Two of the most unlikely presidential candidates now leading two major superpowers – one born and brought up with the war, and the other bathed in golden showers. As millions all over the world are still pondering over the oddity, some might find it interesting to dig deeper and uncover what lies beneath the facade, catch a glimpse of history in the making through an unclouded lens, and read between the red, white, and blue lines.
It was a cold night. Not as cold as the winter nights, but colder than most autumn ones. There is nothing a glass of beer can’t fix, he thought. That was one thing he had liked about Germany, the beer. He uncorked a bottle of the local brew and poured himself a glass. He just couldn’t stomach the concept of ‘people power’. The East was better off without it. He respected patriotism; he himself was a socialist patriot, but people taking to the streets, trying to seize control was beyond his understanding. And he was supposed to do nothing. Well, nothing yet, hopefully. His job there was not quite what he had anticipated.
20 years back, as a teenager roaming the proletarian streets of Leningrad, bullying the passersby to demonstrate his dominance, he had dreamed of becoming a spy one day, and of proving his worth to his homeland. He was aware how a single secret agent could do what whole armies couldn’t, and he had been eager to do just that when he had applied for KGB at the age of 15. But his work as a KGB agent in Dresden, East Germany had not been as exciting as that of the Secret Service agents in the Soviet movies he had grown up watching. Or so Vladimir Putin thought that cold August night as he sipped on his beer.
East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic as it was called then, was a Soviet-controlled communist state and of strategic importance for the Soviet Union because of its proximity to Western Europe. KGB, the Soviet Secret Service of the then intact Soviet Union was highly operational in GDR. In the wake of World War II, soon after GDR was established, a wall was built separating West and East Germany, as West Germany was a federal republic with a booming economy. The wall, called the Berlin Wall, was to keep the nationalist East Germans caged and stop them from immigrating to the more liberal West Germany. By August 1989, this cage had started rattling.
With the harsh winter came a throng of nationalists set upon liberating Germany. The wall fell first. Then fell the KGB blockhouses. Mikhail Gorbachev, the then Secretary of the Soviet Union, refused to send military aid for protection of the KGB as Putin along with his colleagues defended themselves while burning countless documents of their KGB intelligence work. When he returned to his homeland after the revolution, he was welcomed by a broken USSR.
Vladimir Putin witnessed firsthand the downfall of the Soviet’s power.
He was frustrated. He had been working so hard, day and night, for this one thing, this one deal he really wanted to make. He was popular, people loved him, he could succeed. He knew it in his heart, he could do it. But some people just couldn’t stand it. They kept throwing dirt at him and he kept throwing it back because he would not let them come in the way. They said he was bankrupt, that he was a total failure. They were wrong. Because Donald Trump made sure he always got what he set his eyes upon.
Since he was a child, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Donald had been a handful. He had a tendency to annoy not only his siblings, but his teachers too, and he got under their skin every time. So, at the age of 13, he was sent to the New York Military Academy, which, his parents believed, would discipline him to some extent. Used to getting what he wanted from a young age, they wanted him to learn the importance of hard work, the value of smaller things in life and the principles he would carry with him throughout. Additionally, Donald had picked up a lot by observing Fred Sr., who took him along sometimes while he built low-cost rental apartments for lower-middle-class families in Queens.
Although the military school was difficult for him in the beginning, ‘DT’, as his friends called him, soon excelled and climbed ranks in his cadet company to become Commander in Chief of the Honor Guard. Giving up his first love, baseball, Donald went on to graduate from Wharton School of Business to step into his father’s shoes. But he wanted fancier shoes, and he took a different route; from his father’s estate in middle-class Queens, he expanded to the upper-class Manhattan. Success and fame followed Donald Trump as he shaped the Manhattan skyline.
Vladimir Putin witnessed firsthand the downfall of the Soviet’s power.
