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The true collusion: Trump and Russian literature

It may seem like the billionaires in Russia — Aras Agalarov, Dmitry Rybolovlev, Viktor Vekselberg — and agents with like-sounding and Scrabble-winning names like Konstantin Kilimnik are the ones directing Trump like a marionette from points east. 

But I am more afraid that he has been getting his cues from Russian literature — and that is far more dangerous.

I’ve been on a tear compiling the evidence.  And my report, like Robert Mueller’s, is at last complete, so permit me to submit the following — something for us to muller-ovich.  

We can use our true strength — our democracy — to let our own community of Journal readers decide.

Let’s start at the bottom. With prostitutes and bunnies and payoffs and crotch-grabbers. Trump and his circle sure love the ladies! And — prostitutes are everywhere in Russian literature! Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Sonia Marmeladova, from “Crime and Punishment” (1866). Leo Tolstoy’s great story “Resurrection” (1899) and Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov’s affair. Of course, some of these women are inspirational and compassionate — some even show great wisdom. Stormy Marmeladova!   

Second, what about cheesy, petty little criminals? Everywhere in Russian literature! And they’re everywhere in Trump’s Cabinet! Isaac Babel’s character Benya Krik — a crook and wheedler from the Black Sea — he’s like a cross between Charles Dickens’ crime lord Fagin, from “Oliver Twist,” and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.  

Coincidence? I don’t think so.   

Third, fakers and liars — working the system through fraud — skinflint charlatan bureaucrats. Virtually lifted from the pages of Russian literature! Chichikov, Pavel Ivanovich, the mysterious swindler-star of Nikolai Gogol’s unfinished masterpiece “Dead Souls” (1842) — like, excuse me, but do I hear Ryan Zinke, liar-fraudster, ringing the doorbell? Zinke rode a horse into Washington, if I remember right; Chichikov, flagrant grifter though he is, at least comes to visit in a troika!

Speaking of Gogol: What about the “Inspector General,” that masterpiece play (1836)? Anton Antonovich, Ivan Alexandrovich Khlestakov — everyone bribing each other and lying to one another — it could have been set plumb in the middle of Trump’s 2016 campaign! 

Speaking of which, which is to say a barrel of stanky sordid peopleage, Maxim Gorky’s “The Lower Depths” (1902) could be the name of the White House human resources department.  

Or is that already taken by Dostoyevsky’s “The Demons” (1872). . . ?

And power-hungry bastards who are evil? Don’t even go there! Think Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is an original? Forget about it. Try on some 20th-century Russian literature: Vladimir Sorokin’s “Day of the Oprichnik” (2006), for example, with hallucinatory torture scenes that actually can rival the torture Pompeo oversaw in Iraq, Cuba, all the worldwide renditions — you name it!  

It’s like (shhhh) we’reliving in Russian literature.

The sound you hear — the Mueller investigation coming closer, Ivanka, Jared, and whatever those other children are called — it’s the sound of the ax in Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” (1904). The family fortune falling, maybe, failing, swirling down the septic tank . . . . 

Puppets? Freaks? Just dig a little.  

I wish it could be funnier. Russian and Soviet satire is full of more of this — like the peerless short stories from the 1920s of the great Mikhail Zoshchenko, about government pettiness and dumb bumblers. Yuri Olesha wrote a whole novella called “Envy” (1927), which is what Trump clearly has for President Obama and Mueller and others with society-certified credentials and accomplishments.  

In the end, he and his whole Cabinet — his whole team — really are a bunch of nefarious hooligans and misfits from right out of Russian literature.  

Collusion! Right there in black and white.  

And we haven’t even gotten to the poetry. Or the absurdists!  

Of course, where do many of these real-life characters belong? Well, that’s for the next Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote both fiction and nonfiction (and, boy, did he know prison camps!), to chronicle. 

I can’t wait!  

Peter B. Kaufman works at MIT and also directs Read Russia, a nonprofit that promotes Russian literature in translation.