WASHINGTON — On June 18, 2001, I attended Vladimir V. Putin’s first meeting with the American news media. We were seated at a large round table in the wood-paneled Kremlin Library. It was still early in Mr. Putin’s presidency, and we weren’t sure what to expect of this ex-K.G.B. spy fresh off the famous summit meeting where President George W. Bush had gotten “a sense of his soul” and pronounced him “trustworthy.” After we were kept waiting for what felt like hours, Mr. Putin finally arrived a little after 8 p.m., sat down and took questions until nearly midnight.
华盛顿——2001年6月18日，我参加了弗拉基米尔·V·普京(Vladimir V. Putin)与美国新闻媒体的第一次见面会。我们坐在装饰着木质墙板的克里姆林图书馆内一张大大的圆桌旁。当时普京才出任总统没多久，刚刚参加完一次世人皆知的峰会，乔治·W·布什(George W. Bush)在会上“对他的灵魂有了些许了解”，并宣布他“值得信任”，但我们还不太确定该对这名前克格勃间谍寄予什么样的期望。我们好像等了几个小时的光景，晚上8点过后，普京终于到场，坐下来回答问题，直到午夜将至。
When it was my turn, I asked about the brutal war against separatists in the southern province of Chechnya. His long answer makes for striking reading all these years later: It combined media-bashing (we were failing to sufficiently cover atrocities committed by the separatists, he said); anti-Islamic sentiment (“What do you suggest we should do? Talk with them about biblical values?”); and the insistence that he had to attack in Chechnya to keep the rest of Russia safe. As the night went on, he proposed American-Russian operations against the real threat in the world, Islamic terrorists, and proclaimed his patriotic plan to restore the country after the economic reverses of the previous decade.
Sound familiar? Mr. Putin’s slogan back in 2001 might as well have been Make Russia Great Again.
We are four weeks into Donald J. Trump’s presidency, and Mr. Putin, in power 17 years and not going anywhere anytime soon, is everywhere in American politics. A shirtless Mr. Putin is a regular figure of parody on “Saturday Night Live,” portrayed as a character witness (or is that handler?) for the president of the United States. His hackers’ meddling haunted the American general election. A leaked dossier purporting to contain possible Russian blackmail material on Mr. Trump dominated headlines for weeks.
我们在四周前迎来了唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)总统，而领导俄罗斯已有17年、且在相当一段时间内不会谢幕的普京，似乎在美国政治中无所不在。《周六夜现场》(Saturday Night Live)节目常常找人来戏仿赤裸上身的普京，让他充当美国总统的品德证人（或者可以称之为操控者？）。一份遭到泄露的档案曾占据新闻头条长达数周，其中据称或许含有俄罗斯可以用来勒索特朗普的材料。
And last week, Russian entanglements resulted in the quick dumping of the national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn (although Mr. Flynn was ultimately cut loose not for his apparent discussion with the Russian ambassador about lifting American sanctions, but for lying about it to the vice president). A day later, news emerged that associates of Mr. Trump had been in contact with Russian intelligence in the year before the election.
再就是上周，跟俄罗斯人牵扯不清导致国家安全顾问迈克尔·T·弗林(Michael T. Flynn)被迅速解职（不过，弗林最终被踢出局，并不是因为他似乎和俄罗斯大使讨论了解除美国对俄制裁这一话题，而是因为就此事对副总统说了谎）。一天后有消息称，特朗普的助手在大选前的一年里便和俄罗斯情报人员有过接触。
Mr. Trump has made clear for months that he doesn’t just admire the Russian president’s macho persona but considers him, as he said during the campaign, more of a “leader” than President Barack Obama. As recently as this month, in a pre-Super Bowl interview on Fox, Mr. Trump refused to condemn Mr. Putin’s repressive government. No surprise then that Mr. Trump’s unseemly embrace of the Russian tough guy has given rise to a million conspiracy theories.
特朗普数月来一直明确表示，他不仅钦慕俄罗斯总统普京的男子气概，而且就如他在竞选期间所言，还认为普京比贝拉克·奥巴马(Barack Obama)总统更像一名领导人。就在本月，特朗普在超级碗(Super Bowl)赛事举办前接受福克斯(Fox)采访时，还拒绝谴责普京的专制政府。因此，特朗普对这位俄罗斯硬汉不甚得体的逢迎会催生出大量阴谋论也就不足为奇了。
But we no longer have to speculate about conspiracies or engage in armchair psychoanalysis. Since the inauguration, we have accumulated some hard facts, too: Both Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and actions as president bear more than a passing resemblance to those of Mr. Putin during his first years consolidating power. Having spent those years in Moscow as a foreign correspondent — and the rest of my career as a journalist in Washington in four previous presidencies — I can tell you the similarities are striking enough that they should not be easily dismissed.
Of course, in personality these two are very different: Mr. Trump is impulsive where Mr. Putin is controlled, with temper tantrums and public rants contrasting with the Russian’s cold calculation and memorized briefing books. But their oddly similar political views and approach to running their (very different) countries may turn out to be just as important as the Russia-related scandals now erupting around Mr. Trump. You don’t have to think he is some kind of agent of Russia to worry about the course he’s taking us down.
