Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Still The Same

Now 61 years old and fifteen years removed from "Politically Incorrect," Bill Maher- usually left, sometimes right- continues to do the politically incorrect more boldly and insightfully than anyone.  And so it was on Friday that he commented

The conventional wisdomis that in the 1980s Saint Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet- the Soviet Union and then the Berlin Wall came down and everyone was friends. But what reeally happened was that we stopped fighting the Cold War but the Russians never did. 

Fittingly, the guy whose "Politically Incorrect" was driven off the air (re-emerging with "Real Time with Bill Maher") spoke about name change as he continued

They may have changed the name of the KGB the way Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC but tust me, they're both still out there poisoning people. There is an entire building in St. Petersburg filled with a Russian troll army, hundreds of employees at their defense departments sitting in front of computers, pretending to be Americans and creating thousands of tweets, memes, news site comments and falt-out fake news sories designed not to take sides on any issue but just to get us fighting about it, to create chaos, the better to elect the chaos candidate.

Only individuals who worship Donald Trump- and a few of the leftists who believe Hillary Clinton is the source of all evil and ineptitude- refuse to acknowledge that Russia manipulated social media in part to elect the chaos candidate, Donald J. Trump.

But there are few people who will acknowledge that the Russian threat was not obliterated by President Reagan. That was a heady era, when American exceptionalism seemed to end the danger posed by our designated post-World War II enemy.  Republicans and other conservatives led the charge deifying Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6), while most Democrats in the following decades eagerly emphasized the harm perpetrated by modern-day Republicans, who were seen as more conservative and far less amicable than the the 40th President.

Even now, with the Kremlin's successful effort to thwart our democratic process becoming gradually clearer, virtually no one will admit what Maher did last week- that while Americans were led to believe that Kumbaya now would reign, the Soviet Union/Russia had not radically changed.

Oh, it did for a brief time, or at least seemed to while Boris Yeltsin was President. But the fundamental nature of the country had not.  Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa wrote in The New Yorker in March that President Vladimir Putin

knew that the fall of Communism and Soviet power had left a vacuum—the lack of a “national idea” to replace Marxism-Leninism. When Putin returned to the Presidency for a third term, in 2012, he felt the need to develop a Russian ideology of his own, and called on currents that run deep in Russian political culture: nationalism, xenophobia, and social conservatism. When, four years ago, Putin endorsed anti-gay legislation, for instance, he was playing to entrenched conservative prejudices that predate Soviet Communism—perhaps not for Western-oriented intellectuals and the urban middle class but for many millions of others.

The writers note that Masha Lipman, editor of the journal Counterpoint, has written "all these (media)   genres emphasize the stature of Putin, as being everybody and everything- not just the ultimate boss but the embodiment of Russian statehood." Lipman explains

Today he speaks constantly about state nationalism and Russia’s greatness, and he enjoys the approval of more than eighty per cent of Russians. The fact that, twenty-five years ago, a people’s movement changed the course of history is something that he would rather erase from national memory. He rejects the idea that those events marked a historical divide. In 2012, he said, “In order to revive national consciousness, we need to link historical eras and get back to understanding the simple truth that Russia did not begin in 1917, or even in 1991, but rather that we have a common, continuous history spanning over a thousand years, and we must rely on it to find inner strength and purpose in our national development....

Yeltsin may be seen as only a brief, relatively pleasant period between opposite sides of the same coin- Soviet communism and Putin authoritarianism, in which the latter

no longer fills prison camps with countless “enemies of the people,” as Stalin did, but, rather, makes a chilling example of a famous few, like the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky or the group Pussy Riot, his propagandists have taken their cue from foreign forms: magazine shows, shout-fests, game shows, and reality shows. There are many figures in public life who are not permitted to appear on any talk show or news program. Russians can still find independent information on Facebook and various Web sites; critical books and magazines are available in stores and online; Echo of Moscow, a liberal radio station, hangs on. But, even in the Internet era, more than eighty per cent of Russians get their news from television. Manipulation of TV coverage is a crucial factor in Putin’s extraordinarily high popularity ratings, typically in excess of eighty per cent—ratings that Donald Trump both admires and envies.

The report that a prominent announcer at one of those news outlets- Echo- was stabbed on Tuesday at the station should bring this into a little sharper focus. But whether that attack was motivated by politics (currently undetermined), Bill Maher has yet again gone against the grain and observed that Russia is the same as the one we thought was dead and buried. With Putin now at the helm, notwithstanding variations, Pete Townshend's words apply: "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

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