So today’s one of those days when I get to satisfy the Kremlin-loving “Why don’t you write about THE WEST?!” crowd. Yes, folks, America is in deep shit now, and it’s probably going to get worse. What Russians on all points of the political spectrum need to understand is that while key differences between the current Russian system and American democracy have major impact on society and living standards, this in no way means the American system is vastly superior, nor is it invulnerable to decay and degeneration. No, you’re not going to see me endorse the “America’s gonna collapse” nonsense, but anyone living below the minimum democracy line needs to understand that Americans are walking a fine line themselves.
Alright then. Trump. What more can I say about him? I don’t much feel like going into a long dialectical polemic and repeating what others have said on the matter. Instead I’d like to expose the reader to some of the best and worst I’ve seen on the topic. Why don’t we start with the worst?
Is Trump a sleeper agent for Vladimir Putin? Short answer: No. Longer answer: No, what the hell is wrong with you? Slightly longer answer here if you’re up for it.
Seriously, this is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard. First of all, yes, I’m aware of the supposed “mutual admiration” between Trump and Putin. And yes, I’m aware that Kremlin ideologist (though he’s been cast under the bus in recent years) Aleksandr Dugin recently said some kind words for Trump. All this shows, however, is how little the Kremlin understands American politics and American culture.
First of all, I hate to dismay the “neocons” out there, but the far right has been a part of American and European politics for decades. During the Cold War it was nurtured by NATO intelligence services, but that’s another story entirely (and one worth reading). Putin himself embraced the far right when it was useful to him mainly because far right ideas were widespread in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Far right admiration for Russia pre-dates Putin, and in some cases it actually pre-dates the fall of the Soviet Union. The only difference when it comes to Putin’s regime is that it is actually conscious of the admiration far-rightists have for Russia, and it’s willing to exploit this. These groups and organizations, for a myriad of different reasons, project their ideals onto Russia and the Kremlin is more than happy to let them do so.
So what about Trump and this fear that he will embrace Putin? Anyone living in America, inundated with news about Trump, ought to know better. This is a guy who lashes out at the slightest provocation. He’s the type of guy who can be goaded into a fight by someone asking: “Hey are you gonna let them say that to you?!” With this in mind, imagine Trump in the White House (sorry for the cold chill in your spine) for a minute. Do you seriously think Putin and his foreign language media are going to stop shit-talking the United States at every turn? If you’re not sure, ask yourself whether Russia’s suddenly going to become a thriving economic powerhouse with rising living standards and an end to endemic corruption come 20 January 2017. Since the answer is obviously no, you can rest assured that the shit-talking will continue and all the anti-Obama rhetoric will inevitably be replaced by anti-Trump rhetoric. “Obama ChMO” will turn to “Tramp ChMO” (yes, in Russian Trump is spelled “Tramp” and that is a beautiful thing).
When you get one of these expat “immigrants” who get a career, official titles, and loads of attention by cheerleading for Putin, the kind of anti-American rhetoric you get from RT or Sputnik news doesn’t matter. “Oh yes Ma’am, Miss Margarita! I’m an American dissident! I had to escape that place it was so bad! It’s so much better here, and I know I have Mr. Putin to thank for that! I’ll say anything you want Miss Margarita, if you just keep paying me 200,000 rubles a month to write about how terrible America is!”
Trump on the other hand doesn’t owe shit to Putin, and like I said, he bristles with hatred at the slightest criticism. As such when the Kremlin does what it always does, he’s going to lash out and it’s going to be bad. I’m not saying he’s going to launch World War III, but rest assured his response will not only make relations even worse, but it will also almost certainly involve long, stereotype-laden rants in which he insinuates that Russians are “Asiatic savages” with “Mongol blood.” There might be something about the need for “living space” and the dangers of “blood poisoning” in a contiguous land empire.
So no, not only is Trump not Putin’s “sleeper agent,” but he would never get along with Putin for the same reason why Putin can’t get along with Turkish president Erdoğan- all three are megalomaniacal dickheads. Trump’s wannabe tough-guy base isn’t going to stand for him knuckling under to Putin no matter how much they admire the Russian president.
Moving on, I want to highlight two must-read articles on the Trump phenomenon, both by former eXile writer Matt Taibbi. The first is about the motives of Trump’s supporters, while the second is about the broader problem of unreality in American society. I’d like to give my take on both topics, but before doing so I should point out that Cracked.com has an article and a podcast that also provide some vital insight into Trump’s political success.
First my take on Trump’s popularity and the motives of his supporters. I do have some unique insight into conservative, even extreme right-wing politics because well, I was brought up in them. What regrets I have about that are offset by the advantage of having personal insight into the minds of right-wingers because I can see the world through their eyes. And while I can pontificate for hours about what motivates these people to support Trump, I’ll leave that to Taibbi and say that it seems a lot of the GOP base got fed up with the bait and switch.
To explain what I mean, come with me back to the Clinton era. The Culture Wars were in full swing. In more “respectable” Republican circles, Clinton was an irresponsible “tax and spend” liberal. In the world I was growing up in, he was much worse. He was a drug kingpin with multiple murders attributed to his illicit side business while he was governor of Arkansas. His wife was a pagan who practiced witchcraft. In general the rhetoric might not have reached the furor that it did under the MUSLIM MARXIST FASCIST KENYAN ALINSKY-TRAINED COMMUNITY ORGANIZER/USURPER, better known as Barack Obama, but it could reach hysterical heights even in the mainstream. For example, Rush Limbaugh post 1992 started using the phrase “America held hostage,” because you know, that’s what happens when people vote in a free election for a party you don’t like.
Yet all the folks who believed they were being held hostage by the socialist weed-smoking, ass-grabbing Marxist and his pagan, Gaia-worshiping wife were up for a disappointment in 1996. The Republicans nominated Bob Dole. Assuming you’re American, after reading that you probably thought: “Oh yeah. Bob Dole. Whatever happened to that guy? Is he still alive?” The answer is yes, he is still alive, but when it comes to Dole most people will probably only recall that he had a tendency to refer to himself in the third person and that’s about it. His presidential run will probably be remembered only for the Simpsons episode it was featured in.
Now let’s skip forward to 2012. America isn’t just being held hostage, it is on the precipice of the tribulation the conservative pundits had been warning us about for years. Any day Obama could hold the fateful meeting, whereby an executive order is handed down to go out and arrest Christian ministers, forcibly marry white Christian males to gay foreign men of questionable visa status, and of course, confiscate everyone’s precious guns. There’s just one chance to avert this disaster and steer America off of the path to a politically correct, Islamofascistomarxist dystopia- vote for a Tea Party Republican and pray Obama does’t try to cling to office by unleashing his Acorn thugs (*wink*) and urban gangs (*WINK!* *WINK!*), thus causing a civil war.
And who did the Republicans get as their only shot in 2012? Mitt Romney, this stiff, obviously rich guy from Massachusetts, of all places. Not only that, but he was Mormon, and while they might not always come out and say it, evangelical Christian fundamentalists hate them some Mormons. Yes, I skipped 2008 and McCain, but remember that McCain was running before the MUSLIM KENYAN ANTI-COLONIAL ALINSKY-TRAINED USURPER had moved into the White House and wrecked America, according to the conservative talking heads. Even if you want to go that route, McCain was no favorite of the radical right-wingers, be they Christian fundamentalists, anti-immigration nativists, or people who believe Obama is an “Arab.”
Oh you done fucked up there, son. What were you thinking, correcting a conservative woman’s blatantly false belief. All opinions have merit!
