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Trump vs Clinton: 'Either Way We're Screwed'

Reframing the Russia issue for American voters could lead to a redefinition of the situation

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

"Either Way We're Screwed" is a bumper sticker that's popped up in the presidential discourse. It encapsulates the frustration of many Americans over the election choices. One person is viewed as deviously deceptive, known for pursuing nefarious hidden agendas. The other is a more what-you-see-is-what-you-get character whose bombastic style causes many to dislike vehemently what they see. Some believe a Trump presidency would be an international humiliation.

Today's Russia is now a contentious campaign topic. But the past sixteen years have seen a dramatic turnabout in America's posture toward Russia. It's gone from an almost gleeful 1990s sense of new partnership with an old foe, to a recidivistic demonization of Russia and its leader, a throwback to Soviet times.

Clinton's rhetoric on Russia has been extremely dogmatic, condemnatory, and adversarial. Trump portrays an openness for negotiation and selective cooperation. And for that he himself has been demonized. News commentaries frequently suggest that a clearly anti-Putin stance is a litmus test for one's suitability to be president. It's like an ideology that must be subscribed to.

Informed observers recognize that inflexible confrontation with Russia, the only other nuclear superpower, is a fool's game. Meanwhile, most Americans have been sufficiently apathetic to be unconcerned about this danger implicit in the US-Russia relationship.

There are those who believe that Trump would be a safer alternative to Clinton. After all, his campaign rhetoric suggests a less provocative approach vis-a-vis Russia. But even they ask whether Trump can be trusted to deliver a peace agenda if elected. 

For one thing, though, if we were to elect someone whose mission is to carry out a specific agenda or ideology we happen to like, it would be very problematic. It comes down to putting a stooge in office. Certainly agility in dealing with emergent world problems is better than rigidity and commitment to a plan or ideology. Trump presents himself as a flexible dealmaker. But he is far from being elected.

The real question is whether Trump can convince a sufficient segment of the electorate that Clinton's inclination toward confrontation will be negatively consequential to their lives.

So far the performance of Trump's campaign has allowed Clinton to trample all over Trump on the Russia issue. He's been called a Putin puppet and insinuated to be a neo-pink collaborator. 

I've seen many missed opportunities for turning the Russia issue around on Clinton. It's clearly doable, although requiring more sophisticated techniques than just setting the record straight. But Trump's campaign has been either oblivious to the missed opportunities or just hopelessly clueless in how to deal with the situation efficaciously.

Methinks it's high time for a pivot here.

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider

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