A Soviet Level of Cynicism
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2016
Feeling dystopic ? It’s a great word, comes from the opposite of utopia, or the imaginary ideal place. Dystopia thus is the imaginary worst place. The after-the-event place. If you’re feeling dystopic these days, you have lots of company. I know some people who think everything will be fine, but I know more people who are preparing for catastrophe. (Note the poetry, dystopic, catastrophic, philosophic. The Greeks met the Romans, and then…)
I grew up in an American military family during the Cold War. There were few certainties more certain than that the Soviet Union was the enemy, and would stop at nothing to bring the United States to ruin. From cartoons (Boris and Natasha) to MAD magazine to Bond, James Bond, there was evil afoot and it was usually Soviet inspired. This was absorbed with the first film I saw -- Dr. No, Howard AFB, Panama, 1963 -- continued in the U.S. Army stories of my uncles (one in Berlin during the airlift, one in Czechoslovakia before the curtain came down), and reinforced by traveling in East Germany during college study abroad.
This never meant that the Russian people were our enemies. In our Cold War lexicon, the Russian people were the first victims of the Soviet state. They suffered the corruption and cronyism, the repression and scarcity of their system’s failings. This was propaganda, but it had some Truth. Pravda. I later learned that the Russians had the counter-version of our propaganda, believing that the American people suffered poverty, injustice and insecurity under the heel of the wealthy power elite. Which was its own Truth, da. It seemed that the people of both great nations had been fed some convenient lies.
During the glasnost years, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it seemed that the people on both sides had won. Russia would turn to democracy, the United States would work on its social equality, and progress would continue. Today that feels like a sweet summer dream. Vladimir Putin sharpened his teeth on Crimea and the Ukraine, testing the mettle of the West. His pronouncements on world issues are straight from the Soviet playbook, his ambitions to reconstruct the old Union on clear display. Then, most recently, he managed to manipulate the U.S. presidential election. (Had a Democrat won under those circumstances, the Republicans would have stopped at nothing to demand a new election. Where are they today?)
Thus it is entirely incomprehensible that the incoming presidential team is not only not anti-Putin, but openly, publicly close to him, even admiring. Is their arrogance such that they believe they can “work” with him? That Russia is an “ally” in the war on Islamist terror? Putin sends radioactive poisoners after his enemies; Trump tweets ugly names at his. Putin is not a man known for his smile, but I imagine he has been grinning ear-to-ear since November 9th. On the election manipulation, Trump sided with the Russians against the CIA. His language wallows in a Soviet level of cynicism, all counter-facts and value inversion. If you disagree, you are the problem. How much more Soviet can you get?
We thought the Cold War was over, and we thought we had won. Now it appears the Russians will have the upper hand, given to them by Trump on a golden platter. Cue the Bond music, and pray for a hero.