Critics of Donald Trump are apoplectic about the possibility that the Republican presidential nominee could align himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ever since the two men offered words of praise for each other -- Putin referring to Trump as "bright," and Trump praising Putin's leadership ability -- critics have parlayed their own fear and discontent into a smear campaign against both.
The question is: Why do these critics consider possible U.S.-Russian cooperation to be so apocalyptic?
The Washington Post recently ran an opinion piece titled "The secret to Trump: He's really a Russian oligarch." (Oh, really?)
"(Trump) is, rather, an oligarch in the Russian style -- a rich man who aspires to combine business with politics and has an entirely cynical and instrumental attitude toward both," Anne Applebaum wrote.
That seems like a better description of Hillary Clinton. I'll explain in a minute.
Oligarchy, by definition, is state-sponsored welfare. Putin has made no secret of the fact that he despises the class of oligarchs who were handpicked for their political connections, then mismanaged and abused the massive wealth and assets entrusted to them under the leadership of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin as the country transitioned to a free-market economy.
In America, Wall Street-style corporatism similarly corrupts true capitalism and the free market. The politically well-connected score themselves cushy Wall Street gigs, then influence democratically elected representatives through campaign donations. This results in laws that subsidize and benefit Wall Street over the interests of the average American.
Trump is a self-made entrepreneur who built a business empire, not a crony who was installed atop one. While he has admitted to availing himself of lobbying and borrowing provisions to further his business activities, Trump is now saying that he's the right person to blow up the system at its key trigger points since he knows exactly where they are.
"I am 'the king of debt,'" Trump wrote on Twitter two months ago. "That has been great for me as a businessman, but is bad for the country. I made a fortune off of debt."
So why isn't Hillary Clinton, who has spent virtually her entire life among establishment elites, being likened to an oligarch? If you're looking for someone whose team can go toe-to-toe in a perpetual game of footsie with the oligarchs, then perhaps Clinton is the president for you.
Emails released last week by the conservative organization Judicial Watch revealed that Clinton aide Huma Abedin fielded requests from wealthy and powerful Clinton Foundation donors seeking access to then-Secretary of State Clinton.
Back in April, The New York Times ran an article highlighting some interesting Clinton Foundation connections. The Times had received an advance copy of the book "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich," by Peter Schweizer.
In 2006, the Clinton Foundation received a $31.3 million donation from Canadian businessman Frank Giustra, who owned a significant stake in the company Uranium One, which had uranium-mining assets in Kazakhstan, among other places. Presumably, the Russians weren't happy about uranium assets in their backyard being entirely foreign-controlled. A subsidiary of the Russian atomic energy agency Rosatom acquired a 17 percent ownership stake in Uranium One in 2009. Rosatom obtained majority ownership of Uranium One in 2010, then acquired full control in 2013 and took the company private. Because Uranium One had mines in the U.S., the sale to Rosatom had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, of which Clinton was a member as secretary of state.
Why doesn't the Clinton campaign take a page from the Trump playbook and run ads promoting her talents at playing all the angles? Perhaps because they realize that people are sick of scheming and backroom dealing and want more transparency and integrity from their elected representatives. That's a tall order, to be sure -- maybe even idealistic. But Clinton has left no reason for us to believe that she's the right candidate to give it a shot.
Perhaps the Russians wouldn't need to scheme if they weren't constantly pitted against schemers.
Newsweek ran an article this week titled "How Vladimir Putin is using Donald Trump to advance Russia's goals." Can't we consider the possibility that no one is "using" anyone, and that Russia's goals are simply aligned with those of Trump and the many Americans seeing to upend an establishment that rigs the system against the interests of the average citizen.
Putin and Trump both come off as proponents of capitalism -- not the corrupted version of it that we're seeing these days, but rather capitalism in a pure, free-market form. So you have to wonder why Trump critics are so afraid of these guys working things out. It's almost as if they're afraid that a cooperative approach will end up being successful. And then what? The military-industrial complex that has made a fortune on Cold War fear-mongering and deterrence would suffer a massive financial blow.
Fear is a very lucrative industry for some. For the rest of us, it's exasperating.