Click Here for Part I of this series.
Welcome to the second part of my series geared towards Americans about to experience the Trump regime. Drawing from my experience both living and traveling in 21st century authoritarian “soft” dictatorships, I’m doing my part by giving you a preview of what you have to look forward to.
In the previous installment, I talked about how the basic frames of discourse will change so that it’s no longer a matter of regime supporters seeing your dissenting views as misguided or wrong, but rather the very idea that you sincerely hold any beliefs will be challenged. You’ll be called a shill or a “disinfo” agent. You actually know that those opinions you’re expressing are wrong or immoral, but you’re just online saying them because you are being paid to do so, because you just want to destroy America by any means possible, or at best- you’re “virtue signaling” in hopes of getting praise for beliefs you don’t even really hold.
Does that sound bad? It gets worse. Way worse.
Many thinking folks have noticed a number of glaring inconsistencies within what we might call conservative values (yes, we see many among “liberal” or “progressive” values as well, don’t get triggered, conservative readers). For example, many conservatives are die-hard opponents of abortion and call themselves pro-life. But once you’re out of the womb- piss off! “I don’t wanna spend muh tax dollars feedin’ yer kid! No affordable housing, no healthcare, no food stamps, no education! What’s that? A trillion dollar fighter plane that blows stuff up? Sure!”
I could go on but you get the idea. At least you should, because this isn’t going to be one of those “conservatives say they believe this, but they support that” articles. I’m sure you can find dozens of those on Alternet, Salon, or some equally insipid site where liberals pat themselves on the back for being so educated and enlightened. This series is about going deeper and looking at more subtle aspects. It’s not about pointing out how people often have inconsistent values, but rather how in the new type of authoritarian state like Russia, the very idea of trying to have a consistent worldview or ideology is discarded.
Let’s go back to the conservative analogy and compare George W. Bush to Donald Trump. Admit it, liberals, you’re starting to get nostalgic, aren’t you? But seriously, look at them. Both did very well with fundamentalist Christians. The difference is that Bush in many ways at least projected the image of the evangelical Christian ideal, whereas Trump is the opposite.
Both Trump and Bush are very rich men who benefited from daddy, but Bush lived in Texas on a ranch. He wore cowboy hats, dammit! He cultivated an image of a down-home cowboy that “you’d like to have a beer with.” He didn’t deny a hedonistic rich-kid lifestyle in his past- instead he embraced it as part of a “come to Jesus” moment. In fundamentalist Christian circles this is often referred to as a “testimony.” Let me tell you, those fundamentalist Christians love them some testimonies.
Even behind the scenes, Bush seemed sincere about his Christian beliefs. He did open cabinet meetings with a prayer and he held Bible study sessions in the White House. In spite of the reality of his policies, if you were a Christian voter who cherishes “family values,” Bush basically walked the walk. Voting for him would be logical and ideologically consistent.
Trump is another matter entirely. He’s a slick-talking east coast businessman with a solid record of leaning liberal, paling around with various liberal celebrities including the Clintons. He doesn’t talk about religion, he never admits even the slightest mistake, and rather than projecting an image of humility, he flaunts his own hedonism. He rails against the elite but he obviously is one of the elite. Trump is so anti-Christian that he almost resembles a character in some Christian movie. The arrogant, decadent businessman who worships money and fame, but then either has a near death experience that leads him to Jesus, or dies and finds out that money can’t buy his way out of eternal damnation in hell. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
And yet- fundamentalists voted for the man in droves, well, white ones, at least. If you dig a little deeper it gets a little more complicated, but we’re still talking about a large portion of Christians voting for a man whose behavior practically screams “I don’t give a damn about your beliefs.” To be fair, there were rumors circulating in the fundie community about Hillary being a literal witch even in the early 90’s (clearly spread by time-traveling RT operatives from our time; this explains their massive budget). Still, I doubt that can explain why so many white evangelicals would vote for a man who is practically a character from a Left Behind novel.
