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Red (Orange) Herring Trump

What's the deal with Trump and Putin?

In the photo: blini, curried herring, trout roe, whitefish roe, crème fraîche, smoked salmon, smoked trout, dill, beet horseradish.

The relationship between American billionaire Donald J. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been one of the more confounding elements of the 2016 U.S. presidential race. Trump’s TV magnetism fused with Putin’s larger-than-life notoriety have added a retro-Hollywood feel to what appears to be an inside game involving the Republican nominee for president and America’s foreign nemesis. But when it comes to Trump’s relationship with Putin, one has to ask, what’s the plot?

1. It’s a conspiracy

In the 1963 James Bond classic “From Russia with Love,” the evil Rosa Klebb enlists the enchanting Tatiana Romanova for a mission. “Corporal,” she says, “I have selected you for a most important assignment. Its purpose is to give false information to the enemy. If you complete it successfully, you will be promoted.”

In March, Donald Trump named Carter Page as one of his five foreign policy advisors. In July, Page gave a speech in Moscow criticizing Washington’s “hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change.” Page has ties to the Russian oil giant Gazprom.

In 2015, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s military advisor, was paid to speak at the anniversary party for RT, Russia’s state-owned media. He was seated next to Vladimir Putin. (Trump himself went on RT TV in September.)

At the July GOP convention, the Trump campaign was granted its sole platform request: the removal of a plan to arm Ukraine in its defense against Russian forces. A month later, Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, resigned after revelations that he had received twelve million dollars in cash payments from Ukraine’s former pro-Russia party from 2007 to 2012.

Donald Trump is thought to have major financial dealings with Russian oligarchs connected to Vladimir Putin. At the second presidential debate he said, “I have no businesses there. I have no loans from Russia,” but in 2008, his son Donald Trump Jr. said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” according to trade publication eTurboNews.

2. He’s a “useful idiot”

In The Truman Show, the title character unknowingly lives his entire life as a twenty-four-hour-a-day reality TV star. His world has been scripted, so he accepts the information that’s been fed to him, bonding with actors who pretend to love him.

Law experts Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes define “useful idiots” as “people in the West who can be counted upon by virtue of naiveté or stupidity to act on Russia’s behalf while not being active agents.” They believe “useful idiot” best defines Trump in relation to Putin.

Case in point: Despite classified intelligence briefings to the contrary, Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge Russia’s culpability in the cyber attacks against the US. “They always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia [is] because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia,” he said in the second debate.

3. It’s “WarGames”

“WarGames” is the story of a bright young hacker who breaks into a nuclear war simulator thinking it’s an awesome video game. He soon realizes the dangerous implications of his actions, joins forces with the program’s creator, and together, they avert international destruction.

Trump has praised Vladimir Putin for his heroic role in fighting ISIS in Syria, contradicting his running mate Mike Pence’s claims that Russia is helping the Syrian government attack its own citizens. Trump also has kind words for Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-un for their decisive handling of suspected terrorists and opponents, unfazed by the fact that he is glorifying brutal dictators.

The Republican nominee for president has convinced his followers that a loss for him in November will be the result of a “rigged system.” But what if Trump wins? “If I win,” Trump said at the October 9th debate, “I’m going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into [Hillary Clinton’s] situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.” According to Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe this would constitute a shocking abuse of power, an “impeachable offense,” “incompatible with the survival of a stable constitutional republic.” Trump says that NATO is “obsolete,” and that when it comes to nuclear weapons, he “can’t take anything off the table.” This includes striking Europe, should the occasion arise. In August, set off by Trump’s unprecedented invitation for Russia to hack former Secretary of State Clinton’s emails, fifty former GOP national security officials wrote a letter warning of the impending doom of a Trump presidency.

At the end of “WarGames”, after bypassing global thermonuclear war, Joshua (the computer program) speaks gently to the man who made him. “A strange game,” he says, “The only winning move is not to play.” The Trump experiment is hurtling towards Election Day with no stops in sight. Not to be overly dramatic, but the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance.