Trump Activated

The eccentric Republican candidate has become a rich source of phobia and paranoia.

We can’t exclude the possibility that at some point it will come to light that “Donald Trump” (in fact Ivan Sergeev) is a sleeper agent, dropped off in the U.S. at the age of 15. He lived his life as he pleased, got married, got divorced, yelled at people, produced a TV show, lost all his money, somehow got rich again, and kept churning away with his business operations. All the same, in one unbelievable moment, the operator of this so-called Donald will “activate” him by showing him his “trigger,” the queen of diamonds, during a solitaire game.

All this talk about agent “activation” and the queen of diamonds is from the 1959 novel “The Manchurian Candidate” by Richard Condon, which became the basis for the 1969 movie-thriller of the same name, starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey (there was also a remake in 2004). One of the characters, Raymond Shaw, is a Soviet sleeper agent. Shaw is recruited, or rather, “programmed,” when, serving in the army during the Korean War, he is captured and kept in a secret Chinese-Soviet base in Manchuria. Chinese and Soviet hypnotists implant a program in his mind that puts him under the control of his operator—all of this, by the way, happens in a hall decked with portraits of Mao and Stalin. To shock the reader even more, the author makes the operator Shaw’s own mother, an American working for the communists. Her husband and Shaw’s stepfather, U.S. Sen. John Iselin, is explicitly based on Joseph McCarthy. The goal of the whole project is to ensure that Iselin becomes president of the United States, after which he will become a pro-communist puppet dictator. I won’t spoil the ending in case some want to watch the movie or read the book.

The theme of the “Manchurian candidate” was introduced into American public discussion a few weeks ago by economist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. He called his op-ed about the connections between Trump and Russia “The Siberian Candidate,” referencing the film and novel that have become famous in American pop culture. This was enough to raise the level of the Trump story to truly absurd heights. Comparing the situation to the classic communist paranoia story worked better, it seems to me, than the numerous articles recounting how the leader of Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort, worked as an advisor for Viktor Yanukovich, or how Trump’s foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, spent the mid-2000s working in Moscow, did consulting work for Gazprom, and continues to hold shares in the company (see, for example, Franklin Foer’s article “Putin’s Puppet,” in the July 21, 2016 issue of Slate).*

A large part of the American establishment and journalistic community is immersed in the paranoid world of the Manchurian Candidate and suspects that Trump has significant connections with Moscow. And where did all his money come from if he’s declared bankruptcy so many times? And does he have a relationship with Putin? Trump initially said “yes,” but later, “no.” And why is he for Crimea and against Ukraine? Or maybe he isn’t against Ukraine; it’s unclear because in his public speeches Trump covers his tracks well and shakes off the bits of actual political reality that sometimes find their way into his words by chance.

Trump’s connections with Russia are oblique. But the connection made via pop culture, via association with the famous story about the McCarthy era, via the very concept of suspicion, now has some straightforward action advancing it. The real history of the real Trump (and this we have to stress now) will be investigated a thousand times and described in journalistic and artistic prose. But for now, it’s my understanding that it’s still difficult, before the fact, to think up and act out a scenario where a candidate programmed in the laboratories of former Russian secret police and intelligence agency KGB, complete with weird hair, has made his way into an American election. Trump fancies himself something like a weapon, a weapon that short-circuits the minds of those who try to analyze him. This weapon was, after all, developed in the U.S., on TV reality shows, in the American media, and with the help of Trump’s salesman-like neuro-programming technology, which he tests everyday on his lab rats, the electorate. This is the secret mind control weapon of the 21st century: people who, with the help of the media, can win over massive audiences, and then explode their awareness.

Nevertheless, we can smell some kind of Kremlin influence here. And if Trump is a weapon that corrupts minds, then who’s minds exactly, if not America’s? And then who turned Trump into a weapon? And where did he really get so much money after declaring bankruptcy? And did he happen to be playing cards on the eve of the nomination?

*Translator’s note: Viktor Yanukovich was president of Ukraine when the Maidan protests erupted. The demonstrations and connected events caused him to flee the country. He has always been openly close to Putin. Gazprom is a large Russian energy company, partially owned by the Russian government and significantly involved in political affairs. In addition, the author stated that the issue of Slate containing Franklin Foer’s article was dated June 21 while it was in fact July 21.

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