Imagine for a moment how it must feel when you’re one of these people whose blood is brought to the boiling point every day by talk radio show hosts, chain emails, and Fox News, and then when it comes time to exercise the one little thing you can do to stop this incessant onslaught of the Marxist Nazi Muslim Gay horde, you’re offered this “moderate,” this “Republican in Name Only,” who drones on about “keeping America strong” and lowering taxes to help small businesses. Sure, conservative voters like these things, but what tax cut is going to liberate America from the Nazi death panels of Obamacare?! How can they be sure that Obama’s not going to settle 50,000 military age Muslim males from Syria in their small Midwestern town? Sure, the military and war are awesome, but could Bush’s war in Iraq have weakened the country so that it is unable to put up a good fight at the impending battle of Armageddon, as foretold in Revelation?
This is where Trump comes in. It’s not just because he’s a political outsider. It’s because he’s basically like a right-wing talk radio show host you can actually vote for. While run-of-the-mill GOP candidates talk about “immigration reform,” Trump sounds like the local AM radio guy who says “build a wall!” These people don’t want to see politicians acting respectable and having a gentlemanly campaign. They want to see attacks, and not the sneaky “Swift boat,” plausibly deniable ones.
And here’s the best part- conservative Republicans have no one to blame for this but themselves. For roughly two decades they’ve been playing the Culture Wars card. They went all in on a demographic that wasn’t rational, and they massaged and nurtured that demographic so that their way of thinking became the norm. Now, to borrow a metaphor from Karl Marx, they are like a necromancer who has lost control of the spirits they have conjured into existence.
As Taibbi puts it, these people weren’t really interested in “conservative values.” There might have been some overlap, but many of these people got on board because the Republicans kept harping on some issue that resonated with them. Obsessed with guns? We’ll protect your precious guns! Hate abortion! We do too! Now that we have your attention, safety regulations and environmental regulations are bad! In for a penny, in for a pound. Of course its the latter “values” that the Republican establishment really cares about, and it seems that after so many years of pulling this trick, they’ve lost the ability to see politics from their voters’ point of view. Mr. and Mrs. Conservative voter really are more concerned about “terrurists” and “illegals,” not the “dangers” of net neutrality. they might have been so soured on the idea of “handouts” that they’re not too enthusiastic about subsidies for corn growers either. And by God they supported the troops, but Iraq’s just such a mess today, ain’t it?
If we were to compare this to Russia, Putin has a similar problem.For a long time he’s often relied on a strategy whereby he is surrounded by supposedly more radical figures waiting in the wings. Whether to Western leaders or his own people the message is the same- “Sure, I might be bad, but there are others far worse than me, and only I can keep them in check!” Of course this creates a problem for Putin, because his regime needs to continuously generate these more radical movements and leaders. What is more, it must continually “betray” them in order to maintain the fiction that Putin is the moderate keeping the loonies at bay. It can’t be lost on someone in the administration that had there been some kind of fair presidential election in Russia in 2014 or 2015, Putin might have lost to some more imperialistic figure who promised to finish off Ukraine once and for all.
But while we’re making comparisons to Russia it’s a good time to segue into my take on Taibbi’s other article, about the rise of unreality in American society. In that article, he demonstrates how what seems to be a growing portion of Americans apparently have no concern as to whether their beliefs are in line with material reality. Taibbi points out how when journalists fact check and refute certain politicians’ claims beyond all debate, the new normal reaction is to simply double down on the claim and attack the journalist. Trump’s claims about Muslims in New Jersey dancing and celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
This should be cause for great concern. All talk about the Russian propaganda machine is a waste of time if something isn’t done to correct this trend in American politics and the media. This is how America transforms itself into Putin’s Russia- when people stop caring whether things are real or not.
