One thing was clear as vodka last year: There was no way, no how the American people would elect someone as coarse and uninformed as Donald Trump to be their president.
His victory was stunning – all the more so because he did it while losing the popular vote.
Many people now tell you they thought he might win, but that is fake news. Nobody saw it coming.
Nobody except for one man: Vladimir Putin.
While others dismissed Trump as a clownish loser, he was working behind the scenes to pull off one of the greatest electoral upsets in modern history.
Truth be told, even today it’s hard to see how. All we know for sure is that he did.
Indeed, the closer we look, the cloudier picture gets – Putin’s that good. The best we can do is tip our hat to a man whose political skills are so much greater than anybody else’s – including the most qualified person to ever run for president.
Hillary Clinton didn’t even think Wisconsin was in play. But Putin knew. He figured out how to identify swing voters in The Badger State, along with those in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and flip them to his orange puppet. All without a trace. Amazing!
Equally mystifying to mere mortals is why he is directing Trump to oppose him at most every turn. You’d think he would have ordered his American president to lay off his pal Assad in Syria. Certainly, he would have directed Trump to kill the Keystone pipeline, put a pause on fracking and double down on the Paris climate accords in order to boost oil prices, which are the backbone of the Russian economy. Nyet.
On the global chessboard, Putin is not one or two but six moves ahead of the rest of us.
Is it possible that Trump is going rogue, defying his master? Perhaps. But then why wouldn’t Putin just release the voluminous evidence he possesses regarding their collusion during the campaign? What’s he waiting for?
The answer is beyond my ken, but it’s got to be frightening.
The elusive nature of Putin’s thinking is on full display in the recent revelations regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with his operatives last June.
It’s odd that Putin didn’t use the sophisticated back channels he must have already established with the Trump campaign – after all, the one thing we know for sure is that Putin colluded with Trump to steal the election.
Instead, he directed an entertainment publicist to arrange a meeting between the candidate’s inner circle and a woman with ties to Fusion GPS, a firm that often does opposition research for Democrats. They’re the same outfit that was involved in producing the Russian dossier that contained lurid stories about Trump’s actions in Moscow.
The promoter sent emails promising information from the Russian government detailing Hillary’s alleged crimes. Why would Putin have him leave this paper trail? You got me.
And then, by all accounts, no dirt was offered and the meeting was cut short. Could Putin have predicted that Don Jr. would later create problems for himself by forgetting this forgettable meeting and then being less than forthcoming about it?
Could he have guessed that a hostile press would seize on this brief meeting as evidence of a vast conspiracy, leading them to further undermine their credibility? He certainly knew the Democratic National Committee had colluded with the Ukrainians and probably guessed that the media’s efforts to dismiss that effort would reveal their febrile partisanship.
Of course the oddest part of this story remains the emails Putin stole from the DNC and released through WikiLeaks. Nobody remembers a single one of them; everyone agrees that they had no impact on the race.
And yet, they were the one instance Putin showed his cards, so ham-handedly that his fingerprints were discovered almost instantly.
Perhaps they were a diversion, the shiny object distracting us from the real ways he stole the election. It’s all so confusing.
What is clear is that our government has almost ground to a halt. No one knows who to trust or what to believe as we obsess over a story whose facts and meaning remain just out of reach.
If Putin is behind it all, he’s not just pulling the strings on Trump but on all of us.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at email@example.com.