The worst American leader of the year is not an American. He is a Russian. He is Vladimir Putin.
As his startling success on American soil made clear, Putin was not bad as in “ineffective.” He was bad as in “unethical.” The havoc wreaked on Americans by Russians operating in bad faith is difficult to calculate. But in 2017 it became clear that it was massive. Moreover, it’s not over. The detritus of the damage done stinks still – and it will well beyond even the 2018 election. Putin has rendered America’s political system a body blow from which, best case scenario, it will take years to recover.
Putin’s prowess is finite. Ironically, he did not get what he most wanted – lifting of sanctions against Russia. Moreover, in his own country, his high popularity is, to an extent, an airy artifice, pumped up by thwarting and threatening his opposition. But Putin is a past master at playing a weak hand. (Russia’s economy is about the size of Italy’s) Which is why, from an American perspective, the damage he does is as daunting as dangerous.
In recent months, the following became clear:
- The Russian government ensnared Donald Trump in a convoluted and corrupt relationship for years.
- The Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential campaign from its inception to its conclusion.
- The Russian government put its thumb on the scale for Trump and against Hillary Clinton.
- The Russian government continued to influence Trump even after he moved into the White House.
- The Russian government manipulated President Trump to the point of his being a patsy for President Putin.
- The Russian government does what it can where it can to sow dissent in liberal democracies.
- The Russian government does what it can where it can to assert itself in ways contrary to American interests.
- The Russian government uses new technologies to play old tricks.
- The Russian government reflects a history and ideology different from that of the American government – and it acts accordingly.
The Russian government and Vladimir Putin have been synonymous for almost two decades. Which explains why – from an American perspective – Putin’s presidency has been punishing. I’m betting, by the way, that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. That only in 2018 will the full effect of Putin’s power become evident.