Under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, lovingly called ‘Gorby’ by the West, the Soviet Union established new peaceful relationships with Western Europe and the United States. Gorby decided the Soviet Union would now behave. But the Union wasn’t united anymore. Because of the democratization and the political openness of Gorbachev’s USSR, Soviet states got caught in the wave of nationalism as it swept over Eastern Europe and de-Stalinized the Union. Withstanding resistance from Russia, the Soviet Republics rid themselves of the Kremlin tyranny and formed 14 separate nations in 1991.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States had emerged as the two predominant superpowers of the world. But with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States took full control of the reins and galloped on to become the sole global power. Mikhail Gorbachev was overthrown in a KGB driven coup as a result of his liberal actions and Boris Yeltsin took lead as the President of Russia.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin had returned to St. Petersburg and with the help of his KGB patronage had found a place in the Mayor’s administration. The Mayor of St. Petersburg soon became aware of Putin’s true potential as Putin became aware of the potential of his External Relations post at the City Hall. The former because of Putin’s time abroad and his foreign connections. The latter because Putin now controlled the foreign businesses that wished to expand to St. Petersburg. And he found unconventional ways to do that. During that time, St. Petersburg’s granaries were in peril and an investigation was carried out concerning legally flawed deals Putin had knowingly signed with external corporations to bring in food in exchange for other resources. The food had never arrived in the distraught city, but the investigator was subdued and Putin stayed put. Being born in the Stalin era, Putin had grand plans for his homeland.
The news of his fraudulent actions reached the Kremlin and he received a shiny, gilded invitation from Yeltsin. Yeltsin, along with his band of kleptocrats wanted a successor who could cover up for their devious deeds as well. When Putin was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister by Yeltsin, he was popular among the oligarchs as a loyalist and they knew they could count on him to look out for them as a successor of a frail Yeltsin. But, he wasn’t known to the public and hence no one expected him to win the upcoming Presidential Election.
Putin found an opportunity in the mysterious 1999 Moscow apartment bombings to gain popularity. He established himself as the former KGB agent who was going to avenge the deaths of the fellow Russians by attacking Chechnya, which was allegedly behind the bombings. He was elected and he did attack Chechnya eventually, which gained him widespread acceptance throughout Russia. The first thing he did, however, after he got elected, was draining the swamp; he got rid of the corrupt oligarchs of Moscow – only to replace them with his more trusted St. Petersburg elite.
Once in power, Putin effectively got rid of democracy. There was a certain amount of discipline necessary if Russia was to compete in the superpower race. If everyone started getting a say, Russia would be further divided, like his homeland, the Soviet Union. He had always hated ‘people power’, right from his early KGB days; and every time Russians took to the streets, protesting his authoritarian government, he knew how to silence them. There was nothing to stop Vladimir Putin.
Success and fame followed Donald Trump as he shaped the Manhattan skyline. His extravagant chattels included mansions, yachts, helicopters and the Trump name soon became synonymous with luxury. Trump Tower, his first upscale apartment building sold out quickly and turned into a tourist attraction, Trump being the selling point. With Donald’s art of the deal, his wife Ivana’s efforts, and the uniqueness of their projects, the Trump Empire mushroomed, giving him the celebrity of a being a billionaire real estate mogul living the American dream.
For Donald, every project was a war and all that mattered at the end of the business was winning. He didn’t like being pushed around; he couldn’t stand nonsense, and like his popular reality show, ‘The Apprentice’, he would ‘fire’ anyone who failed to deliver victory to him. Crossing swords with him was tantamount to digging one’s own grave; Donald was sure to exact revenge and no mercy would be shown. Trump got involved in a conflict once with the New York Mayor Ed Koch over consent for a new project and publicly insulted him when just months ago they had come into association over another project and had only good to say about each other. He had also been publishing newspaper advertisements expressing his discontent on government policies and political issues, which made people wonder if he was considering running for office. He was supporting George Bush at the time, but he knew that if he ever ran, he would win.
Donald set his eyes on Atlantic City and established the Trump name there as he erected hotel casinos including the Trump Taj Mahal, which was the most expensive casino to have ever been built. However, the recession hit the real estate market around that time and all of Donald’s luxury businesses took a blow. His casinos and hotels went bankrupt; he had to sell off his airline company, Trump Shuttle, and his yacht, the Trump Princess. Amidst his financial losses, his marriage took a tumultuous turn and he started making headlines not for his wealth and estates like before, but for his personal life, his split with Ivana and his alleged affairs. From there, it kept going downhill for Donald. His real estate corporation barely escaped liquidation and he kept manipulating bankruptcy laws to salvage what wealth he had left with him. Stuck in this cash crunch and emotional crunch after splitting with his second wife Marla Maples, Donald had his father, Fred come to his rescue. Fred knew his son would come out of his spiralling financial plight stronger and more stable; although it was a major blow to him, his popularity was still intact.