This isn’t just about Christians either. Take a look at the neo-Nazis backing Trump such as David Duke. Trump’s already made it clear that he’s going to be staunchly pro-Israel. Trump’s son-in-law is Jewish and is set to take an important position in the White House. A man like Trump, based on where he lives and the business he does there, has to have or had at least dozens of Jewish friends, partners, employees, and acquaintances. And yet the neo-Nazis, for the most part, still rally behind him. And if you think it’s because Trump doesn’t have enough Jewish contacts I can tell you right now you don’t know neo-Nazis. They can take any social phenomenon that upsets them, any event whatsoever, delve deep into it until they find one person involved whose wife is “1/16th Jewish,” and PRESTO! That whole thing is just another part of the massive global Jewish conspiracy and “ZOG” (Zionist Occupied Government).
And what about the alt-right? I think that movement’s way to nebulous and small to explain Trump’s victory, but I do see it as a potential model to give you an idea of what the future of American politics are going to look like- no coherent ideology, just trolling of perceived outsiders. Most alt-righters look like the type of people who would last maybe ten minutes in a group of real Nazi skinheads before getting heart-checked and stomped into the pavement. And I know evangelical Christians wouldn’t want to personally associate with people who spend a great deal of their time online requesting anime porn. Yet both of those groups found themselves in a coalition with those “deplorables” and nobody seemed to stop and ask “what the hell are we doing with these guys?” Ideology, just didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was supporting Trump and opposing Hillary.
Back to Russia. Contrary to the speculation of many Western commentators, Putin’s regime doesn’t really have a concrete ideology- it is pragmatic and survival based. More importantly, even to this day it does not promote any ideology beyond a vague “patriotism,” which means supporting Putin or at not rocking the boat, and of course hating those who fail to do either for being “traitors” and puppets of the West. If the Putin regime had tried to enforce any one ideology, even if it wasn’t terribly consistent, they would paint themselves into a corner like the Soviet Union did. Instead, the system is far simpler. Believe what you want, just don’t rock the boat.
Of course there are certain key concepts the Kremlin wants to drill into people’s heads. Russia is surrounded by enemies that conspire against it. Russia is exceptional and must make its own path. Russia needs a strong leader to be stable, etc. As long as you are publicly espousing such values, not opposing the state, and preferably advancing the state’s interests in some ways, you’re welcome to take on any ideology you want. You can call yourself a Communist and support alliances with ultra-right reactionaries if not espouse far right-wing beliefs yourself. You can be a monarchist and talk about how Stalin ruined Russia. What matters is only loyalty and usefulness to the state.
There’s a perfect example of this if you look at the way Russian propaganda associates Ukraine with Nazism.
Suppose you’re a radical leftist who supports progressive causes, opposes the far-right in Ukraine the same way you do anywhere in the world, openly denounces the cult of Stepan Bandera and its attempts to distort history, openly criticize genuine problems with the government in Kyiv, but you also support Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity without compromise and staunchly oppose Russian aggression there. Or in other words, suppose you’re like me.
Well I’ve got bad news for you- that last bit about supporting Ukraine makes you a Nazi or at least a Nazi sympathizer. It doesn’t matter than your political views are diametrically opposed to those of neo-Nazis or the far right. Unfair? Wait- it gets even better.
Imagine on the other hand you’re actually a literal neo-Nazi who hates Jews and other races. You literally believe in eugenics, deny or minimize the Holocaust, and think that the US was on the “wrong side” in WWII. But you admire Putin and support Russia because you stupidly think it “opposes world Jewry” or some such nonsense. Therefore you support Russian aggression in Ukraine and express that support on the internet.