Just to give one example, I was recently attacked for pointing out that the old story about anti-Vietnam War protesters spitting on returning veterans at airports was a myth, essentially an urban legend that picked up popularity thanks to pop culture and a shitload of phony Vietnam vets. I pointed out that there are no documented cases of this happening anywhere, and the behavior goes against everything we know about the anti-war movement. My detractor claimed that just because something wasn’t documented doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Sure, fair enough, that is very true. But the problem with history is that we base it mostly on what is documented, and the problem is that nobody ever seems able to nail down this story. It doesn’t fit the documented ideology and behavior of anti-war protesters, nor are there any police reports describing an altercation where a returning vet got violent after being spit on by a dirty hippie (come on, what are the odds of a veteran marine in 1969 returning from a combat tour in Vietnam and then just calmly moving on after being spit on by hippies?). The problem with my opponent there is that he forgets that in situations like this, the default position should be disbelief.
I realize the solution isn’t easy. I also realize that many people don’t want that solution, because critical thinking tends to be harmful for certain economic theories favored by the ruling class, as well as historical narratives that justify them. But the alternative to teaching critical thinking at the youngest age possible is almost certainly going to be far worse. People have to be made aware that failing to properly understand skepticism and critical thinking is an existential threat. The more false things you believe, the lower your quality of life will be. You will waste money on things that don’t help you, or even harm you. You will be angry upset about things that aren’t even happening, while failing to do anything about real problems. No one I know of put this better than the skeptic extraordinaire James Randi, in responding a writer who suggested that belief in the paranormal and supernatural is nothing but harmless fun:
“That writer never saw the distraught faces of parents whose children were caught up in some stupid cult that promises miracles. He never faced a man whose life savings had gone down the drain because a curse had to be lifted. He never held the hand of a woman at a dark seance who expected her loved one to come back to her as promised by a swindler who fed on her belief in nonsense. “Nothing is funnier…?” Tell that to the academics who lost their credibility by accepting the nonsense about telepathy that came out of the Stanford Research Institute. “The machine gunning of butterflies?” Explain that to those who spent their time and money trying to float around in the air because a guru said they could. Are the “dangers of mass popular delusion” not “so menacing?” Mister, go dig up one of the 950 corpses of those who died in Guyana and shout in its face that Reverend Jim Jones was not dangerous. “What has happened to their funny-bones?” That deserves an answer. Our collective sense of humor has been dulled by the grief, frustration, and anger that comes of preaching in the wildnerness. The Star, apparently, would like that wilderness to continue to be empty of rational forces. I hope they enjoyed their big laugh.”
“What’s the harm” indeed, Mr. Randi. But while Randi would apply his skepticism to claims of the paranormal, supernatural, and pseudo-scientific, the fields of history and politics are largely ignored. As Taibbi points out, America seems to have reached a point where grown adults, people capable of owning guns, operating vehicles and computer technology, and paying off a mortgage, seem to have trouble remembering major historical events that happened in their lifetime, sometimes just a few years back.
This is a problem, a huge problem. Russia is a country which could have been a leading emerging market by this time had it not been for the widespread bullshit and acceptance of that bullshit by the populace. People bought into tales about Russian historical greatness without ever looking at the cautionary lessons each one contained. People acquiesced to supporting a group of cronies who rob them blind and piss away their nation’s future all because they’d bought into the myth that NATO was surrounding and strangling their nation. This, while the US was actually removing troops from Europe and closing base after base. Young men went off to fight and kill in the Donbas because they saw stories about Ukrainian Nazis crucifying children. And what was the “journalist’s” response when that story was debunked? That it was our responsibility to prove it didn’t happen. I’m sorry but that’s totally backwards, and as a result of this disdain for basic logic, thousands of people are dead with many more wounded and even more displaced inside and outside of Ukraine.
What does the future hold for America when people can’t remember or even don’t care whether the invasion of Iraq was a smashing success or an unmitigated disaster (Psst! It’s the latter)? How is America going to remain competitive economically when the vast majority of its citizens not only have almost no understanding of basic science, but are seemingly proud of their ignorance? Could Americans vote for someone even worse than Trump so long as he tells them that he can bring back a Golden Age that never existed? It’s times like these I feel like I’m writing to Americans from the future.