Trudy Rubin: A bad case of Putin-envy prevents Trump from calling out death of Navalny

Trudy Rubin, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Op Eds

Blame America. Blame Joe Biden. Blame Alexei Navalny for his own death. But never blame Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump’s continued refusal to criticize the Russian leader for the death of Russian dissident Navalny is a stunner, even if you have been numbed by Trump’s constant pandering to Putin.

Trump’s response has been to portray himself as an innocent victim of corrupt U.S. courts and politicians — while continuing to boast about his relationship with the Russian strongman.

No word of criticism for a Russian system of “telephone justice,” where a top official calls the judge and dictates the verdict. Not a word about the horrific “Polar Wolf” maximum security penal colony in the freezing Russian Artic, where Navalny was tortured and died under circumstances that may never be clear, especially since the Kremlin is refusing to turn over his body to his family.

No mention from Trump of Putin’s decades of killing and/or poisoning dozens of journalists and political opponents. Yet, he managed a slap at Navalny for being foolish enough to return from Berlin to sure arrest in Moscow after being treated for poison administered by Putin’s security officials. No comprehension of a principled sacrifice made to fight dictatorship in Russia.

I’ve heard the explanations of why Trump behaves this way: the embrace of isolationism, Putin as an exemplar for evangelicals of anti-wokeness and “Christian values,” a Trumpian desire to hobnob with the big men’s club of powerful dictators.

But I believe the real reason is Putin-envy.

How can Trump decry Putin, when the Kremlin killer is only doing exactly what Trump wishes he could do — in perhaps not so lethal terms — if only the U.S. system of checks and balances didn’t constrain him? That is, delivering vengeance to his enemies if he wins a second term.

The whole idea was perfectly summed up in the Trump legal team’s argument in January before a federal appeals court, claiming former presidents are immune from criminal prosecution, even for murders they ordered while in office.

Judge Florence Pan asked, “Could a president who ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival … be subject to criminal prosecution?” Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, effectively said no, unless they had first been impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. (No president has ever been so convicted.)

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected this claim, and Trump has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily suspend the lower court’s action, pending a formal appeal. I have to believe that even this Supreme Court would ultimately reject Trump’s premise.

So, one has to ask: What else than Putin-envy could make Trump so unwilling to condemn Navalny’s murder and to call Putin out for the killer he is?

You will recall that Trump declared during his 2016 presidential campaign that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Long before Navalny’s death, the likely GOP presidential candidate had zero moral qualms about leaders who commit murder. Just recall in his 2017 Super Bowl interview with Fox News, when he shoved aside criticism of Putin as a “killer” by insisting: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. Do you think our country’s so innocent?”

In other words, after 17 years of Putin — after opposition leader Boris Nemtsov had been shot dead in front of the Kremlin, after high profile Russian intelligence defector Alexander Litvinenko had been killed by Russian agents with polonium in London, and dozens of other enemies had been dispatched by Putin at home and abroad — Trump had nothing bad to say about the Russian leader and nothing good to say about America.


Trump’s take was echoed by his acolyte Tucker Carlson, after the latter’s sycophantic interview with Putin shortly before Navalny’s death. Following the interview, Carlson was asked by a TV interviewer in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, why he didn’t ask about the imprisoned Navalny or the assassinations of Kremlin opponents.

“Every leader kills people, including my leader,” Carlson responded. “Leadership requires killing people.”

In the wake of Navalny’s death, and his gushing videos praising Moscow supermarkets and subways, Carlson labeled the event “barbaric.” Yet, he insisted to London’s Daily Mail that “people who say Putin killed him are idiots.”

Given that Putin’s minions had nearly killed Navalny in 2020 and Putin had ensured the dissident would suffer for decades in a brutal prison, only a “useful idiot” such as Carlson could make such a dumb remark. (The term “useful idiot” was coined by Vladimir Lenin for naive Western intellectuals who blindly followed the Bolsheviks.)

Consider how free Putin believes himself to murder opponents at home or in Europe, as he watches Trump instruct the GOP to cut off aid to Ukraine and threaten to abandon NATO members to Russian attack.

This week, the bullet-riddled body of Maksim Kuzminov, a Russian military defector, was found in Spain, where he had been living. After Kuzminov flew his Mi-8 helicopter to Ukraine in August, interviews on Russian state-controlled TV made clear he would be assassinated. He should have remained in Ukraine.

In Carlson’s interview, Putin suggested he might be open to swapping Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich, who is being held on trumped-up spying charges, if Germany released a Russian agent who fatally shot a former Chechen rebel in broad daylight in a Berlin park in 2019. In other words, the release of an American hostage depends on whether Germany permits a Russian assassin to go free.

Meantime, inside Russia, a prominent pro-war Russian blogger has reportedly died by “suicide” this week after he angered the Kremlin by posting that the Russian army lost 16,000 soldiers during its recent capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka. (The Kremlin keeps military casualty figures secret.)

Russians joke grimly that “suicide” means “either tea or the window,” meaning poison or defenestration. Even pro-war Russians are at risk of being murdered if they utter any truths or embarrassing statistics.

This is the Kremlin regime that Trump and Carlson claim is superior to our democratic system. This is the modus operandi — Putin’s political murder at will — that Trump and Carlson justify by saying every leader does it, even in America.

That is a grotesque lie so long as our imperfect system retains independent courts, a Congress that functions, and fact-based media that aren’t overtaken by internet conspiracy mongers.

Trump’s disdain for Navalny and the embrace of his killer makes clear the risk America is facing: electing a man infected with Putin-envy in 2024.


©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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