The media-bashing and outrageous statements. The attacks on rival power centers, whether stubborn federal judges or corporations refusing to get in line. The warnings, some of them downright panic-inducing, that the country is not safe — and we must go to war with Islamic extremists because they are threatening our way of life. These are the techniques that Mr. Putin used to great effect in his first years in power, and they are very much the same tactics and clash-of-civilizations ideology being deployed by Mr. Trump today.
Early Putin was positively Trumpian, his presidency a blitz of convention-defying that conjured up the image of a leader on the march after President Boris Yeltsin’s drunken stumbles and the economic uncertainties of the late 1990s. He had the state take over the first independent national TV network, he turned the state Duma into a pocket parliament, he went after uppity oligarchs. He said things that politicians didn’t normally say, like vowing to rub out the Chechen opposition “in the outhouse” and threatening to castrate a French reporter who asked a question he didn’t like.
Despite the evidence, Kremlin watchers in the early 2000s took a long time to see Mr. Putin for the autocrat he would become. At the time, many people believed Russia, after the turmoil of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, was finally headed for a few decades of stability. Where some, correctly, saw a hard-line former K.G.B. spy determined to restore a strong state, others persisted in seeing a would-be Western-style reformer. “Who is Mr. Putin?” a foreign reporter famously asked early in his tenure.
In retrospect, the best guide to his actions should have been his statements. Mr. Putin did exactly what he said he would do. I’ve thought a lot about that over the last year, as Americans have puzzled over Mr. Trump’s surprising rise, and whether he really means all those outrageous things he says and plans to follow through with the policy shifts he promises.
Like Mr. Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan today, Mr. Putin’s version of making Russia great again wasn’t particularly ideological, but its gauzy patriotic nationalism basically summed up the Putin plan for making a weakened and demoralized superpower feel better about itself. Mr. Putin considered the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century, and even if we Americans didn’t always understand what he was up to, he never deviated from his real goal: consolidating authority in the Kremlin.
This may be precisely what Mr. Trump admires the most about Mr. Putin. In a March 1990 interview with Playboy, Mr. Trump, who had been hoping to build a luxury hotel in Moscow, described his impression of the last days of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. “Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it,” the future American president said. “That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”
Mr. Putin’s hand has clearly been much tougher. Despite all the apparent reverses, confusion, corruption, lies and economic setbacks in Russia, he remains in control 17 years after his unbelievably unlikely ascent from obscure K.G.B. lieutenant colonel to president of Russia. And that, too, may be part of what Mr. Trump, another unlikely president still so insecure about his rise to the White House that he constantly brings up his election, sees in Mr. Putin and authoritarian rulers like him. He views them as tough guys who speak of strength more than freedom and often seem to judge their success by their own ability to stay in power.
I recently asked Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, why he thinks Mr. Trump has such apparent affinity for Mr. Putin. He shook his head. “I do think there is a degree of admiration for a strongman, I’m sorry,” he said. His other theory was that Mr. Trump sees himself as a sort of superhero who would forge a strong bond with Mr. Putin “to show he has the ability to do things that no other president has been able to do.”
我最近问过参议院外交关系委员会(Senate Foreign Relations Committee)主席鲍勃·考克(Bob Corker)，在他看来，特朗普如此明显地喜爱普京的原因是什么。他摇了摇头，“我的确认为存在一定程度的对铁腕人物的钦慕，我很抱歉，”他说。他的另一个看法是，特朗普认为自己是某种超级英雄，和普京建立紧密的关系“可以显示出，他有能力去做其他总统无法做到的事情”。
And this is a Republican who hopes to do business with the Trump administration.
America is not burdened with the history of tyranny and totalitarianism that haunts Russia. We have a 229-year record of success with constitutional democracy that should long outlive the Trump era. And while the trappings and powers attached to the “imperial presidency” Mr. Trump now wields have been growing ever since the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. popularized that phrase during the Nixon era, we also have robust counterbalancing institutions, like a free and independent press and a federal judiciary, that are already demonstrating a deep resistance to the kind of political steamroller techniques that Mr. Putin deployed so effectively in Russia.
美国没有困扰着俄罗斯的暴政与极权主义的历史负担。我们有长达229年的宪政民主成功纪录，它应该会延续到特朗普时代之后。特朗普现在处在“皇帝总统”(imperial presidency)的位置，这个词是历史学家小阿瑟·M·施莱辛格( Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. )在尼克松时代普及的，从那之后，其声威与权力一直都在增长；与此同时，我们也有强大的平衡制度，比如自由独立的媒体以及联邦司法机构，它们都已经展示出了对那种普京在俄罗斯有效施展的种种政治碾压战术的深刻抵制。
Still, as I report from Washington now, it’s hard not to worry. When I moved to Moscow the year Mr. Putin became president, it was only a decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse. Many Russians still hoped their country would become more like the Western countries they had so recently been barred from even visiting. For all the popularity of Mr. Putin’s battle against what he belittled as the chaotic freedoms of the 1990s, I met many people in Russia who yearned for the time when they would take their place at the table of “normal,” stable democracies.
Who would have thought that, 17 years later, the question is not about Russia’s no-longer-existing democracy, but America’s?