I love Russia. It’s true that I don’t love it in quite the same way that I love the United States, but still.
I love Russian history. I love the Russian language. I especially love Russian literature. My favorite overseas trip was visiting the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum (his family’s home) and searching out places where Alexander Pushkin reportedly lived, practicing my Russian by speaking with locals throughout. One day, I hope to even overcome the difficult visa process and visit Russia. My trip was to Ukraine.
So I have been trying to understand the source of the passionate vitriol pouring forth from so many Americans, most of whom could barely find Kyiv on a map, let alone have the slightest understanding of the complicated relationship between Russia and Ukraine or geopolitics in general.
The simple answer is that these individuals are simply the pawns of a foundering political establishment that has destroyed its own credibility through—to borrow from Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn—the unbearable weight of its own hypocrisy.
Richard Hanania recently published an excellent Substack post on how the average person digests the news and forms his opinions based on heuristics and some minimal familiarity with the topic at hand. That doesn’t make those who do this bad people, but it does make them prone to a malicious type of manipulation that seeks to sow division and inspire anger. They are turned against their fellow citizens (or any other group) for the political expediency of our priestly ruling class, which dictates from the halls of Washington and offices of New York.
Presented with the newest outrage du jour, they wait with bated breath for their legacy media talking head of choice to inform them of the proper moral stance to assume on a new topic.
They imbibe every carefully curated talking point until the levels of enlightened virtue in their bloodstream reach a toxic level, and then forcefully regurgitate a less-articulated, half-digested version of the approved message on their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.
Accolades from fellow travelers on the path of virtual righteousness are awarded in proportion to how closely their pool of buzzword vomit reflects the original message.
This is not to say that the outrage and horror that people display over the death and destruction in the ongoing conflict is unwarranted or disingenuous—only that the state-crafted, media-enabled political reaction to the carnage has a specific agenda.
That agenda is—as it always has been—to create a population-wide narrative of “us versus them.” The mechanism through which this is accomplished is—another timeless one—to induce an undeserved sense of superiority. Fear is important as well; however, as the perpetual mask wearers and death-wishers to the unvaccinated have illustrated, feeling like you’re better than someone else in order to account for your lack of real-world achievement and low-status position in society is the most addictive substance there is. Fear over your own inadequacy is simply the necessary condition for that high.
Unfortunately—and in the geopolitical world, especially—this process is the antithesis of actually presenting workable solutions to a problem, short of demanding outright conflict. Instead, it becomes emotional, stokes tensions, and inspires hatred.
Crippling sanctions, the widespread withdrawal of Western companies, and the open calls for Putin’s assassination ensure that we validate the Russian president’s narrative of a victimized Russia besieged by Russophobic American imperialists. On top of nearly 20 years of perceived Western destabilization, the Kremlin had its definitive proof in the Euromaidan movement and the image (exaggerated or not) of a U.S.-orchestrated coup to overthrow a duly elected, Russian-friendly government. Five years of the Russian collusion hoax further solidified the anti-Russia narrative—although, even in Russia this mostly became a point of mockery.
Instead, these Western attempts to punish Putin will only strengthen the resolve of the Russian people to stand firm in the face of perceived hostility. (If anything, the departure of places like McDonald’s and Starbucks also ensures that we improve their overall health). As a famous Soviet song from World War II goes, “Let our noble wrath boil over like a wave. The people’s war marches on.” Overcoming the starvation, genocide, and destruction wrought on the Motherland by the Nazi horde is still an integral part of the modern Russian identity.
Remember that Stalin called up the influence of the Orthodox Christian church and Russian culture to remind the people of who they were, and inspire them to fight for their land and identity. The same is true of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion. That’s twice in the last 210 years that Russia halted a world power seeking to control the entire mass of Europe and force its atheist ideology and “universal” law codes on conquered peoples. Both times, these globalist forces were driven from the Russian heartland all the way back to their respective capitals.
(Of course, the USSR as a “communist” nation sought to spread its state atheist ideology around the world, as well; however, this was almost always tied to the national interest of the Soviet Union as a Russian-centered geopolitical actor in a world defined by the balance of power. In reality, the Bolsheviks abandoned orthodox revolutionary Marxism and began acting like a normal nation-state as early as Lenin’s defiance of Trotsky and the party’s left-wing to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. Ten years later, Stalin would solidify the national political structure according to the legacy of Russian imperialism and become the new czar. Re-read George Orwell’s Animal Farm if you would like a simple overview of this process.)
