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When They’ll Do Anything to Stop Him

(Former President Donald Trump campaigns in Iowa on December 2, 2023. (Scott Olson/Getty Images))

“Although the Biden administration and his State Department are rightfully quick to denounce the persecution of Navalny and how Russia conducts its elections, there are many parallels between the Navalny saga and what is happening in the United States as we approach the 2024 United States presidential election.”

Exiling, jailing, or even murdering those who pose a challenge to entrenched political power has long been the modus operandi of authoritarian leaders and corrupt regimes worldwide. Russian President Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most notorious current leader associated with these techniques, and he has been accused of involvement in the poisonings of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and Alexei Navalny in 2020. Of course, death by poisoning with no witnesses leaves the Russian government with room for plausible deniability, and President Putin has denied any involvement, but that has not stopped the United States and its State Department from strongly condemning these actions, as well as consistently decrying any efforts abroad for leaders to sideline their domestic political opponents. 

In 2021, shortly after Navalny’s attempted assassination by poisoning a Moscow court outlawed organizations linked to Navalny, arguably Russia’s most prominent critic of President Putin, labeling them as “extremist.” The Russian government has tirelessly pursued Navalny with charges dating back to 2012 for alleged embezzlement. And, in 2022, Navalny was convicted of fraud and contempt of court and, since then, has been incarcerated, including spending considerable time in solitary confinement. In early December, around the time that President Putin announced his re-election bid, Navalny’s lawyers lost contact with him, and his whereabouts were unknown until December 25th, when perhaps due to global scrutiny, he resurfaced in a remote prison colony north of the Arctic Circle.

At various points, the United States government has strongly condemned the Russian government’s cases and actions against Navalny. In reaction to Russia designating Navalny-affiliated organizations as “extremist,” State Department spokesman Ned Price stated: “With this action, Russia has effectively criminalized one of the country’s few remaining independent political movements…This is not the first time Russian authorities have labeled groups ‘extremist’ in order to stigmatize supporters and justify abuses against them.” And, in August of this year, Matthew Miller, another State Department spokesman, condemned Navalny’s charges: “The United States condemns a Russian court’s further sentencing and conviction of opposition politician and anti-corruption campaigner [Alexei] Navalny to an additional 19 years in prison on unfounded charges of so-called ‘extremism.’ This is an unjust conclusion to an unjust trial. For years, the Kremlin has attempted to silence Navalny and prevent his calls for transparency and accountability from reaching the Russian people.”

The 2024 Russian presidential election is three months away. As was the case in the 2018 presidential election, Navalny is barred from running due to having been convicted of a crime. Few international observers expect the Russian election to be anything close to “free and fair.” Instead, the upcoming presidential election will take place under the close control of President Putin, who has been accused of upping his authoritarian tendencies since ordering the invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022.

Although the Biden administration and his State Department are rightfully quick to denounce the persecution of Navalny and how Russia conducts its elections, there are many parallels between the Navalny saga and what is happening in the United States as we approach the 2024 United States presidential election. The Department of Justice and Special Counsel Jack Smith are pursuing former President Trump with reckless abandon. And, in addition to being persecuted by their respective governments, President Trump and Navalny arguably have overlap in their political priorities. Just as President Trump promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. while decrying the influence of special interests, Navalny has focused on battling the oligarch class that has drained Russia’s wealth since the 1990s. On  his Instagram page in 2019, Navalny wrote, “When corruption is the foundation of the government, fighters against corruption are cast as extremists…We will not abandon our goals and ideas. It’s our country, and we don’t have another one.” (Like President Trump, Navalny is also an opponent of illegal immigration.)

While President Putin is ensuring that he faces no legitimate challenges to his rule, the Biden administration is doing the same by continuing the groundwork laid by the Obama administration and doing precisely what the Putin government has done: using the powers of government and a campaign of lawfare to sideline President Trump, President Biden’s chief political rival. The irony though appeared lost on former United States Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who served from 2012 to 2014 and wrote on X that: “Strong leaders defeat their opponents in free and fair elections. Weak leaders arrest their opponents.” When his tweet was reposted on August 1, 2023, over one thousand times by readers perceiving it as supporting President Trump, McFaul engaged in damage control and walked back his previous tweet. Nevertheless, the damage was done in terms of pointing out the hypocrisy. 

The recent stunt of the 4-3 decision by the Colorado Supreme Court, a court in which Democratic governors appointed every court member, to remove President Trump from the 2024 ballot was stunning. And it was followed by his removal from the ballot in Maine by state Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, citing the Fourteenth Amendment’s insurrection clause. It is vital to understand that President Trump has not been convicted of insurrection and, thus, has been denied due process. Although this is still a fluid situation with President Trump now back on the ballot in Colorado after the Colorado Republican Party filed an appeal of the state’s Supreme Court decision, it has made people the world over realize that the United States lectures other countries about the need for free and fair elections without practicing them at home. As El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele tweeted on December 19th in response to the Colorado Supreme Court decision, “The United States has lost its ability to lecture any other country about ‘democracy.'”

Now, there have been many cases worldwide when governments indicted presidential candidates like Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, and Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim. For those of us who support President Trump, to learn that all of the above engineered political comebacks after being barred from politics following convictions or imprisonment is reassuring. Americans instinctively see through the politicized cases against him, remember his accomplishments as President, and are standing with him.

On the other hand, at risk of sounding conspiratorial, in light of current events, I am genuinely concerned for the safety and well-being of President Trump, as is Steve Bannon, who served as White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President in 2017. If President Trump mysteriously fell from a window like the Russians who criticize President Putin,  his underwear was daubed with Novichok,  or he was served a Polonium-210 sushi roll, his demise would be celebrated by many progressives who gush with glee at his every misfortune, just as they celebrated when he was de-platformed and removed from the ballots in Colorado and Maine. Perhaps partially driven by guilt for a situation they helped to bring about or to provide cover for nefarious forces within the federal government, I can anticipate monologues delivered by pundits on CNN and MSNBC not necessarily justifying and condoning such acts but explaining that President Trump made many enemies with his divisive rhetoric, thus ending up reaping what he had sowed. 

To his detractors, the massive number of indictments against President Trump is evidence of his unworthiness for the job of President of the United States. To his supporters, the indictments reflect, as Victor Davis Hanson asserts, “two sets of laws for two Americas,” one for President Trump and the other for President Biden. Then, there is the hypocrisy of the United States government that lectures others about the sanctity of democracy but engages in the same practices they claim to abhor. Even California Governor Gavin Newsom agrees that removing President Trump from the ballot is a mistake, though for different reasons. Governor Newsom believes it is necessary for the Democratic Party to prove that President Trump can be defeated in the upcoming election without judicial sleight of hand and tomfoolery.

It is important to remember how indignant the liberal American media was when Russian courts disqualified Navalny, even though many abroad consider him racist, xenophobic, and nativist, as they do President Trump. If Democrats succeed in eliminating President Trump from the upcoming electoral process through judicial maneuvering, no subsequent president, politician, or public figure will feel secure when participating in any federal election, regardless of the amount of public support he may enjoy. Elections will no longer mean much in the United States. As the Left continues to curtail the speech of those it opposes and unfairly hinders the electoral prospects of its political opponents, the similarities between the Russian and United States governments become apparent as we move towards an increasingly unfree and authoritarian United States.

Tony D. Senatore is a graduate of Columbia University, and, in addition to contributing periodically to Merion West, he maintains a blog at The Times of Israel

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