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Anne Applebaum: The Irreparable Damage of a Second Term

December 19, 2023
Notes
Transcript

Anne Applebaum discusses a ray of hope in Europe with the defeat of Poland’s authoritarian government, while also contemplating the consequences for NATO and America’s place in the world if Trump were to be reelected. Mona Charen sits in for Charlie Sykes.

show notes:

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/12/ukraine-russia-frozen-assets/676390/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2024/01/trump-2024-reelection-pull-out-of-nato-membership/676120/

This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:08
    Welcome to the Bulwark podcast. I’m Mona Sharon sitting in for the vacationing Charlie Sykes. I host a different Bulwark podcast that you may not know about. It’s called beg to differ, and it comes out every Friday. We do a panel discussion where we have conversations, civil conversations may I add?
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:28
    From the center left to center right perspective with a panel of four regulars Bill Galston, Damon Lincher, Linda Chavez, and me. And then every week, we have a guest. So I recommend that you check us out, beg to differ, It’s a good way to start your weekend. Well, today I am delighted to welcome as the guest on this podcast and Applebaum. She is a staff writer at the Atlantic and the author of a number of important books, including Red famine, Stalin’s war on Ukraine, highly relevant to events now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:06
    The Pulitzer surprise winning gulag a history, And most recently, Twilight of Democracy, the seductive lure of authoritarianism. And thanks so much for joining me. You’re in Warsaw. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:20
    I am in Warsaw. I just arrived, actually.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:23
    Well, so I also should tell our listeners that Your husband has now taken the post of foreign minister of Poland, a post that he held before, in the, interregnum where there was a, hostile government. He was out of government, but now he is back in. So that’s Radix Korsky, so we should just acknowledge a front that he is involved in the Polish government, and I wanna spend just a couple of minutes talking about the Polish election and Poland’s situation because It is a rare bright spot on the international scene at the moment where an authoritarian leaning government was overthrown. So Tell us about that election. And if you could set the scene I don’t wanna go too deeply into it because we don’t really have time, but just set the scene for what happened in the wake of the cold war in Poland’s politics and how the previous government was able to come to power and what they did with that power.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:23
    Right. So thirty years of Polish history and and glass. Is that what I got?
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:27
    I know. Sorry.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:28
    So after nineteen eighty nine, Poland had a series of democratic governments, some more right wing, some more left wing, some quite, you know, had they had quite radically differences with one another, but the, you know, there was a there was an electoral system that everybody respected, and there were different kinds of media that were competing, you know, more or less. What happened in twenty fifteen was that a political party one powered had actually had briefly been in office previously. And I should say just for, you know, If you wanna know how complicated it is, my husband was actually briefly in that government. The first time that this party called the law and justice party was in office, they they were had a kind of mixed coalition government, and he was in that later he resigned. But the second time they came to power, they were determined to make sure that they would never lose again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:17
    And so this will sound familiar to those of you who know Hungarian history or Turkish history. They put pressure on the judicial system. They try to eliminate independent judges. They put a lot of pressure on media. They transformed the state media into a kind of propaganda too, but they also through games with advertising and political pressure.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:36
    They tried to destroy the independent media as well. They did whatever they could to win the election, including fun, you know, transferring millions and millions of dollars, Bob’s worth of state funding to their own campaign. They did it via these kind of fake foundations. Really every every rule they could break short of actually changing the way votes are counted and that was hard to change because the law in Poland says that it has to be a kind of cross party group that counts the votes, they tried to win that way. And they did not win.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:08
    And the reason they didn’t win was because of a massive and unexpected turnout. And the turnout was very heavy in cities, which is, you know, Poland has the same kind of politics as the US in that sense that the cities are I’m not saying left wing. That’s actually it’s not really left right in Poland. It’s more that the cities believe in European integration, and they want Poland to be you know, an open economy and an open society, and then they are pitted against the countryside, which turned out to be more susceptible to the former ruling party. But there was a massive turnout.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:40
    Lots of young people voted. The numbers for young women I don’t remember the exact figure now, but they went up by something like fifteen or twenty percent of me. Was it a huge leap. And because of the very large turnout, a coalition, which I should say, is a center left center right and kind of center center coalition of three parties formed a majority. And although it took a long time for the power handover, to happen because the former ruling party did what they could to to string it out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:08
    They finally formed the government last week, and Somewhat, I should say, surprisingly, my husband is now the foreign minister again.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:15
    Well, congratulations about that. Now, there are some similarity. Obviously, there are major But there are some similarities in Polish politics and American politics, and one of them is on the question of abortion. So I’m wondering what your evaluation is of how much of a role did that play in the big turnout and How much of it was real concern about the drift toward anti democratic anti EU policies of the law and justice party?
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:44
    So I would say that the democracy language in Poland. I’ll get to abortion in a second Bulwark and it was effective because the three opposition parties related it to real life, you know, so why, you know, why was Poland cut out of a European funding keep. It’s because we don’t have democracy. Why do the courts are the courts so dysfunctional? It’s because
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:05
    Let me interrupt really quick and just have you explain. It’s because the EU impose sanctions on the on the previous government?
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:12
    Yes. Because Poland didn’t meet the standards for rule of law inside the EU, the EU didn’t give Poland some funding. And that was funding that would have gone to local councils and, you know, to build roads and so on. And abortion was one of those issues that was related directly to essentially, they changed the abortion law of Poland had a very strict abortion law. Actually, abortion was illegal in Poland.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:35
    But there were some exceptions, including for exceptions for the life of the mother and for very damaged fetuses. And they changed that law to make it even harder So even in the case of when the mother’s life is in danger and the fetus is in danger, it was very hard to get an abortion. And we had in Poland a couple of instances of women dying, and one very prominent one, you don’t want all the details because they’re horrible, but as she was waiting for the fetus to die essentially so that she could have an abortion. She died instead because she got sepsis. And there were a couple of cases like that, and they led to really big nationwide demonstrations.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:13
    And for a lot of young people, and I think a lot of young women, This was their first involvement in politics. You know, they’d been apathetic. They didn’t take part. And this was where they understood that this you know, the the former ruling party’s capture of the court system, the way they were running the country had caused these deaths of young women. And it turned out to be I I wouldn’t say it was the only issue, but it was a very important issue, partly because it showed the way in which stuff that seems very vague, you know, rule of law arguments or with, you know, independent judiciary, you know, how does that relate to my life?
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:46
    It showed actually that can relate directly to your life, and it can, you know, kill you. And so it was a very big issue as a part of a range of issues that people were dissatisfied with.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:58
    So I think there’s a certain amount of continuity. Tell me if I’m right. Between the previous government and the incoming government, on policy toward Ukraine. I mean, Poland has taken a huge number of refugees, has been unbelievably supportive for obvious reasons. Worry about Russia.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:16
    How will policy toward Ukraine change if at all?
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:20
    So you’re right. There will be continuity. The previous government after a little bit of hesitation became very gung ho on helping Ukraine. They were an important part of the NATO coalition. They’ve been a very important part of logistics of getting weapons to Ukraine.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:35
    And, yes, there were a lot of refugees who came to Poland. Although, I should say many of them have either moved on, gone back been absorbed. We don’t have refugee camps in Poland or anything like that. People, you know, you hear Ukrainian in the street. You hear people working in shops and so on, but I don’t think it’s a very difficult problem for Poland in that in that sense, at least not in most of the country.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:53
    The difference now will be that it will be better and easier Polan to make the case for Ukraine in other parts of Europe. I mean, so, a Poland that is cooperative pro European Democratic and not constantly trying to, I don’t know, use, you know, be difficult in foreign policy, create arguments you know, create conflict. A Poland like that will find it easier to help contribute to the coalition around Ukraine. I really do think that they will find it easier to make the case because simply by, you know, the previous government, for example, had a long running argument with Germany. They used it in their politics.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:30
    They was they were very anti German. They used a lot of anti German language. This government won’t do that, you know, and that will immediately be easier to talk to Germany about Ukraine. And talk to ordinary Germans too. So the previous government on its way up also during the election campaign up on some.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:47
    There have been conflicts between Polish and Ukrainian farmers and Polish and Ukrainian truckers, and they kind of instead of resolving those problems, they you know, they exacerbated them. And I think you will now find a a different kind of attitude. I mean, there will be trouble. There there will be, you know, difficulties between the two countries like you know, there are between neighbors all the time, but instead of using those as a lever to, you know, create popular outrage, I think they’ll try and solve the problem. So but I don’t I don’t foresee a break in the wrong direction, and that, you know, I I think on the contrary, you’ll see more support for Ukraine.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:18
    So despite the presence of Endogan and Victor Orban in the NATO Alliance. In some ways, it’s stronger than ever. We have new two new members. We have the changing government in Poland, which strengthens NATO, and then we have the prospect of Donald Trump. Potentially being reelected in the US.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:39