If that’s you, there’s good news! You’re not a Nazi! I’ve encountered these characters dozens of times. In some cases they espouse beliefs that are literally identical to the actual German Nazis, and in the same incoherent rant they’ll refer to Ukrainian Nazis (whom they sometimes accuse of being “controlled by Jews”). Hell, one of RT’s “political analysts” who’s reported from Russian-occupied Ukraine on numerous occasions was actually the editor of a neo-Nazi magazine in Germany. I’ve been told he’s still cited as a political expert by other Russian state media. And he’s by no means the only far right reactionary who gets a platform at RT, let alone other Russian state media. So much for tirelessly struggling against fascism.
If all that seems confusing to you, it’s because you’ve misunderstood the term fascist or Nazi. See in the Kremlin parlance, fascism and Nazism have nothing to do with those actual ideologies. It’s rather a question of do you support or oppose Russia’s foreign policy in Ukraine. In Syria failure to support Russia and the Assad regime might make you a “terrorist apologist,” “ISIS supporter,” etc. It doesn’t matter if you abhor both of those groups and hope for a peaceful, secular Syria. Support the regime or terrorist.
At the same time look at what’s happening from the outside. While Russia has in some ways rehabilitated the Soviet Union and practically turned the Soviet victory in 1945 into a national cult, they make the most headway abroad among far-rightists, many of whom openly proclaim themselves to be die-hard anti-Communists and who refer to the “United Socialist States of America” or the “European Soviet Union.” Bring up these inconsistencies with either those right-wingers or their comrades in Russia and you won’t even faze them. The very concept that someone involved in politics should make an effort to have consistent ideological values or a coherent ideology is simply unknown to them (to be fair, I’ve encountered the same behavior with some far leftists).
The recent warming of conservative Republicans toward Russia is a perfect example of how even the bare minimum of a coherent ideology is starting to slip in America. Many conservatives still see Russia as “the Soviet Union,” the “commies.” And here its president is an ex-KGB employee (I’m sorry, I’m not going to dignify him anymore by calling him an agent) and yet they’re starting to praise and defend him because he says flattering things about Trump and he makes Obama and Hillary mad. It wasn’t like this under Bush. Under Bush, the Russian government was still espousing bullshit about safeguarding “traditional Western values” and partnering with the US in the “War on Terror,” yet Putin criticized the Iraq War (and benefited from it) so he was just another America-hater. Foreigners didn’t get to criticize anything America did. It’s also worth noting that the same people would later erupt in violent rage after Obama “apologized for America” in his Cairo speech.
So that’s the next thing to be on the lookout for- the disappearance of ideology in favor of a very rudimentary tribalism. Ideological coherency will be degraded, principles discarded. All that matters is being in the right coalition, the right side of the fence. Trump will never try to promote a particular set of values or ideology, partially because he is simply too stupid and disconnected from reality to even contemplate such a thing, but his PR people won’t either. When you start setting values, principles, ideology, etc., you’re bound to have splits and conflict. Furthermore, people with principles can organize, give and receive solidarity, and make a stand on those principles instead of being bought off- all very dangerous to power. Better for them to be atomized and have a simple us vs. them attitude. As long as they’re fearful, angry, and most importantly- at each other’s throats, power, and that includes the Democratic establishment as well, is quite safe.
What do I recommend? Start with yourself. Continually reexamine your own values and beliefs and try to explain them. Strive for consistency. Do not avoid debate with those who are willing to argue in good faith. Seriously challenge yourself. Weed out those beliefs or behaviors that smack of hypocrisy to the best of your ability. Even many of the most conservative Americans have far more respect for integrity and sincerity than they ever will for the ultra-edgy, hyper-alienated losers whose only joy in life consists of trying to make people “mad” on the internet and long sessions of masturbation to increasingly perverted fetish porn.
What’s at stake? American political life. Once the cynicism reaches a certain point, people stop caring out of sheer apathy or the daily struggle to survive. They start ticking the boxes. Politicians take note and start doing far less to appeal to the electorate since the electorate doesn’t care. Politics becomes reality TV, as it has been for quite some time in Russia.