The exchange of compliments was unexpected. Last December, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin indicated a preference for Donald Trump, one of the leading candidates in the US Republican Party presidential primaries, calling him “really brilliant and talented” and “the absolute leader in the presidential race”. Trump, far from rejecting this homage, responded in kind, though it could harm him in a party whose many neoconservative members can’t decide whether they loathe Russia or Iran more. He said Putin was “running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Trump promised that if elected president he “would get along with him”. The mutual liking of these strongmen is heightened by their shared contempt for President Barack Obama. Putin “does not like Obama at all,” added Trump. “He doesn’t respect Obama at all.”
The interests of states generally take precedence over any affinity between their leaders. But with the global economy going off the rails, the price of oil tumbling, and deadly attacks hitting many cities, it’s unsurprising that the values of order and authority, and strong, cynical, brutal men, should dominate the political stage. Champions of a patriotic and moral revival, filled with a romantic vision of their country’s past, they raise their voices, flex their muscles and deploy their troops.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea has consolidated Putin’s power, just as Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has benefited politically from his decision to fence his border with Serbia and Croatia, and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been strengthened by his violent repression of the Kurds. Likewise, when Trump recommends that the US should bring back the use of torture, and his Republican rival Ted Cruz demands that the US replaces targeted strikes against ISIS with carpet bombing of areas ISIS controls (and their civilian populations), both gain popularity among their followers. Trump and Cruz’s disdain for intellectuals and “political correctness” is a supplementary argument in their favour. France’s leaders may have noticed this phenomenon, since they eagerly sprinkle their speeches with “firm response” and “need for authority”, increase the powers of the police to the detriment of the law, and greet the news that the Saudi regime has decapitated scores of political opponents so calmly.
Modern capitalism’s vision of peace and prosperity had evaporated before the financial debacle of 2008. Now its culture, spirit, and unctuous and deceptively polite leaders are on the way out. Globalisation was hailed as a fluid, rational, peaceful, connected process. Its demise has opened the way for angry men, and warlords.
This article appears in the excellent Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com. This full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique. CounterPunch features two or three articles from LMD every month.