“In Rus­sia, the oli­garchs are ac­count­able to Putin. In the US, by con­trast, it seems that the politi­cians are ac­count­able to the oli­garchs, who use their money to ma­nip­u­late or­di­nary ci­ti­zens”

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

I am an Amer­i­can, Moscow-born. And be­cause of that, my Amer­i­can­ness, un­like that of Saul Bel­low’s Augie March, once trig­gered some­thing of a na­tional de­bate back in Rus­sia. In some places, school text­books asked stu­dents whether it was right or wrong for Nina Khrushcheva to be­come an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. I leave it to you to guess which po­si­tion most peo­ple, es­pe­cially those of the Soviet gen­er­a­tion, sup­ported.

While you can take a Rus­sian out of her home­land, in the end you can’t take Rus­sia out of her. So, at a time when US pol­i­tics has taken such a bizarre turn, per­haps my Rus­sia-tinted lenses can help my fel­low Amer­i­cans make some sense of it.

In­deed, from my per­spec­tive, many of the nas­ti­est and most per­verse fea­tures of Rus­sian pol­i­tics now seem present in the United States as well. The Big Lie – in­vented in Nazi Ger­many, per­fected in the Soviet Union, and wielded ex­pertly by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin – is to­day a core com­po­nent of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

So far, Trump has been al­lowed to get away with his lies. The news me­dia have largely been what Lenin called “use­ful id­iots,” so ea­ger to use Trump to boost their own rat­ings that they did not no­tice or care that they were also boost­ing his. No sur­prise, then, that an em­bold­ened Trump now de­liv­ers lies of ever more breath­tak­ing au­dac­ity.

For ex­am­ple, af­ter spend­ing years lead­ing the so-called birther move­ment – which al­leged that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was not born in the US, and was there­fore con­sti­tu­tion­ally barred from hold­ing of­fice – Trump de­clared that it was ac­tu­ally his op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton, who had in­vented the con­tro­versy back in 2008. It was up to Trump, ap­par­ently, to “fin­ish” it. “Pres­i­dent Barack Obama,” he stated tri­umphantly (as if there was ever re­ally any doubt), “was born in the US. Pe­riod.”

Some say that, in the wake of such bravura men­dac­ity, the me­dia are now turn­ing on Trump. In­deed, his birther claim about Clin­ton seems to have been sim­ply too ridicu­lous to let slide. Yet his na­tional opin­ion poll rat­ings re­main strong, sug­gest­ing that many of his sup­port­ers are will­ing to be­lieve – or at least over­look – his fla­grant lies.

This may partly re­flect an­other “Rus­sian” fea­ture of the cur­rent US elec­tion cam­paign: the power of oli­garchs. Rus­sia’s first postSoviet pres­i­dent, Boris Yeltsin, cut deals with the coun­try’s wealth­i­est ci­ti­zens: they would fi­nance his re-elec­tion cam­paign in ex­change for priv­i­leged ac­cess to the crown jewels of Rus­sian in­dus­try as they were pri­va­tised.

Sim­i­larly nasty deals are be­ing made in the US nowa­days, thanks to an­other group of use­ful id­iots: the con­ser­va­tive jus­tices on the US Supreme Court who gave Amer­ica the in­fa­mous 2010 Ci­ti­zens United de­ci­sion. By ex­tend­ing con­sti­tu­tional free-speech pro­tec­tion to po­lit­i­cal cam­paign do­na­tions, that rul­ing re­moved all con­straints on the power of money over US pol­i­tics. In Rus­sia, the oli­garchs are ac­count­able to Putin. In the US, by con­trast, it seems that the politi­cians are ac­count­able to the oli­garchs, who use their money to ma­nip­u­late or­di­nary ci­ti­zens.

Ex­hibit A is Ru­pert Mur­doch, Chair and for­mer CEO of News Cor­po­ra­tion and 21st Cen­tury Fox. Over the years, Mur­doch news­pa­pers played a lead­ing role in smear­ing the Euro­pean Union, thereby help­ing to bring about June’s Brexit vote. Now that Mur­doch has taken over from Roger Ailes as CEO of Fox News – af­ter Ailes re­signed amid a swirl of sex­ual-mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions – he seems to have made it his mis­sion to com­pel US vot­ers to make a sim­i­larly dis­as­trous choice. In­deed, since Mur­doch’s takeover in July, Fox News has be­come all about Trump, not about news. Hosts who once ex­pressed con­cerns about Trump now of­fer ba­nal­i­ties. As for Ailes, he is openly ad­vis­ing Trump’s cam­paign.

Per­haps the most dis­ap­point­ing par­al­lel be­tween Rus­sia’s past and Amer­ica’s present is what I call the si­lence of the rams: the re­fusal of those with in­flu­ence to stand up and stop the in­san­ity. In Rus­sia in 1917, the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion suc­ceeded largely be­cause the Bol­she­viks’ op­po­nents, of­ten too con­cerned with pro­tect­ing their own po­si­tions and pres­tige, failed to unify against them.

In the US to­day, in­flu­en­tial Repub­li­cans are fol­low­ing much the same route. To be sure, some lead­ing Repub­li­cans openly op­pose Trump. For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov­er­nor Mitt Rom­ney has worked hard in re­cent months to ex­pose Trump as the dan­ger­ous fraud that he is.

More­over, 50 of Amer­ica’s most se­nior Repub­li­can na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have signed a let­ter warn­ing that Trump “would put at risk our coun­try’s na­tional se­cu­rity and well-be­ing.” Se­na­tors Lind­sey Graham and Ben Sasse have also de­nounced Trump as a threat to Amer­i­can free­dom and to world

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