January 24, 2017


How Russia Came to America -- and Gave Us Trump (Cathy Young, Jan 23, 2017, The Forward)

I doubt Trump is the Kremlin's "Manchurian candidate." Still, the parallels between Trump and Putin, and between Trumpism and Putinism, are real and troubling -- enough to raise questions about our immunity to authoritarianism. But as we confront those questions, it is also important to recognize the authoritarian trends at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum; the "politically correct" progressive culture also has echoes of the Russian/Soviet experience. [...]

Personalities aside, there's no question that Trump's rise has brought a Putin-style political culture to America in at least one regard: Conspiracy-mongering and propaganda are increasingly indistinguishable from news and commentary (a good portion of Trump's fan base gravitates to conspiracy-peddling media such as "Infowars" and the Alex Jones radio show (both of which have links to the Kremlin media machine); brazen lying is now viewed as smart, and bullying is respected as strength; dissenters are deemed enemies.

Like Putinism, Trumpism appeals to a sense of collective humiliation and grievance: a promise to reclaim lost greatness, but also a dark vision of one's country being constantly wronged, subverted and cheated by foreign powers and by aliens and traitors within. And there is another troublesome similarity: Both Putinist and Trumpian populism flirt with racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic movements when strategically useful.

Trump's America definitely has moments of uncomfortable recognition for any Russia watcher. But before "the resistance" gets too smug, the culture of the American left has given me at least as many uncomfortable moments of Russian -- in this case, Soviet -- déjà vu.

No, I don't mean that Obamacare is a communist plot. But the "social justice" left has taken on distinctly totalitarian overtones. Unlike communism, modern political correctness focuses on a wide range of identities rather than on class; but it, too, seeks a utopia of radical equality in which every trace of possible disadvantage is eliminated -- even the risk of irritation at an innocent comment insensitive to one's identity. And the atmosphere of enforced orthodoxy can be very similar, even if the punishment for deviation is not the gulag but a public shaming and/or a ruined career. (By the way, if the Trumpian right sometimes dabbles in the old-style anti-Semitism that has a solid niche in post-Soviet Russia, the social justice left is prone to Soviet-style anti-Zionism that can easily slide into anti-Semitism.)

At many colleges, freshman orientation serves as an indoctrination session in which students must learn to express correct attitudes about identities and social issues, going far beyond respect for fellow students. Campus "bias response teams" have turned into zealous thought-and-speech policing, with students and employees investigated and punished for offenses like believing that there are only two genders, or favoring the slogan "All Lives Matter" over "Black Lives Matter." Recently, a University of Oregon law professor was found guilty of "racial harassment" for wearing "blackface" -- in fact, a costume meant in tribute to a memoir by a black doctor -- at a Halloween party in her own home.

The same atmosphere of groupthink and scrutiny for transgressions has been spreading in literary, artistic, "geek culture" and other communities espousing progressive values. Sci-fi and fantasy writers will say, if promised anonymity, that they fear getting published if their stories don't feature feminist, anti-racist or pro-gay themes -- and if they are careful not to express any heretical views around editors. 

Posted by at January 24, 2017 6:53 PM