by Gordon M. Hahn
The country has gone mad for Russia. That is, American has gone crazy mad in fear of Russia. This is especially striking on the left side of the political spectrum among identitarians, driving polarization domestically and in U.S.-Russian relations.
The Democratic Party (DP) and its fellow travelers gave little care for national security during the last two decades of the Cold War. Senator Ted Kennedy colluded with the Soviets much more seriously and openly than any of the claims about U.S. President Donald Trump suggest, even though the late senator’s brother was an inveterate Cold Warrior (and rightly so) if a somewhat incompetent one. Bernie Sanders, the candidate leading the DP field for the nomination for the 2020 presidential race, traveled to Moscow for his honeymoon during the Cold War’s peak, cavorting with Soviet officials in a sauna and praising the regime and the Moscow subway’s chandeliers. Only after the fall of communism and the Cold War’s end, did Democrats begin to support Cold War-like policies—too much, too late. This explains in part why the Democratic establishment is now attacking Sanders (www.nytimes.com/2020/03/05/world/europe/russia-bernie-sanders.html?referringSource=articleShare). In addition to his feared inability to defeat the dastardly Trump, Sanders made the grave mistake of calling for Russia’s inclusion in NATO (something, which by now, not even the Russians themselves are interested in). The Bill Clinton administration set the groundwork for the revival of the Cold War redux (‘new cold war’) in our day against a then democratic-oriented Russia by beginning the process of the expansion of the quintessential Cold War institution on our side of the conflict – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO.
Since those ‘golden’ days of Western-Russian relations, American politics have undergone a radical transformation, most especially on the left side of the political spectrum. In the wake of the civil rights and women’s liberation movements American political debates usually centered about different emphases on the extent of government regulation of the economy necessary and whether social spending or security-defense spending should be privileged. Now the U.S. political discourse is driven by the left’s obsession with ‘identitarian’ politics. Issues such as whether there are more than two genders, how many of them are there precisely, non-gendered bathrooms, whether transgendered males-turned females should be able to use the remaining women’s rooms or compete in sport against naturally born members of the gentler gender, or whether America is mostly racist or entirely racist ‘structurally’ ignite vicious debates and drive political violence. Resort to the latter is becoming more frequent on both sides but comes far more frequently from the left and such groups as ‘Antifa.’
The rise in white supremacist violence in turn is a reaction to decades of clearly globalist, anti-national and downright illegal and unpatriotic policies such as sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, including the criminals among them, special grants and university programs being made available to illegal immigrants, open discrimination and bias against white males in the universities, the mass media and, to an extent, elsewhere in society. There is broad approval of the ubiquitous anti-white male propaganda in the media and universities and other reverse racist policies across the Democratic Party establishment. Reverse racist policies are themselves a reaction to wrongs such as slavery and apartheid established by the state. But these are gone in the West, and even societal discrimination against blacks, women, and minorities is now almost completely in the past and certainly less extant in American society today than is the left’s reverse discrimination and racism.
The left’s radical identitarianism explains in large part its selection of a relatively weak Russia and its rather soft authoritarian president Vladimir Putin as the main foreign enemies of the Democratic Party and radical leftists and identitarians. The Democrats show far less concern about a much more powerful rising China and the threat of Islamism and jihadism than to a relatively weak Russia being surrounded by Clinton’s NATO. After 9/11, the first political reaction of the left was to warn against violence against Muslims, rather than a call for long deep consideration of how to combat radical Islam. The left has shown far less concern over unfair Chinese trade practices, troublemaking in the South China Sea, de-democratization in Hong Kong, the persecution of Christians, or even of the Muslim Uighurs than to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for Donbass rebels in the wake of the violent overthrow of Russia’s weak ally in Kiev, Viktor Yanukovych, in an attempt to accelerate Ukraine’s entry into the EU and NATO. Instead of China and extremist Islamism, Russia and Putin have become the left’s bogey men.
It is quite clear that the reason Russia as opposed to China or Islam has become the bogey man has little or nothing to do with the apparently forged Russia hack of Democratic Party servers, Trump’s conjured ‘collusion’ with Putin, or the exaggerated Russian troll factories geared more to monetization of website traffic rather than ‘sewing chaos to destroy American democracy.’ The main connection is actually one with the causal arrows crossed: Russohobia, for lack of a better term, both genuine and politically-crafted, contributed to the exaggerated DP claims.
The real driver of the new Russophobia on the left – in both its sincere and politically instrumentalized forms – is its reverse racism, masked by ideas such as ‘white privilege’ and ‘structural racism.’ The DP’s and left’s hatred for white males and the weaponization of such for domestic political purposes is refracted and deployed politically through the prism of ‘white’ Russians. When a true believing, dyed-in-the-wool American minority and/or feminist or even gay identitarian looks at Russia, with its ancient religion, authoritarian form of government and more traditionalist values, then he or she (excuse the anachronism of binary gender) sees the left’s dreaded patriarchal racist America as he/she….imagines it in concentrated form. Thus, Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, are the archetypes of the hated white, heterosexual male; he is Deep Southern racist (David Duke), Al Capone, the Catholic Pope (excluding the present leftist one), Joseph Stalin (actually more often Adolph Hitler in the leftist imagination), and a caricatured Trump all rolled up into one and on steroids to boot.
