One of the worst things you can call a black person is a sellout.
The phrasing doesn’t require context; nor does the person hurling the insult need to explain his or her intent. It’s pretty basic: If you’re willing to throw your people under the bus in order to promote your selfish ambitions and cuddle up with the (white) man, you’re a sellout.
While I have strived to divorce myself from using such language for the sake of productive dialogue, I cannot help exploring the cases of Donald Trump and former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, both of whom sold out their respective countries for closer proximity to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The main link between these two sellouts: Paul Manafort.
It makes sense that Manafort, who spent 10 years in Ukraine advising Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions, would eventually take the helm of Trump’s presidential campaign. To be sure, Yanukovych is very much like Trump. His only interests in Ukraine were to get rich and maintain power, according to John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2004 to 2006. Likewise, Trump cares little about policy and more about ratcheting up racial anxiety among his base to maintain his hold on the Oval Office—not to mention he’s also using it as a cash cow.
Yanukovych, who was convicted of robbery and assault as a younger man, was widely considered a corrupt politician as an adult, and his Party of Regions has long been believed to have Mafia ties. Manafort cleaned up Yanukovych’s image, teaching him how to deliver a speech even though the American spoke no Russian or Ukrainian. Manafort instructed him on how to expand his base beyond the Russian-speaking minorities who backed him in the eastern part of the country. In 2004, Yanukovych ran for president and won, but the election was rife with voter fraud, leading to mass protests and, eventually, a do-over that was won by his pro-Western opponent, Viktor Yushchenko.
Though Yanukovych lost, Manafort earned a role as a top adviser to the Party of Regions and would plot for the next election in 2010, which Yanukovych would eventually win in a very close race. One of the first controversial moves Yanukovych made was to extend the lease of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, set to expire in 2017, to at least 2042. For many Ukrainians who feared Russia’s territorial ambitions for Ukraine, Yanukovych’s move was a clear sign that Kiev would be under Moscow’s thumb for decades to come.
During his time in office, Yanukovych would eventually run the country into the ground and steal billions of dollars from its coffers, according to Ukrainian officials. Manafort was allegedly paid more than $28 million for his work over the period he was in Ukraine. For his part, Manafort insists that he wanted to coach the Party of Regions and Yanukovych to become more Westernized and less corrupt.
The final straw for Ukrainians tired of Yanukovych came in 2013, when he reneged on signing the European Union Association Agreement that many Ukrainians supported at the time and felt would pull the country closer to better economic opportunities in the West. Putin was against the deal and threatened Yanukovych politically if he went through with it.
Yanukovych caved, and again, in less than 10 years, people stormed the streets, this time calling for Yanukovych’s resignation. He responded by allegedly ordering the nation’s security services to fire into crowds of protesters, killing dozens of them. Snipers were even used to terrorize protesters, Ukrainian officials allege. And, to add insult to injury, Yanukovych called on Russia to use force to put down his own people’s protests because he lacked the leadership to look them in the eye after falling out of their favor.
If calling on another nation’s military to suppress protests in your own country isn’t a sellout move, I really do not know what is. Yanukovych eventually fled and is in hiding in Russia under the care of Putin, who would eventually annex Crimea, a region in east Ukraine, and back rebels in eastern Ukraine who are waging war against Kiev. Yep, Yanukovych is chillin’ in Russia with folks who do not really want Ukraine to be its own nation.
This, folks, was the man Manafort backed for 10 years. A pure sellout to his people and his country.
So when Manafort left Ukraine in 2014, it would make sense for him to eventually see an opportunity in backing Trump, a man who is as much a sellout as Yanukovych. We didn’t know in the beginning of Trump’s campaign, but his top aides were allegedly forming very suspect alliances with Russians who reportedly have ties to the Kremlin. Carter Page, Mike Flynn, Manafort himself and others would eventually have to leave the Trump campaign because of those suspicious ties.
Trump, curiously, has yet to say anything negative about Putin despite criticizing former President Barack Obama for allowing Russia to invade Ukraine. Trump said nothing as it became clear that Putin was meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which U.S. intelligence officials believe was done to support Trump. To this day, he has yet to condemn Russia for its actions. To the contrary, he has created a voter-fraud commission that will likely lead to voter suppression of black and brown Americans.
If you remember, Trump encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, a pure sellout thing to do. Manafort would not stay on to lead Trump to his November victory, but Manafort’s efforts to put a Kremlin puppet in the White House reveal how willing he is to help world leaders sell out their countries for access to Russia.
Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is in the thick of his investigation, so we are still learning the details of Manafort’s ties to Russia and any possible ties to the Trump campaign. But one thing is very clear: Manafort is tied to two world leaders who sold out their countries at the expense of risking their sovereignty to an expansionist Kremlin.
The thing about sellouts is that they are ostracized and shunned by their people. Or at least they should be. Ukrainians did the right thing and revolted against Yanukovych, sending him to Russia, where he belongs. Americans should get Trump and his ilk one-way tickets to Moscow as well. But unlike Ukrainians, many white folks here actually support Trump being a sellout to Putin. So that leaves us to depend on Mueller, who is expected to force Trump’s inner circle to account for what appears to be collusion with Moscow.
Manafort was charged with 12 counts on Monday, including conspiracy against the United States, but there was one missing: being the adviser of sellouts.