.. His speaking style is typical for any experienced, high-level bureaucrat: leaden, colourless, but occasionally interspersed with locker-room jokes, sex-related similes and street-smart threats.
.. Stalin .. What we know from media about his political decision-making shows the full toolbox of every advanced spy and secret police organization throughout history. Its obsession with secrecy, careful preparation, deep layering, multi-option planning, highly sophisticated tactical thinking. How much of this is attributed to himself, and how much to his aides and government organization, is unknown.
What is clear, though, is that Putin is a very good judge of character, and a skillful manager of human relationships. To this day, no one from his close circle has turned against him with compromising information, or by heading political dissent.
As much of the world makes amends for social and political injustices of the past, Russia is lionizing its despots, raising statues to the worst of them. Behind this phenomenon is an ultra-nationalist brand of conservatism that seeks to take Russian politics back to the Middle Ages.
While much of the world is busy dismantling monuments to oppressors, Russians are moving in the opposite direction, erecting statues to medieval warlords who were famous for their despotism. Understanding this revival can shed light on the direction of Russia’s politics.
In October 2016, with the endorsement of Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, the country’s first-ever monument to Ivan the Terrible was unveiled in the city of Orel. A month later, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for Lenin Avenue in Moscow to be renamed Ivan the Terrible Highway. And in July of this year, President Vladimir Putin christened Moscow’s own tribute to the tyrant, declaring, erroneously, that “most likely, Ivan the Terrible never killed anyone, not even his son.”
Most historians agree that Ivan lived up to his name; not only did he kill his son and other relatives, he also ordered the oprichnina, the state-led purges that terrorized Russia from 1565 to 1572. He also presided over Russia’s defeat in the Livonian War, and his misrule contributed to the Time of Troubles and the state’s devastating depopulation.
.. Joseph Stalin initiated the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible. But, since the mid-2000s, Russia’s Eurasia Party – a political movement led by the pro-fascist mystic Alexander Dugin – has moved to position Ivan as the best incarnation of an “authentic” Russian tradition: authoritarian monarchy.
Dugin’s brand of “Eurasianism” advocates the embrace of a “new Middle Ages,” where what little remains of Russian democracy is replaced by an absolute autocrat. In Dugin’s ideal future, a medieval social order would return, the empire would be restored, and the Orthodox church would assume control over culture and education.
.. Eurasianism, which was marginal in the 1990s, has gained considerable popularity in recent years by contributing to the formation of the so-called Izborsky Club, which unites the Russian far right.
.. Putin has referred to Eurasianism as an important part of Russian ideology
.. members of the Eurasia Party, who consider political terror the most effective tool of governance and call for a “new oprichnina” – a staunchly anti-Western Eurasian conservative revolution. According to Mikhail Yuriev, a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party and author of the utopian novel The Third Empire, the oprichniks should be the only political class, and they should rule by fear.
.. Cultural vocabulary is also reverting. For example, the word kholop, which means “serf,” is returning to the vernacular, a linguistic devolution that parallels a troubling rise in Russia’s modern slavery. Data from the Global Slavery Index show that more than one million Russians are currently enslaved in the construction industry, the military, agriculture, and the sex trade. Moreover, serf “owners” are also happily identifying themselves as modern-day barins.
.. Nostalgia for serfdom compliments the desire for a return to autocracy.
.. Putin’s tacit support for the Eurasian vision of a neo-medieval Russia invokes the historical memory of Stalinism. According to Dugin, “Stalin created the Soviet Empire,” and, like Ivan the Terrible, expresses “the spirit of the Soviet society and the Soviet people.” No wonder, then, that monuments to Stalin, too, are multiplying in Russian cities.
.. Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste, and clan, enforced by terror.
The lionization of historical despots reflects the contemporary embrace of such pre-modern, radically anti-democratic and unjust values. For Ivan’s contemporary champions, the past is prologue.
This is the moment when Trumpism hits the fan.
Of course, it has felt like this to one extent or another before:
- when Trump denigrated John McCain’s military service,
- when he compared Ben Carson to a pedophile,
- when he smeared Ted Cruz’s father,
- when the Access Hollywood tape came out, after the various idiotic tweets,
- after he fired Comey
- when he divulged intelligence sources and methods, etc.
.. Lingering on for three-plus more years as a failed president is a kind of survival. The question is, is this presidency salvageable?
.. A piece of straw alone is not a burden for a camel. But if you pile on one burden after another, you reach “the last straw.” This is one of the — if not the — most important dynamics in politics. If you go back and look at any number of “spontaneous” political outbursts, you’ll discover that the actual people doing the, uh, out-bursting are actually responding to a long list of grievances and that the precipitating event was only the last straw.