The Ironic Ethnocentrism of the Elites
Despite our political leadership’s reliability in capitulating to wokeness, those who set policy and influence opinion still manage to demonstrate an astounding level of ethnocentrism. If there was an ounce of humility left in Washington, D.C., they would consider that their attempt to entirely ostracize the Russian nation only serves Moscow’s narrative: “The American led liberal order seeks to restrain Russia from taking its rightful place on the world stage as a respected major power.”
The ignorance of our establishment leaders is fertilizer for the soil of Russian resistance. We have given Moscow the tools to galvanize its population and further deepen the dividing lines between East and West, significantly exacerbating geopolitical tensions and increasing the likelihood of war. How easy it is for Putin now to sell his people the story that, once again, history is calling upon Mother Russia to beat back encroaching Western globalism (secular enlightenment rationalism, racist Aryanism, and now liberal democracy and internationalism) that seeks to consume the entire world and destroy all tradition.
In accordance with their utter fecklessness, our political class has responded by creating a media environment in which anyone who argues against our unconditional support for all things Ukraine and the absolute deification of Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a traitor who should be jailed. A call to prioritize de-escalation, opposition to a no-fly zone, or—God forbid—bringing up the role of irresponsible U.S. foreign policy and NATO expansion are all enough to get you accused of Russian disinformation. Come to think of it, you’re probably a Russian agent yourself.
The narrative control in the United States exists to protect the interests and position of our ruling class, and deflect from their responsibility in bringing about the current crisis. The Russia-Ukraine relationship is extremely complicated with many different perspectives; yet, anything that deviates from the “maximum punishment of Russia” agenda is being used as a bludgeon to castigate dissenters to the U.S. Ukraine policy as unpatriotic—to America? The truth really is almost always stranger than fiction.
The Real Enemy Is . . . the American Right?
Demonizing the Right is the most readily accessible tool for the establishment to accomplish this strategy. Instead of directly refuting any objections to their policy choices, they can simply say that those not sticking to the script are just the racist, homophobic, misogynistic, QAnon anti-vaxxers. We’re defending democracy and state sovereignty (forget about the fact that Ukraine is rife with political corruption, or our rampant foreign interventionism when we don’t like a certain regime). They support Putin and authoritarianism.
Having received their marching orders from the same people who brought you #TheScience™, the loyal online soldiers who never have to worry about the need to think for themselves (leave that to the experts!) take to social media with their new political identity (“See, my “get vaccinated” avatar has been replaced by ‘I stand with Ukraine’!”) to denounce the Trump-loving Putin apologists. Can we get a remake of those “We believe . . .” virtue-signaling lawn signs to include a line about the right of Ukraine to exist as a sovereign nation?
It’s true that the Right does appreciate Putin’s resolute denial to prostrate himself before the altar of wokeness and self-flagellate for his country’s past, but this red herring is of course just an excuse to not have to deal with the realities of power politics.
The unfortunate part about all this is not just the deleterious consequences this total failure at diplomacy will have for Russia-U.S. relations and its role in strengthening the relative geopolitical position of a rising China. The political class and their establishment media enablers have launched a full campaign to demonize the entire Russian nation that will ensure any type of cultural or civil society relations are destroyed for the foreseeable future. They made sure to seize the opportunity to further divide Americans along the way.
The priority of all parties involved should be working towards a diplomatic solution based on facts as they actually exist on the ground. For the United States in particular, that means making it clear that abstract principles of democracy promotion, open-door policies, or state sovereignty must take a back seat to a realistic assessment of the balance of powers. Washington and Brussels must concede that they are not the only ones with security interests. The Western world owes this to the Ukrainian people living through this ghastly bloodshed—not any government, whether it be in Moscow or Kyiv.
In other words, let’s hope that our leaders do something that they have categorically failed to do up until now. Let’s hope that they make the interests and livelihood of the people whom they serve their number one consideration.
It’s hard to assess if there is any actual likelihood of that happening, though. Looking at all our résumé-qualified, highly educated foreign policymakers with advanced degrees and years in the beltway it is worth remembering a line from (for now still not canceled) Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: “It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”