I’m sure it sounded even better in the original Russian.

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