During the Putin era, it has become clear the Russians are in the process of trying to reestablish themselves among the most powerful and influential countries in the world. To do that, they see the diminution of American power and prestige as critical for their goals. They must be encouraged by what is happening in America right now.

Our democracy looks more fragile every day. The USA is a chaotic place. Nothing really works. Our Legislature is paralyzed by hostility between the Republicans and Democrats. This is a reality recognized around the world. It makes “democracy” anything but attractive, despite the likelihood most Americans are democratically disposed, there are clearly some who believe there is not sufficient central authority being used to change the situation, reduce conflict and force stability on the nation.

Back Lives Matter (BLM) began as a spontaneous, peaceful reaction to what were viewed as police excesses. It was widely supported in the white and Black communities in this country and continues to be today.

Recently, the BLM has been actively and often violently opposed by racist and white supremacist groups, as well as by outside activists who appear to be interested solely in fanning disorder and conflict, fomenting violence.

It is probably fair to say the White House, if it were so inclined, could slow, if not completely stop, the violence. An appropriate word from the White House could blunt the motivation of those violently opposed to the BLM. And yet, that does not happen as the White House even praises various violent anti-BLM supporters.

That praise has been reinforced by continuing statements from White House personnel, most emphatically including the president, which have praised the character of those racists and white supremacists. The now-retiring adviser to the president, Kellyanne Conway, recently said that the more violence there is, “the better it is for Trump’s re-election prospects.” How could this be? Is it not the primary job of any White House to calm and quiet discontent in our country rather than encourage it?

Where most Americans work to maintain, increase and exploit cooperative democracy, others seem to be working to destroy it. Why? If you look around the world strictly in terms of existing strict law and order, at the top of the list would sit all of those dictatorships run by autocratic leaders who use the power of government to quash all opposition, all dissent. At the bottom of the list sit America and all those democratic countries that have strong internal competing political components. If you want imposed and maintained law and order more than freedom of speech and activity, you will be drawn toward the autocracies. If the conflict in America were to get out of hand, only a White House could contain it. They could declare a “national emergency” and bring on the troops to quash it, thus assuming total power. However brutal and anti-democratic that would be, it is the autocrat’s standard way of manipulating free societies and seizing absolute power. Such a chain of events would leave a White House totally in charge of the nation and able to dictate the future.

Is it not curious that we now have a president who is in the process of alienating all of our old friends and allies abroad, those who run the last remaining democracies in the world? And at the same time, the leaders he praises are the autocratic dictators and anti-democrats of the world. Putin of Russia, Duterte of the Philippines, Kim Jung Un of North Korea, Xi Jinping of China, Abdel-fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Erdogan of Turkey seem to be his favorites.

An important question no one seems to ask is “Why are the Russians supporting President Trump?” Russia is anti-democratic and authoritative. It maintains order through internal, often suppressive, controls. It is the antithesis of the USA. Their support of Trump can only be because they see him as a president whose own policies and philosophy are compatible with theirs. Examination of his policies will reveal Trump has never done anything in either domestic or foreign policy that contested Russian policy or goals.

The really big question for us to ask is whether our president is consciously in the process of emulating autocratic leaders like those in Russia. The president has spoken of his having more than an additional four years in office, maybe even eight or 12.

Are we now in the process of heading in that direction at the expense of our democracy?

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who spent his career during the Cold War working on the Soviet Union.

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