I was searching desperately for a YouTube clip of the memorable climax of “Michael Clayton,” in which the soul-dead law firm fixer played by George Clooney reveals to the Machiavellian general counsel of an industrial polluter that he is wearing a wire and that she has just been recorded admitting to murder. I couldn’t find the clip , but that memorable line (The New York Times would have written, “You Are So F-worded,” which just doesn’t work as well, somehow) jumped into my head the second I saw the photos of dead Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, murdered in undeniable war crimes and thrown into ditches.
Putin and Russia are so fucked. Neither can come back from this. The only thing delaying the inevitable is the news blackout in Russia, but that can’t last too much longer. Putin is actually claiming that the bloody corpses are “actors”—Russians may have a self-destructive addiction to dictators, but they aren’t stupid. The latest horrible news from Putin’s unprovoked invasion—as if there hadn’t been too much all ready—clinches it. Russia is now globally reviled, and it won’t come back from that until Putin is dead or standing trial.
One reason ethics survives despite everything stacked against it is that human beings are hard-wired to care about what others think of them. No population wants to be hated, or have its nation seen as an international villain. This is a major reason President Reagan’s calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” helped to break down the Iron Curtain. In this instance, however, no one has to use labels. Russia’s conduct marks it as evil for all to see, and until they openly and decisively reject Putin, Russians will not be able to think of themselves as “good people.” Good people don’t follow psychopaths like Putin once they see what they really are.
Putin has no way out. Eventually his army will turn on him and the Russian people will too. It’s just a matter of time: human nature and the essence of ethics, human nature and history tells us so.
He is so fucked.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is a fool if he doesn’t quickly—like yesterday—issue a clear retraction of his earlier “smart” and “brilliant” comments. As I’ve written here more than once, it does not indicate “support” for one to say that a villain is smart, but Trump would do well to beware the Cognitive Dissonance Scale. His own careless rhetoric and the six-year-old Big Lie that he was Putin’s “cockholster,” in Stephen Colbert’s charming phrase, still has him linked to Putin, fairly or not. If Trump does not break that link now with the most unequivocal condemnation, beginning with “I was wrong about Vladimir Putin: he’s a deranged and dangerous fool,” then Trump is fucked.
And, like Putin, he’ll deserve it.