How Can Rus­sian Jews Be So Naively In Love With Don­ald Trump?

Forward Magazine - - Opinion - Mar­garita Gokun Silver is a writer liv­ing in Madrid. Her work has ap­peared in The New York Times, The Wash­ing­ton Post, The Guardian and The Wall Street Jour­nal, among other pub­li­ca­tions. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @MGokunSil­ver

‘S he is bad,” a 4-year old girl said, point­ing at the TV where a broad­cast showed Hil­lary Clin­ton speak­ing to her sup­port­ers. “We don’t like her,” she con­tin­ued, and pro­ceeded to dip her sushka, a Rus­sian pret­zel, into the tea my mother had made for her.

The lit­tle girl is my mother’s friend. She is a first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­can, born in Chicago to a fam­ily of Rus­sian Jewish im­mi­grants. My par­ents — and I along with them — are also first­gen­er­a­tion Amer­i­cans and Rus­sian Jewish im­mi­grants. We came to the United States in 1990, leav­ing the then­crum­bling USSR and its om­nipresent anti-Semitism, with hopes for a new life on Amer­i­can shores. That lit­tle girl’s par­ents and grand­par­ents did the same thing; in fact, at least half of Sunny Isles, the town where this con­ver­sa­tion took place, did the same thing. We are the em­bod­i­ment of the Amer­i­can dream.

Sunny Isles is to Florida what Brighton Beach is to New York City. I am in this beach paradise for a month-long visit with my par­ents, who moved here more than 10 years ago on the heels of other Rus­sian émi­grés. Within less than 2 square miles, the town boasts at least three Rus­sian gro­cery stores, a Rus­sian dry-cleaner, a Rus­sian phar­macy and sev­eral Rus­sian real es­tate agen­cies. The Rus­sian speak­ers who come here aren’t only Amer­i­can. Some are from Rus­sia proper and use their mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar beach­front apart­ments like their an­ces­tors would use a dacha, the quin­tes­sen­tial Rus­sian sum­mer­house. They drive Bent­leys and Rolls, use Louis Vuit­ton bags for their beach wares and throw $5 tips to valets. For the for­mer Soviet émi­grés, these Sunny Isles vis­i­tors rep­re­sent to­day’s Rus­sia: a coun­try where good money can be made no mat­ter your Jewish roots; a coun­try where a strong leader is in power, and a coun­try that ap­pears to be noth­ing like the Soviet Union they left be­hind sev­eral decades ago.

My par­ents and their friends are al­most all staunch Repub­li­cans and in­tend to vote for Don­ald Trump. The for­mer isn’t a sur­prise — they’ve leaned toward the party of the 1% ever since they ar­rived, al­ways as­so­ci­at­ing the Democrats with the Soviet so­cial­ism they left. The lat­ter shocks me, though. Trump’s anti- im­mi­gra­tion stance has been front and cen­ter in his cam­paign; his dis­dain for any­one who isn’t white, male, Chris­tian or

rich per­me­ates ev­ery­thing he says and tweets, and his sup­port­ers are among the most racist right- wingers in this coun­try.

Yet al­most ev­ery Rus­sian Jew I en­gage in a po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion since my ar­rival seems to give him a pass. “Nah,” they say, dis­miss­ing my ar­gu­ments that he is a fas­cist and that his cru­sade against im­mi­grants, his mock­ing of the dis­abled, and his call to regis­ter all Mus­lims is def­i­nitely both Hitler-es­que and Stalin-es­que. “He is smart. When he is elected he won’t do any­thing stupid.”

How can peo­ple who left their home­land to es­cape anti-Semitism — and whose fam­i­lies in­clude vic­tims of both the Holo­caust and the Gu­lag — not see the signs?

The re­cent hack­ing of Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee emails points in the di­rec­tion of the Krem­lin, and there is a strong smell of or­ga­nized Rus­sian trolls be­hind Trump’s on­line pro­pa­ganda ma­chine. The Soviet KGB and its suc­ces­sor have al­ways been mas­ters at dis­sem­i­nat­ing false in­for­ma­tion against their en­e­mies, the demo­cratic na­tions of the West be­ing among their big­gest tar­gets.

But with the Amer­i­can Rus­sian émi­gré pop­u­la­tion, they can rely on tra­di­tional as well as so­cial me­dia. My par­ents — and their friends — of­ten go to Rus­sian tele­vi­sion for in­for­ma­tion. Com­pet­ing with Fox News in their liv­ing room, it streams from a black box they carry in their suit­case even when they come to visit me in Europe. They can plug it any­where there is an in­ter­net con­nec­tion, and they par­take in its multi-chan­nel Putin show with the same gusto with which they once spurned its Soviet, four­chan­nel pre­de­ces­sor.

With Rus­sian TV as his mouth­piece, Putin has the abil­ity to brain­wash his coun­try’s for­mer sub­jects and now Amer­i­can vot­ers; it’s as pow­er­ful as his cadre of paid fac­tory trolls.

I, for one, can­not fathom how the same peo­ple who didn’t be­lieve a word of Soviet pro­pa­ganda and rec­og­nized it for what it was — a farce — now get their news from the Krem­lin­con­trolled me­dia. It’s not gen­er­a­tional, ei­ther: A for­mer high school friend from my Moscow days who im­mi­grated to Milwaukee reg­u­larly in­fuses her Face­book feed with CAPS-lined di­a­tribes that can only be clas­si­fied as racist, pro-Trump and pro-right wing. She writes them in Rus­sian, and rev­els in the sup­port of both her fel­low im­mi­grants and com­menters from Rus­sia.

When the mother of the lit­tle girl came to pick up her daugh­ter, she took one look at the screen, no­ticed that I had turned on MSNBC and scrunched her nose. “We pre­fer Fox,” she said.

I re­mem­ber my own daugh­ter, a feisty 4-year-old dur­ing the elec­tions of Ge­orge W. Bush and John Kerry. “He lies,” my daugh­ter then de­clared aloud to every­one in her pe­di­a­tri­cian’s wait­ing room when she saw a pic­ture of Bush on a mag­a­zine. She didn’t de­duce it her­self; she heard it from us.

His­to­ri­ans al­ways tell us that his­tory re­peats it­self and that the only way to pre­vent the mis­takes of the past is to spot the signs. Yet how much chance do we have for a world with­out hate if the same peo­ple who ran from racism less than half a cen­tury

How can peo­ple who have known the Holo­caust and the Gu­lag not see the signs?

ago choose to be­lieve — and model it to their chil­dren — the pro­pa­ganda of a coun­try they es­caped and a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who is racist to the core?

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