Yesterday, President Trump besmirched America. He was weak. He took Russia’s side instead of the side of our vaunted intelligence agencies. It was unprecented, remarkable, a day which will live in infamy. It was.. I dunno, someone toss me a Churchill quote. Yeah, it was that. Definitely a big deal.
It’s hard to overstate the extent to which the media and political establishment’s language towards Russia has changed over the last year and a half. Vladimir Putin has been de facto leader of Russia for the majority of my lifetime, but only in the last couple of years has everyone decided at once that he is an urgent threat, an Enemy Who Must Be Dealt With. It’s so interesting to me how quickly the worm can turn, how much our military and intelligence agencies are still able to create and drive a narrative, and how quickly someone can become a supervillain once we decide that they should be judged as such.
Let me ask you this: to the extent that Russia (a land mass) can behave in certain ways, what exactly has changed about that behavior in recent years? Vladmir Putin has been been an asshole for as long as he’s been in charge of Russia. I actually pay attention to this shit, and I happen to remember the devastation that they unleashed on Chechnya in the early 2000s. I happen to remember when they invaded Georgia in 2008 and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Back then, we treated these events like we treat any global atrocity – we wagged our finger, told them to knock it off, and then went to bed.
Has Russia’s behavior changed over the last few years? Is their aggression in Crimea and Ukraine vastly different than the carnage they unleashed on Chechnya and Georgia? Does their involvement in Syria and their disregard for civilian casualties differ that much from our own? Maybe. But I can’t see the degree to which the change justifies our change in posture, our change in language. Because in the last year, we have adopted the language of war. The language of treason and sedition. The language of good vs. evil. And it’s genuinely frightening to me how quickly the American people accept these new narratives, which have the real potential to drive our politics for the foreseeable future at the expense of everything else, at the expense of things that actually matter.
What’s really missing from all of this is a sense of scale. Of all of the myriad of scandals of the Trump Administration, of all of their disgusting misdeeds, this is the only thing that our political culture is capable of funneling our energy towards. People in Flint still don’t have clean water. More than 2,500 migrant parents have still not been reunited with their children, and possibly never will be. Hundreds of thousands of people could die from starvation and disease in Yemen because of a war that our military is actively boosting. Republicans are ushering in a 20+ year Supreme Court reign that will likely overturn Roe Vs. Wade and successfully squash out any legislation that is remotely progressive, even if our sclerotic legislature could actually pass anything in that vein. In the midst of an economic recovery, real wages are literally declining. Health insurance “markets” are crumbling, as they are rapidly regressing to the pre-Obamacare norm, which is to say that more and more people are suffering at the hands of a machine that is literally designed to profit off of that suffering.
Despite all of that, nothing tickles the pickle of the American imagination like a foreign espionage scandal. The tone of media coverage over the past few days has been straight-up manic – like little kids on Christmas morning. It’s a sick conglomeration of our comic-book addled minds and our for-profit media landscape. So many people want to be part of something larger than themselves, a battle between good and evil, the decisive conflict of our times. And since the war on terror has run its course (Did we win? Does anyone give a fuck?), America wants for nothing more than a foreign menace stalking us at all times, hiding under our beds, hacking our very democracy.
Nothing good will come of this. And I don’t just say that as a devoted peacenik, which I proudly am. I mean, how can anyone have experienced the run-up to the Iraq War and not see the similarities here? Like, we’re just gonna anoint a new enemy and everyone’s gonna be cool with it? We’re all going to accept that as our new reality? We’re just going to repeat the words “Russian interference in our election” until we experience another war aneurysm? Do we really have to fucking do this?
Russia is a country that we will never defeat militarily. We will never occupy them. We will never force them into a more democratic government. We will never deliver the smackdown of Vladimir Putin that will cause him to retreat into a pool of his own tears and resign as Russian Premier. What we WILL do is…. well, everything we’ve always done since the end of the Second World War – those things that we do best when we are dealing with foreign menaces: We’ll engage in aerial bombardment of supposed client states, killing countless numbers of civilians and sending their civilian infrastructure back into the stone age. We’ll overthrow governments. Literally hundreds of thousands of people will die. Oh, and at the tail end of the probability curve, there’s always the possibility of a nuclear fucking holocaust.
And if you think that the Trump Administration won’t sign up for this shit when push comes to shove, boy howdy you’ve got some surprises coming your way.