VIENNA – What unites “America first” President Donald Trump, Poland’s political puppet master Jarosław Kaczyński, and Russian President Vladimir Putin? Trump and Kaczyński, chest-thumping nationalists, should revile Russia’s revanchist leader for his expansionist policies in ex-Soviet countries like Georgia and Ukraine. Yet Trump warmly praises Putin, while Kaczyński increasingly emulates his autocratic methods. And all three seem predisposed not only to believe in outlandish conspiracies, but also to use those beliefs to shape policy and manipulate the public.
Putin sees clandestine plots to undermine Russian greatness everywhere, mostly initiated by the Western spymasters, the United States and the United Kingdom. The theories to which he subscribes often have no basis in reality, but one can at least understand why he might believe them: for a former KGB agent, himself a spymaster, a heightened degree of suspicion that things may not be as they appear is not exactly shocking.
Trump’s susceptibility to – even enthusiasm for – radical conspiracy theories is less easy to explain. Trump is far from a master of intrigue, unless the cutthroat world of New York real estate is even more Mafia-ridden than outsiders imagine.
It seems clear that Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, a life-long anti-liberal fabulist, reinforces his boss’s lumpen worldview. But not even Bannon’s influence can explain Trump’s feverish tweets, sent early last Saturday morning, accusing former US president Barack Obama of having Trump Tower’s “wires tapped” before the election.