    You had a great piece in the Atlantic about this. I think a lot of people have not thought through exactly what it would mean if Trump were to be reelected for the NATO Alliance and not just for the NATO Alliance, but for American world leadership in general. So you quoted him in this piece saying, I don’t give a shit about NATO. And that was, conveyed to you by John Bolton who also said that the damage Trump did in his first term was reparable, but the damage he would do in a second is irreparable. So Let’s talk a little bit about the threat to NATO.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:15
    Trump’s views on NATO, etcetera.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:17
    So Trump’s attitude to alliances of all kinds is transaction And really his attitude is not what’s good for America, but what’s good for me? What’s good for me, Donald Trump? And in that sense, he does bear some resemblance to autocratic leaders in in other parts of the world. You know, I’ll have a good relation Saudi Arabia because then my son-in-law can do deals with Saudi Arabia. And, you know, I will do have a good relation with Erdogan because then my hotels you know, we’ll get special deals in Turkey.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:45
    I mean, I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened. I’m just saying those are examples. That’s how he would think about it. He wouldn’t think you know, over the long term America builds alliances. The alliances help America have, you know, a kind of outsized role in the world.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:58
    It helps American companies to great and friendly countries. He doesn’t really care about any of that, you know. And I think his attitude, Daneto is part of that. You know, it’s it comes from a very deep isolationism. And this idea that America doesn’t need any allies, we, you know, we can just do deals with whoever we need to at at a given moment.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:15
    What’s dangerous about NATO, what’s specific about it, you know, there is a NATO treaty, which is very brief. I advise everyone to read it. It’s very, very short. And in the treaty, there’s a famous article called Article five. And this Article five just says that, you know, members of the Alliance are obliged to come to the aid of other members of the Alliance in case one of them attack.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:36
    And it’s not specific about what they have to do. I mean, come to the aid could just mean shout very loudly. You know what I mean? It doesn’t say you have to bring in, you know, your your troops. But it’s the the implication is that there will be collective defense.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:49
    And so why didn’t the Soviet Union ever invade West Germany during the cold war? It was because they knew there was this premise of collective defense. If they did that, other NATO members would cut, especially the United States would come. Why don’t they invade Poland now? Poland to helping Ukraine.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:04
    Weapons are going through Poland to Ukraine. It’s because it’s presumed that if they invaded Poland, there would be an American, you know, NATO wide response. All that Trump has to do in order to eliminate that expectation is say, I won’t do it. So, you know, the treaty has been ratified. You know, lots of people, you know, the Senate would back it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:25
    You know, the, I’m sure American military leaders would back at, you know, if Trump were to announce a withdrawal from the treaty, there would be a big political fuss and so on. All that is true. But the impact of the treaty is actually the important impact of it is psychological. You know, US is a reliable partner. It would aid its allies.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:45
    Once nobody thinks the US will aid its allies, that could have consequences. It could have consequences, you know, for Poland, for the Baltic States, for Germany, it could also have consequences in Taiwan. So, you know, if US doesn’t believe and collect the defense anymore and Trump isn’t gonna come to anybody’s aid, then they’re definitely not gonna come to the aid. If someone or South Korea or Japan, you know, if you look around the world at all the countries that rely on the US, as a kind of backup security guarantee, then all those countries would instantly be in trouble. And it is very, very dangerous and possibly very destabilizing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:20
    I mean, you know, we could get lucky and maybe it wouldn’t happen, but the possibility is suddenly much higher that there would be a much larger scale war in Europe and possibly war in Asia.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:31
    Yeah. It’s so important at this point you make about the psychological impact because The treaty really is dependent upon psychology. It’s dependent upon the assumption that we are, coming to the aid of our allies, and if there is any doubt about that in the mind of an adversary, it undermines the alliance from the get go. There has to be that assumption. I will note that just recently in the, defense authorization bill, There was an amendment tacked on to it by Marco Rubio and a Democratic senator where they said, you know, no president can withdraw from NATO without the approval of, I think, two thirds of the Congress, etcetera.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:10
    So they’re trying to nip that in the bud in a sense, and that’s great, but as you point out, that doesn’t solve the problem of the intent. That if Trump is the president, there would still be doubt in the minds of adversaries. And as you also point out, and we can talk about this for a minute. What does that do to allies or to countries that are, you know, neutral? Don’t they then think, alright, know, the US is unreliable.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:39
    I guess we have to make our peace with China or Russia or Iran or another big power.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:46
    That’s exactly right. I mean, so, I mean, stipulate, you know, the Europeans do have a defense budget. They’re paying, you know, half, I think even more of the of the cost of the war in Ukraine. I mean, it’s not as if there’s there’s nothing there. But yes, I do believe that a feeling that NATO is over that US protections for Asian allies are gone would lead people and both of those regions just start to recalibrate.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:08
    Okay. Maybe I better do a deal with maybe it’s better to have a relationship with China. Maybe, you know, I don’t wanna have that US investment, you know, the Chinese don’t like. Maybe I should have a Chinese investment instead. It would inevitably change the atmosphere and mood even if, again, even if there wasn’t a war, even if there wasn’t Chinese occupation of Taiwan or invasion of Taiwan, there would be a change in the feeling.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:33
    So we are we can’t rely on the US. We can’t assume that there are, you know, that deterrents will work. Therefore, we need plan b. And I think you would see that kind of know, this kind of cringe or I don’t know what the right word is. You know, a cow town hank authoritarings, you would see it all over the world.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:50
    Right. And it would have economic consequences. One of the things that Trump, you know, was constantly boasting about is that you know, he will produce the best deals and, which is, of course, ridiculous. But if our security guarantees are shown to be worthless, then It has economic consequences too because those countries are going to be less cordial toward economic integration with the US.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:16
    That’s absolutely true. I mean, why are we so integrated with Europe? Why is that why are the trade links so deep? You know, why is it e so much easier to travel there. Why there’s so many connections?
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:27
    You know, all that is based on a very on fundamental security arrangements as alliances. And if you took those away, a lot of the business relationships would eventually go away too. I mean, none of it would happen overnight, but but there would be a sense that, you know, it’s not too safe to have too close relations with the US. You know, it’s not reliable. Maybe we need backups, maybe we need all alternatives, and you would see that shift.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:51
    And it would be bad for US business. It would be bad for American influence and the idea of around the world. You know, the idea of democracy that it’s something reliable and stable and that there are democratic allies and alliances who work together, that would be really badly damaged. And it would have a knock on effect probably in ways we can’t even think of yet.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:12
    I wanna push back a little bit on your description of Trump’s way of thinking, not that any of us wants to get into the brain of that guy. But vis a vis, NATO, etcetera, where you say he thinks what’s best for me. And no question that that’s part of his rationale and thinking, you know, he wanted to have the, G seven summit, I think, one year at the Dural Club that he owns. You know, that was pretty transparent. But I think it’s a slightly different twist.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:41
    I think he brings his own perverted psychology about not being respected, not being honored personally to the US writ large. So he has this Iday Feeks about NATO, for example, which Advisor after adviser tried to show him was not true, but he believed that the European allies were freeloading on the US. And they were making fools of us because we were spending all this money and they weren’t. And therefore, we were being made fools of. He took this personally and felt that this, you know, damaged his fragile ego.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:22
    I mean, a lot of people have complained that, you know, European countries should spend more for their own defense. But his idea that somehow these countries owed us money is something that he despite endless efforts to talk him out of it. He still believes to this day.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:40
    Mean, I think it’s a kind of variation on what I was saying. I mean, I still think it’s basically about him. You know, you’re trying to rip me off, you
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:46
    know. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:47
    Yes. He never understood. There is no such thing as a NATO budget. You know, it’s not as if the US is spending money, you know, and that they, you know, other people owe it us. I mean, instead each country has its own national defense budget, and they try to hit certain targets.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:03
    And, you know, there’s an ongoing conversation about what how much defense they really need and how much they don’t, and you can argue it in a lot of different ways. But, no, there is no money that we are spending that someone owes us. That’s not how it works. And you’re right. It was it was explained to him over and over and over again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:19
    And he he really didn’t get it, but, I mean, it it may also just be because he didn’t wanna get
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:24
    even more important than that is his idea that the trade deficit is somehow important and that reducing the trade deficit is going to make the US stronger, which is just not no economist thinks that and, you know, but again, he believes it very strongly Also, we have to contemplate when we’re talking about this, and this is going to be the issue that confronts us for the next ten, eleven months is the fact that this is someone whose twisted psychology is such, that he says before a crowd in New Hampshire over the weekend to bolster his view of his own victimization. At the hands of the Biden administration, he quotes Putin and says that Putin has said, which, of course, he has. Putin has said that this discredits American democracy because it proves that the the regime is merely trying to prosecute and prosecute its political opponents, and Trump quotes this with approval. It is mind boggling. Your thoughts on that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:32
    Yeah. It’s it’s mind boggling, but it’s also he’s been doing this for a long time. So He has been quoting and using Russian propaganda, you know, since the twenty sixteen campaign. And it was one of the first things about that campaign that struck me as off. You know, very weird.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:48
    There were particular lines. Do you remember Obama created ISIS?
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:52
    Oh, yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:53
    Ray will start World War three Those were actually propaganda lines that were from Russian sources, and then they were kind of promoted by the sort of Russian amplification machine. And then Trump took them up and ran with him. And he kept doing that repeatedly, you know, all through twenty sixteen. It’s one of the many oddities about him that I mean, that piece of it, I don’t know if anybody’s ever investigated or resolved. Whoever is giving him access to Russian propaganda or Putin speeches or whatever it is, he is instantly attracted to it and he repeats it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:24
    He is attracted to the idea of that kind of power. So Putin does have a lot more power than the American president has inside his own country. You know, he controls all the media and all the courts and all the companies, you know, in a way that we would never want an American president to do. But this is what Trump admires and longs for it. He admires Putin.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:45
    He admires Xi as he said several times. And of course, he admires the North Korean dictator even though the next free indicator presides over a horrifically poor sad backwards, unpleasant police state. But he admires the power that those kinds of people have, and he was never able to understand you know, the American system of checks and balances or why presidential power is limited. And by the way, you know, our presidency is very powerful and much more powerful than it used to be. But there are still some limitations, you know, there are laws about ethics, there are rules about people who work for the president and so on.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:24
    And he was never ever able to understand those and never able to understand why he couldn’t simply defy everything. I mean, a classic example of this is the stolen documents case, which is really very, very weird. He took secret documents with him. He was told over and over again that he had to give them back. He doesn’t have any need for them or reason to have them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:44
    I mean, unless he’s selling them to somebody, I mean, which for all I know he is. He was repeatedly told people, you know, and yet he persisted. The only explanation for that I can think of is that he had this idea that I was the president. I can do whatever I want. No one can tell me what to do.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:59
    And so even a kind of standard law that everyone else, you know, has obeyed, you know, or when someone has has broken that rule about secret documents, usually they’d say, oh, goodness. I’m sorry, and they give them back. I mean, there’s no previous president who behaved as he did. It’s a small thing, but it’s a reflection of his inability to understand that the president is subject to the rule of law that there are checks and balances that that’s how our system Bulwark. And he admires people who have absolute power, and that’s what he would like as well.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:28
    I don’t think it’s a small thing. I think it’s a a fairly large thing. Another aspect of that whole tropism of his toward authoritarians that hasn’t gotten enough attention since he left office is that on any number of occasions, it’s very clear if you go back and trace his phone calls with autocrats or or dictators, and then the things that come out of his mouth a few days or, you know, hours later, He will frequently parrot their line. Do you remember the, bizarre situation where I think it was Moldova where Trump started going on about how they’re very bad people after he had spoken to Putin. And he said, you know, they’re they’re very warlike.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:13
    They’re very bad people, and then, you know, if they’re in NATO, well, then what do you know? Next thing, it’s gonna be World War three. It was, you know, just after it’s spoken. Do you remember what I’m referring to?
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:24
    I remember. I mean, it’s a classic thing. You know, he he repeats these lines. From Russian propaganda and you’re right from Putin himself.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:35
    One more thing that we should discuss vis a vis Trump and his weird thoughts is how he views Ukraine. Because, of course, the first impeachment was about him attempting strong-arm Ukraine into announcing not necessarily performing an investigation into Joe Biden because Biden was his most likely political opponent. We we all know that. But he also has swallowed this whole narrative about how Ukraine was really the country that was interfering in the twenty election, not Russia. And so his hostility to Ukraine, and he has already said he would abandon Ukraine You know, he would solve the problem in twenty four hours, which means abandoning Ukraine.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:19
    Can you talk a little bit about his weird fixation there?
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:23
    So David from recently a couple of days ago, wrote an article in which he described this concept of under news that there are these sensational stories that float around, you know, on social media or, you know, in weird corners of the internet that lots of people know about and talk about, but aren’t really presented on the main news because they’re just too weird and they’re invented and they’re propaganda. But lots of people are referring to them. And one of them is what you’ve just said, which is this kind of weird underground version of twenty sixteen in which the Ukrainians somehow swung the election. And Trump will sometimes refer to this or have sort of implied, you know, sometimes say things that depend on that particular mythology. My assumption is that there is someone around him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:10
    Maybe it was a client of Rudy Giuliani. Maybe it was someone else. Who puts this in his head and, you know, then he repeats it. But you’re right. It is another one of his e day fixes that is exactly this, that you know, that somehow Ukraine is opposed to him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:24
    I mean, the Ukrainians, of course, you know, in twenty sixteen and afterwards have been how do we cope with this? You know, the last thing they wanted ever was be at the center of US politics and some scandal. I don’t know if you remember the first time Vladimir Zelensky, Volodymyr Zelensky came into probably American consciousness when he met there were these weird meetings with Trump where, you know, Zelensky looked around and Trump would say weird things and there are these funny memes of Zelensky’s face even respond. I mean, the Ukraine did their best to get along with Trump. You know, they tried to figure out they do to, you know, placate him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:59
    It’s one of his fixed ideas, you know, along with his admiration for dictatorships. He has a kind of scorn for democracies. I mean, he doesn’t like France particularly. He doesn’t like Germany, you know, but in that list, he also dislikes Ukraine. And again, where it comes from exactly?
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:16
    I don’t know. I mean, it probably predates his presidency. I mean, I don’t you remember the weird incident at the Republican National Convention in twenty sixteen where there was a some language about Ukraine and the platform that some guys tried to get removed. So there have been There have been people working on him to get him to see Ukraine that way for a long time, and I cannot tell you exactly who they are, but it’s not that’s not a conspiracy theory, I mean, we we can see it. What exactly it is I can’t say.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:44
    And, of course, unfortunately, you know, Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party. He has enormous amount of influence, you know, on elected Republicans on the Republican Congress, and I think actually a lot of what’s going on in Congress today, the resistance to signing a bill on aid for Ukraine. I mean, some of it maybe is about, you know, okay. We need to give money for the border, but I think a lot of it is just Trump. People in Congress desire, they wanna suck up to Trump, they wanna cater to his weird prejudices.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:12
    In order to do that, they’re gonna block money for a country that’s fighting for its life, you know, an American ally. It’s so horrifying and so kind of un American Also, so self defeating. You know, a walk for Ukraine would be such a catastrophe for the United States for American business for America’s image in the world. If you think the withdrawal from Afghanistan was bad, you know, wait for that. It would be an unbelievable catastrophe.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:38
    And yet, you know, you have senior Republicans, particularly in the house, but also in the senate who seem willing to risk that in order to suck up to Trump. And it is very, very disturbing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:50
    In addition to sucking up to Trump, I think some of the members are also responding to their constituents getting their information from Putin apologists like Tucker Carlson and others. So it goes even beyond Trump into the conservative information environment. But let’s talk about an idea that you also wrote about recently, which is so after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Western countries froze about three hundred billion dollars in assets. And so there’s a proposal going on now that That money should or most of it, maybe certain carve outs.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:31
    My husband is actually representing a somebody who’s suing the Russian Federation on another matter and, so that we don’t maybe wanna do all of it. But, anyway, the idea is to transfer these funds to Ukraine. Tell us about that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:45
    It’s been around for a long time. This idea is. There are a couple of economists, Sarah Gauria, and also Larry Summers have been talking about it. Lawrence tribe, the Harvard Legal Scholar, did a big paper that he he wrote about it that was published in September. That goes through the legal and the moral and the practical case for why it should be known.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:03
    Of course, actually, the moral case is easy. You know, we froze these three hundred billion dollars worth of Russian assets. Russia is damaging property and, you know, in Ukraine and removing sovereignty from Ukraine. So the rest of the world has absolutely the moral right to take that money and to give it to Ukraine to help their economy to do reconstruction, you know, sooner or later. People are gonna want Russia to pay reparations to Grain, you can call this a down payment on reparations.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:30
    I think it would be very popular. I think everybody would instantly understand it. I don’t think it’s kind of morally difficult at all. And actually, legally, I talked to Larry tribe a few days ago, and he said, you know, look, that you can point to the number of you know, international laws that Russia has broken, you know, one after the next after the next and you can make the justification on those grounds. The main objection has been pragmatic and practical, you know, would there be retaliation, you know, would there be consequences for know, other countries not wanting to put their money in western financial institutions, you know, could that, you know, and there is probably some risk of that, but you know, look, we’re getting to the point where I think given that there are, you know, pro Russian forces now, you know, at work in the US Congress and there are you know, there’s at least one country in the European Union, which is also pro Russian.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:18
    This is, you know, Victor Orban’s Hungary, and we’re running into difficulties you know, because our systems require consensus and because it is possible to block the majority with the determined minority. You know, it’s getting to the point where we need to take the risk and give that money to Ukraine. You know, it’s something that could be done very quickly. The money I should say is in different places. Some of it’s in European countries.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:38
    I think a lot of it is in the UK. It’s not all in the US gift, but the US could certainly lead, you know, as the leading financial power leading economic power in the world, the US could lead a coalition of countries who are determined to do this. And I think it would make a big difference. And also it would be important psychological blow because again, Putin is beginning to gather strength, you know, this feeling that, alright, I’m gonna make, you know, the west is cracking. If I just hold on long enough, you know, I’ll be able to take more territory or maybe I’ll even take Kiev.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:07
    He’s actually repeated last week. His goal, which is still the conquest of all of Ukraine. You know, it’s still the destruction of Ukraine as a nation, you know, he’s still saying that, you know, even almost two years later. And a blow like that would give him pause. You know, it it would ruin his narrative sorry.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:23
    No. You’re not gonna get to keep going because Ukraine has just been given three hundred billion dollars of your money.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:29
    There’s a good answer to the case. I think that This would undermine confidence of people and putting their money in western institutions because, oh, you know, politics could come along and then your money would not be safe and the governments could just decide to give it to someone else. If they think you’ve committed, aggression or whatever, And the answer to that is, actually, there aren’t that many safe places to put your money in the world. Right? Where are they gonna go?
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:57
    You buy. I don’t know. I mean, these are all countries that would be ruthless with your money if they needed to be. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:03
    Which is another lesson, unfortunately, that a lot of, trump’s Porters do not understand namely that one of our great strengths as a country and part of our economic vitality is the perception that we are politically stable. And when you begin to tamper with that, you’re undermining the foundation of a lot of our economic power as well because people trust the US dollar. If they cease to trust the US dollar, that would be a disaster for our economy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:38
    That’s absolutely true. I mean, and they trust the US and a lot of other you know, subtle ways as well. You know, people believe in contracts that are made in the US, and people believe in financial regulation in the US. And and all of that is pendant on the image of the US as a stable country in which there’s predictable changes of power in which there aren’t these wide swings you know, we don’t have one political system one day and another one the next day. And yes, I’m afraid a Trump reelection would damage that image and not just the image.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:10
    I mean, it would damage the reality. You know, we would become, you know, a more unstable country. You know, if we were to reelect trump, we would be reelecting someone who was running explicitly against the constitution and against the rule of law. You know, he’s saying it every day. That would have on, you know, all kinds of implications and consequences, across our country, but also around the world.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:31
    Yes. Alright. Thank you, Ann Applebaum, for a great discussion. Really appreciate you joining us. Happy holidays.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:39
    Happy New Year. And I wanna thank our listeners and just remind you that you can tune in to beg to differ. It, usually, is available on Friday mornings. Look for it on wherever you get your podcasts. This podcast will be back tomorrow and do this all over again.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:03
    Bover contest is produced by Katie Cooper. And engineered and edited by Jason Brown.
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