Hi. I'm really glad you took the time to check in, because we need to talk about Vladimir Putin's behavior. No, I'm not talking about him bullying other countries or meddling in the U.S. election -- that stuff is just Vlad expressing who he is. What's troubling is that he's stopped putting any effort into his excuses. We expect a despot with his aptitude for underhandedness to ruthlessly advance Russia's interests. And we expect his actions to treat international law like Evanescence lyrics written on a roll of single-ply. But when it comes to his rationalizations, he's falling way behind. It's like he isn't even trying anymore.
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"Uh, he did it."
I know that Russia is capable of producing world-class, truly masterful bullshit. Russia has a rich history of art, literature, and political propaganda. And yet, when accused of meddling in the U.S. election, Putin's response was to just flatly deny it. That was it. The country that gave us Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn, and Yakov Smirnoff is now giving us nothing but "It wasn't me." That isn't the bullshit response of an international superpower, it's a goddamn Shaggy chorus he's trying to pass off as his own work.
To be honest, it's insulting. When our Founding Fathers needed an excuse to revolt against England, they didn't settle for telling the colonists that the king had called them all a bunch of niffy-naffy fellows. They went through the trouble of concocting a truly insane story about the unfairness of not being allowed to smuggle tea into the country and that somehow being just cause for war. And I don't think it's unrealistic to set the bar at least that high for Russia.
There are myriad ways Putin could have creatively lied about interfering in our election. He could have said that they had good intel that our voting machines became sentient and had to be stopped for the sake of humanity. He could have said that they did hack our voting system, but just to figure out what to get us for all our birthdays. He could have said they didn't realize that was our actual election and mistook it for some kind of reality show. Anything. And that's just off the top of the head of my head. I can only imagine the masterful malarkey he could have produced if only he would use the many top-notch journalists languishing in Russian jail cells. All he has to do is apply himself.
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Does Steve Harvey have a self-help book on putting the oomph back in your international relationships?
Unfortunately, his trajectory continues downward from there. In a pop interview earlier this month, he floated the possibility that even if Russians were involved in the hack, it was just a few "patriots" and not the work of the state. Even in his supposed condemnation of the hack, he couldn't help but call "whoever carried it out" patriots. I know he's capable of lies so ballsy and insane they're like living poetry. This is the guy who claimed he shot that tiger which just so happened to attack while cameras were rolling. The guy who totally discovered ancient Greek urns when he was scuba diving, where archaeologists had failed for years. That's the kind of weird, self-aggrandizing spectacle that makes Putin Putin. He even kept his shirt on through the whole interview. It was hard to watch.
Not only is it uncreative, but I'm sorry to say it's also just the latest in a growing pattern of self-plagiarism. "Someone else must have done it" has become Putin's go-to every time someone assassinates one of his political opponents just steps from the Kremlin, murders a critical journalist, or leads incursions into neighboring sovereign territories. If "someone else" is doing all the work of ruling Russia with an iron fist, maybe "someone else" should be prime minister for life.
At the same time, he's had a huge impact on the strongmen he's mentored. The guy he appointed president of Chechnya is getting top marks in terrifying doublespeak. When accused of putting gay men in concentration camps, gave the mind-bendingly horrifying response that it would be impossible, because "you cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exist here," adding that "If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return." That shows an ability to combine low-brow bigotry with thinly veiled threats of forced disappearance.
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That's a level of tyranny ready for the international stage.
So if Putin's mates from the old curb-stomping ground are excelling, you can understand my concern when his best effort at deception is to suggest that maybe the hack came from within the U.S. Really? The best Vladimir Putin can come up with is "Quit hacking yourself"? That might have worked four years ago, but these days we expect more creative, original bullshit. Was he not paying attention over the winter, when people spread the rumor that Hillary Clinton's campaign was running a child prostitution ring out of a random pizza parlor? That set the current high-bullshit mark, but I was fully confident that Vlad would be able to surpass it.
Instead, Putin's story in this scandal is that there was no hack, and even if there was, it was done by rogue Russian civilians (whom he insists on calling "patriots"), and that furthermore the U.S. does hacking too, and maybe the U.S. actually hacked itself so shut up. It's the confused, contradictory excuses we'd expect from a surly teen caught with Sailor Moon fan fiction, not the man who completely invented a looming genocide so that he could invade a neighboring country.
I don't know what's caused Putin to lose interest. Maybe he has a new girlfriend. Maybe that new Trump guy is a bad influence. Maybe we aren't challenging him enough and he won't really engage until he has to explain his personally snapping diplomats' necks in the UN General assembly. Or maybe it's fidget spinners. But whatever it is, this level of half-assed deception just doesn't feel right. This barrage of excuses is so juvenile, so predictable, it's almost like he wants us to know he tampered with the election so that we lose faith in our democracy and tear ourselves apart.
Hold on, I just realized this whole thing must be a project for Sabotage and Subterfuge. The P-man is back!
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Things could always be much, much worse.
The cops will come swooping in the seconds the credits roll.
You've probably never heard of it.