Thus, Russia is no longer America’s or the West’s somewhat kindred ‘Other’ established during a long history of relations on the Continent or an accidental foe deformed by communist ideology and goals during the existential drama of the peaceably concluded Cold War. In our identitarian era, Russia and its rather soft authoritarian president is the penultimate pre-identitarian racist patriarchy. When the liberal-leftist identitarianist sets his/her….eyes on Putin, what is seen is his/her…. quintessential focus of hatred—the white heterosexual male. Recall the horror, often masked by audience-attracting humor, in the leftist media at pictures of the Russian president chest-bare on horseback, the despised masculinity shamelessly put on display (https://time.com/4642670/snl-vladimir-putin-donald-trump-inauguration/; www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/19/shirtless-putin-takes-icy-religious-plunge-and-yes-there-are-photos/; www.huffpost.com/entry/vladimir-putin-shirtless-calendar_n_5bb5b1e8e4b0876eda9b2f91; www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkpuRLJhll8; www.huffpost.com/entry/worl-photo-caption-contest-shirtless-putin_n_3263512). Buzzfeed, the first ‘news outlet’ to release Trump dossier materials, in an ‘article’ that ended with a link to articles on recent violations of gay rights in Russia, featured a somewhat ‘tongue-in-cheek photo display of the 16 “most homoerotic” photos of Putin (www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/16-homoerotic-photos-of-vladimir-putin). Contrast this with the American media’s absolute fawning over photographs of Barack Obama shirtless on a beach with the miraculous Michelle. No Buzzfeed claims Obama is gay.
Under the sway of ghastly Putin sightings, Democrats and their fellow traveling socialists and communists suddenly have ‘woke’ to patriotism and security. In the form of Russia and the person of Putin they came to see the kind of national security threat that they were always in the business of denying or downplaying. The threat is truly omnipresent. ‘Putin’ hacks party servers, changes voting behavior, and sows intra-American and intra-Western conflict and ‘chaos’. No matter that Michael Bloomberg spent some four times on Instagram ads alone than ‘Putin’ (actually Russians, some tied, some not, to Putin’s state apparatus) spent altogether on social media ads during the 2016 presidential campaign that supposedly determined the results. DP-allied media claim on the basis of contentless leaked intelligence reports that Putin is helping the campaigns of both Tulsi Gabbard, Mike Bloomberg, and the two front-runners Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump to ‘sew chaos.’ In this atmosphere, ‘Get Smart’ reruns could become a TV hit again.
It is curious that liberals and leftists characterize Republicans and other American conservatives as ‘racist’ when the latter criticize elements of Islamic or Chinese culture, government, and society, demanding tolerance and respect for native cultural traditions. Yet the liberal-left media and some government officials allow themselves all sorts of what in their world would be typically called racist remarks when it comes to Russia. Russians are innately authoritarian, corrupt, and prone to spying. Thus, they must be taught how to organize their state and society by the West, and they must do as constructed here and now. When it comes to Russian culture, government and society, the West’s left spews the most biased attacks and falsehoods. A central element of Russian culture, Russian Orthodoxy, is portrayed as nothing more than an instrument of the KGB/FSB and the generator of patriarchal racist, homophobic, and even Stalinist policies.
Discrimination against ethnic and sexual minorities and women in Russia is covered out of all proportion to their pervasiveness in Russian as compared to the pervasiveness of those sins in Islamic countries and more authoritarian regimes such as China’s. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuals are executed for being homosexual, while in Russia there is American 1950s-style discrimination. Amazingly, the Western liberal-left media focuses more on discrimination against gays in Russia than in outright persecution in Islamic countries. Western media have pawned the idea for years that gays in Russia cannot get drivers’ licenses.
Russian media are said to be biased, when they are no more biased than U.S. media, with the difference lying in the generator of the bias. In Russia the driver generating bias is government, Russian societal and cultural tradition play a secondary role. In the U.S. and the West, it is the societal and cultural left and its seizure of almost all independent media and education, though governments also play a role through the issuance of grants, the granting and withholding of access, and the like.
Of course, Republicans are no slouchers when it comes to exaggerating the Russian domestic condition and external threat. The most outstanding examples are Glenn Beck and late Senator John McCain. But it is the left’s radical identitarianism plays a much larger role in skewing American politics and foreign policy, not Vladimir Putin or Russian authoritarianism. To be sure, the new radical identitarianism, which goes far beyond the important issue of defending individual human, civil, and political rights, is far from the only factor or from being the most important factor on the Western side making the ‘new cold war.’ Old Cold War cultures, institutions, and interests also play important roles. But there should be no mistake about it: the radical identitarianism of the Western left is also a key factor, and it is poisoning U.S. and Western relations with Russia and a host of other powers, from hard authoritarian China to democratic India, and polarizing Western states’ internal politics. Worse still, there is no imminent sound defeat of this radicalism. The question is: Will and the backlash against it spark more political violence and will that violence lead to civil or inter-state wars?
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t particularly like Putin as a president. I would prefer to see in the Kremlin a conservative ‘liberal’ in the Russian context; in other words, someone in the mode of a Western conservative-libertarian. I would like to see a Russian government and political system of liberal republicanism with term limits for all public office, a market economy shorn of crony capitalism and all corruption, and the most strict protections of equal rights and every individual’s liberties in place of group rights and privileges (something very different from an American liberal). In foreign policy, a more restraint in reacting to Western overreaching and provocations and projecting power within the country’s means are in order. Putin meets none of these criteria. But it is not my or my fellow Americans’ business to demand how Russia governs itself.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Aspiration, Trepidation, and the West in the Making of Russia’s Security Culture (McFarland, 2021) He has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.