Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Putin Country

I just finished Anne Garrell's Putin Country: A Journey Into Real Russia. It was a nice easy read in the tradition of journalists who write books.  What it showed about Russia was fascinating by looking at Chelyabinsk, a medium sized city near Kazakhstan rather than a cosmopolitan city like Moscow or St. Petersburg.  As Sarah Palin might put it, It's real Russia, flyover country.

What comes across so clear in the book is the authoritarian mindset among the people of Russia.  Russia in the '90s was awful, chaotic and corrupt and catastrophic.  Putin brought order.  This gibes with something I read recently by Richard Hofstadter that most reform movements actually occur during good times, rather than bad times - the New Deal being an exception.  Bad times call forth the Hobbesian need for a strong, masculine leader, rather than a respect for difference and differences.

Listening to these Russian talk about themselves, their country and the world, it was hard not to hear the Republican base.  They hate gays.  They think women should stay home and serve the man, while also earning money, but no public day care.  They don't want the environment to stand in the way of jobs.  They hate the rest of the world.  They believe in a strong link between the church and state.  They hate Muslims.  They hate immigrants.  They prefer superstition to science.

But it is their sense of grievance that rings out most powerfully.  It is cultural rather than strictly economic.  Russia was a superpower, but 1989 changed all that.  Putin made Russia great again!  America tries to undermine Russia at every turn, and in fact the reason life in Russia mostly sucks is because of America and the West.  First, you can see why Russians would want to screw around in American elections.

Most of all, we can see how this broad sense of grievance in the developed world leads to figures like Putin, Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, Erdogan and Farage.  There is a growing tide of these figures who are rolling back the postwar global liberal order that seemed so promising in 1945 and again in 1993.  Oddly, their ambitions mesh nicely with the same fanatics who blow themselves up at a concert hall in Manchester.

Clearly the important need of the moment is to find someone who can lead the West - broadly speaking the liberal order of civil rights and liberties, tolerance and the rule of law - away from the authoritarians and the bigots.

Just as clearly, we don't have that person in the White House now.

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