.. For instance, the Arab Spring was ignited by the abuse of a street vendor in Tunisia, but the kindling for the region-wide political conflagration to come had accumulated over decades.
.. I have always believed that the Trump presidency would end badly because I believe character is destiny. There is no reasonable or morally sound definition of good character that Donald Trump can meet. That’s why we learned nothing new about Donald Trump this week. He can’t change. Some good, decent, and smart people couldn’t or wouldn’t see this. But every day, more people see this.
Julius Krein, the founder of the pro-Trump egghead journal American Affairs, reached his tipping point this week:
Critics of the pro-Trump blog and then the nonprofit journal that I founded accused us of attempting to “understand Trump better than he understands himself.” I hoped that was the case. I saw the decline in this country — its weak economy and frayed social fabric — and I thought Mr. Trump’s willingness to move past partisan stalemates could begin a process of renewal. It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can’t stand by this disgraceful administration any longer, and I would urge anyone who once supported him as I did to stop defending the 45th president.
.. Some of the smartest people I know voted for him, for defensible reasons. Krein and his fellow Trumpist intellectuals weren’t dumb, they were just wrong. And while I think the conservative movement would probably be in better shape if Hillary Clinton had won last November, I don’t think it’s nearly so obvious that America would be.
.. Is there a means by which the White House could entice all of the CEOs quitting these stupid councils and commissions to come back?
.. You might call it “Manichean Hegelianism.” In this binary formulation, the world is divided between the forces of Light and Darkness, Good and Evil — and evil cannot fight evil and good cannot fight good.
.. Let’s stipulate that Adolf Hitler was the most evil person ever. On the scale of evil, he scores 100 percent. Fine. What score should we ascribe to Stalin or Mao? Let’s say they score 90 percent.
Who gives a rat’s ass? Certainly not the millions they murdered. If you watched your wife get raped by prison guards in the Gulag and then die in the snow, how much solace would you take from the fact that Hitler was “worse” on some asinine abstract metric of evil? If you want to argue that no one was worse than Hitler, have at it. But if you’re going to then argue that because someone wasn’t as bad as Hitler — or because someone fought Hitler — that they are somehow absolved of their own evil deeds, then you’re a fool. To do so is to render complex moral and historical questions into a pass/fail system. Suddenly, “not as bad as Hitler” becomes a passing grade.
.. If you think racism is the most evil thing ever, you’re going to say the KKK is worse than antifa. That’s fine by me. But who cares? Is there a fainter praise imaginable than “He’s better than a Klansman?”
.. The simple truth is that history isn’t simple: The universe isn’t divided into the Forces of Goodness and the Forces of Evil. That divide runs through every human heart and, therefore, every human institution. Recognizing this fact is the first step toward humility and decency in politics and life. But we live in a tribal moment where people ascribe good and evil to vast swaths of humanity based upon the jerseys they wear. Sometimes, the jerseys do make the case. Wear a Klan hood or a swastika and I will judge the book by the cover. But just because you think you’re morally justified to punch a Nazi, don’t expect me to assume you’re one of the good guys.
By using the phrase and placing himself in such infamous company, at least in his choice of vocabulary to attack his critics, Mr. Trump has demonstrated, Ms. Khrushcheva said, that the language of “autocracy, of state nationalism is always the same regardless of the country, and no nation is exempt.” She added that, in all likelihood, Mr. Trump had not read Lenin, Stalin or Mao Zedong, but the “formulas of insult, humiliation, domination, branding, enemy-forming and name calling are always the same.”
.. The phrase “enemy of the people” first entered the political lexicon in 1789, with the French Revolution. The revolutionaries initially used it as a slogan that was hurled willy-nilly at anybody who opposed them.
.. Stalin, who took over as Soviet leader upon Lenin’s death in 1924, drastically expanded the scope of those branded as “enemies of the people,” targeting not only capitalists but also dedicated communists who had worked alongside Lenin for years, but whom Stalin viewed as rivals.
.. “In essence, it was a label that meant death. It meant you were subhuman and entirely expendable,” said Mitchell A. Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is the connotation for anyone who lived in the Soviet Union or knows anything about the Soviet Union, which Donald Trump obviously doesn’t — or he doesn’t care.”
.. “He is only alienating them, and they are the people he wants to alienate anyway,” Mr. Orenstein continued. “His base sees comparisons with Stalin as just more evidence of the liberal mainstream media going haywire.”