This downfall had a major impact on Donald. He realised he had lost his focus, he was off game and he had been defeated. And that was the one thing he couldn’t bear. He started working hard because to him, the only thing that mattered was success. Donald got back on his feet, built more skyscrapers, lent his name to a couple more, owned beauty pageants, hosted a television reality show, married another model, opened a university and even appeared in a few movies. All that was left to do for Donald Trump was run for President.
There was nothing to stop Vladimir Putin. Except for the only superpower in the world. In the aftermath of the Cold War, capitalism had won against communism. Apart from a thriving economy and being the birthplace of the internet era, the United States had even hoisted its flag on the moon and knocked Russia out of the space race. The US displayed its military superiority in Iraq, Afghanistan, and soon took upon itself the role of the world police. There was no one, however, to police them. With troops hoisting the red-blue-white-flag all over the world, the US was just being a bully. And Russia was supposed to behave.
By then, Putin was widely unpopular as a dictator in Russia. Russia had already been wiped off the NATO’s radar after the Cold War and it was in ruins. Putin dedicated the first few years of his Presidency to salvage what was left of Russia and bring back the economy. By the end of his first term, Russia was back on its feet. By the end of his second term, Russia’s military strength had been reinforced and had become worrisome for the West. What was grinding his gears though was the disregard the United States had for other nations. The US carried out operations even after facing strong opposition from its own allies in the UN. Moreover, the US created ISIS, effectively boosted the Syrian issue, and accused Russia of being the bad boy. Putin decided Russia would put its national interests first. Crimea, an autonomous republic under the authority of Ukraine was in crisis, and Russia helped them out. Though it was widely condemned by the US and its allies, Putin’s approval ratings in Russia skyrocketed after he annexed Crimea to Russia. Then Syria asked for help, Russia obliged. The West decided Putin was dangerous.
The sanctions regime the US had started against Russia didn’t bother Putin. Accustomed to the amiable Gorby, Putin was a Stalinist shark, circling the waters aggressively and the US considered Russia an existential threat. Technically, Russia never posed a direct threat, never hinted at the extent of its potential, but Putin made sure he wasn’t underestimated. Previously unipolar, with the US on the throne, the world was now on the verge of transforming into a counterbalanced one caused by the mutually assured destruction of the two countries and that’s what the US was particularly terrified of. The Obama administration especially tried to keep Russia restrained; Putin cooperated for the most part, but in his own way. The Russian population suffered to some extent; but the US hadn’t won this Cold War II, and Putin was already working on his strategies to tackle Syria, ISIS, but more importantly, the United States, which consistently reiterated that the primary enemy was Russia, instead of tackling pressing issues in collaboration with Russia. He shouldn’t have worried though. Because then came the 2016 US Presidential Elections and brought along a colourful, new President.
Applause! Two of the most unlikely presidential candidates now leading two major superpowers is a feat definitely worth applauding. What’s remarkable is the journey of the two ambitious men; one rose from the ashes while the other turned bricks to gold. In them, people found what they had been looking for; Putin, a KGB officer who would keep them safe and Trump, a billionaire businessman who would make their economy soar. Both the Russians and the Americans were tired of smug faced politicians who for decades had been promising the moon, but had not given the citizens even the clouds. They were too engrossed in being politically correct and counting votes to care for the woes of the commoners. Until came two radical men who spoke their mind and spoke for the crowd.
Both preyed on the worst fear the people possessed – instability. Opposition and defiance were faced by both and dealt with by unceremonious methods. The Americans and the Russians have as President exactly what they wanted, or didn’t want at all. One thing is for sure- for the first time since World War 2, the two pseudo-democratic countries might shake hands again. Red has been spilt, blue is a dream. Who knows, the white might last.
Featured image source: Photograph by Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty