Many proverbs exist in both English and Russian, though the latter tend to express the same idea more violently or, to be kind, dynamically.
Thus the English “let bygones be bygones” becomes “whoever remembers the past, may his eye be gouged out”; “the pen is mightier than the sword” comes out as “that which is written with a pen can’t be chopped out with an axe” and so forth.
But the one about the apple not falling far from the tree is exactly the same in both languages, hinting at its universal truth. If further evidence of this universality is needed, just look at Donald Trump Jr., the apple, and his father, the presidential tree.
It increasingly appears that the principal gardener of that orchard is Vlad Putin, making sure the apple tree grows to luxuriance and bears much fruit.
The tree has never bothered to conceal his admiration for the KGB thug, which, though unfortunate, doesn’t legally fall into the category of impeachable, much less criminal, offences. Whether there’s something else going on is debatable but, as the Russian proverb goes, “He who isn’t caught isn’t a thief”.
Still, though prima facie proof of some shady dealings is lacking, indications are thick on the ground. For example, a couple of years ago the apple, that is Don Jr., said casually: “… Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
‘A lot of money’ is a relative amount: what’s a lot of money to me is loose change to either Donald. But the first part of the statement bears more scrutiny than it has so far received. After all, the Trumps run not a corner shop but a vast global empire worth billions. Yet the official records of its activities in Russia don’t show “a disproportionate cross-section”. All they show is a few golf courses.
‘A disproportionate cross-section’ could then only have come from activities that don’t appear in the official records. For example, financial insiders cite huge swathes of Russian financing that reach Trump having first been laundered through brass-plate offshore banks.
I don’t know if there’s any truth to this, but what’s undeniable is that Trump admires Putin and in many ways sees him as his role model. In common with many of our own so-called conservatives (in fact Putin’s useful idiots), he sees in Putin qualities that he himself would like to cultivate, those that set him apart from wishy-washy political professionals.
Putin, he once said, “has been a leader far more than our president [Obama] has been.” Well, Donald, it’s easier for Putin. He doesn’t have to mess around with things like Congress, fair elections, independent judiciary or free press.
The KGB thug, Trump added, “has great control over his country”. That much is true, though Putin still falls short of the standards established by his idol Stalin. But he’s getting there, and one would think that a US president would be at least ambivalent about such criminal achievements.
Of course Trump himself does have to contend with the above-mentioned constraints, which is why his admiration for the world’s most dangerous regime has to be leavened with caution.
For example, he hasn’t been able to lift US sanctions against Russia, as he promised during the campaign. Yet on the other hand he hasn’t imposed any new sanctions in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the Russians’ hacking sabotage of the very political system of which Americans are so proud.
Yet on balance he clearly regards Putin as a friend, which perception that career KGB spy runner cultivates by pandering to Trump’s well-known narcissism. Trump himself provided evidence of that by saying: “I think when he calls me brilliant I’ll take the compliment, ok?”
It’s in this context that yet another scandal involving Putin and Trump’s entourage should be viewed. For about a year ago, shortly after the tree secured the Republican nomination, the apple met Putin’s unofficial emissary, the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Through her Putin promised to provide some ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, thereby improving the tree’s prospects of being transplanted to Pennsylvania Avenue. Now on the surface this seems par for the course. There’s nothing wrong in seeking a competitive advantage in a political campaign – generally speaking.
But speaking particularly, there’s something shady about accepting such help from a foreign power – and there’s something downright tenebrous in accepting it from a hostile foreign power.
It would be tedious to cite yet again reams of evidence showing that, like in the days of the Cold War, Russia still regards America as Enemy Number One. The tone of state propaganda to that effect is getting shriller by the minute, only matched by the thunderous sounds of Russian sabre-rattling.
In any case it doesn’t take great geopolitical nous to realise that, when a government almost wholly made up of KGB officers makes such an offer, it’s a pro for which it’ll expect a quid. “You’ll owe me one,” in the language of both spy runners and property developers.
How the Russians described that outstanding debt is anyone’s guess. But rest assured they did describe it.
That the tree may be diseased and its fruit rotten is shown by Junior’s subsequent lies when queried about the meeting. Veselnitskaya, he said, only wanted to talk about Americans adopting Russian children.
If Junior had done his homework, he could have come up with a lie more plausible and less crude. For, following the Magnitsky Case sanctions imposed on Russia in 2013, the Russians banned Americans from adopting their orphaned or abandoned children.
Hundreds of those poor souls had been saved by Americans from neglect, appalling abuse, hunger and illness – often death. Yet the Russians decided to punish Americans to make sure no more children would be saved. This decision was accompanied by disgusting propaganda to the effect that American foster parents typically sell Russian children for body parts or else take sexual advantage of them.
Not only is Junior amoral, he’s also ignorant. But anyway, the lie was exposed and he had to admit that foster care wasn’t really the topic of his chat. But the admission didn’t come all at once: like a criminal interrogated by a policeman, Junior has only been owning up to things the investigator could prove.
Thus yesterday he released the e-mails he exchanged with Russian officials to set up the meeting. Their e-mail to him says that some mysterious “Crown prosecutor of Russia” [there’s no such post there, unless I’ve missed Putin’s accession to the throne] “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father”.
And “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump.”
Junior replied: “If it’s what you say, I love it.” In exchange for what was a question he forgot to ask.
The meeting was cosy: just Natalia, Junior and his two chaperones, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then campaign manager who has since resigned under the weight of his own intimate dealings with Putin’s kleptofascist junta.
All this may be no more sinister than sheer ignorance and amateurishness on the part of Trump and his retinue. However, though each scandal of this nature may not be sufficient to bring Trump down, their cumulative effect just might.
In any case it takes inexcusable nonchalance to feel there’s nothing to worry about. There is, and not just for the tree and its apple.