Why is America experiencing a frenzy of Russophobia?

Note: While writing this post I came across Cathy Young’s op-ed at Forward.com: Red Scare: Trump and Democrats Alike Fan Paranoia Regarding Russia. I suggest reading Young’s thoughts on the issue for an alternative analysis. I will weigh in below with my own perspective on the Russia affair.

There has been an upward trend of anti-Russian sentiment among the American public, growing at an unstoppable pace since news first broke last June of Russia hacking the DNC. Morning shows, newspaper front-pages, hashtags on social networks: the propaganda machine is at full-steam driving the renewed national phobia of the great threat and evil known as Russia. There are at least three largely overlapping but distinct interest-groups which are central to the anti-Russia info-wars.

Democrats are seething after being obliterated on all fronts in last November’s election, losing the House, the Senate, the presidency, and several state governorships. They are therefore engaging in an all-out campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the Trump administration. Democrats are also upset at being hacked, with emails revealing the level of corruption at the core of the DNC and their shameful treatment of Senator Bernie Sanders. Quite paradoxical is the bitterness that Democrat supports reserve toward Russia, and the complete silence regarding the fraudulent actions of their party leaders at the DNC. This pattern of turning a blind eye one oneself and spewing virulence toward political opponents is consistent with the la-la land doctrine of “good guys” versus “bad guys” that dominates partisan America.

Antagonizing Russia to undermine Trump is an unsurprising and understandable political strategy. It is also neither new nor likely to be particularly fruitful. The Tea Party and similar elements adopted an identical strategy when challenging Obama’s legitimacy via the birther movement circa 2010. Conspiracies about his Kenyan/Islamic/Martian origins, led in no small part by Trump himself, were endless. Birtherism became a national amusement. Republican media, spearheaded by Fox & Friends, thrived by fostering a culture of mean-spirited and destructive accusations toward Obama. I cannot count many democracies where undermining the legitimacy of political opponents is common and accepted practice.

The foreign policy establishment. (Aside: I believe that what meager information we read in the media and press about the inner working of current government is <1% accurate and representative of actual events, so the following is pure speculation.) The Trump administration has surprised Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which for decades has been led by neoconservative politicians and lobby groups, by significantly marginalizing the State Department. Neoconservatives, who count both prominent Democrats (e.g. Victora Nuland, Obama’s great choreographer of the Ukrainian theatre) and Republicans (Sen. John McCain has been leading the fear-mongering recently) among their ranks, are playing second fiddle to Trump’s military generals at the Pentagon. My sense is that they are fabricating a foreign policy crisis with Russia in an attempt to revitalize their own political relevance.

In the meantime, the Americans, Russians, and Turks are engaging in security coordination against ISIS and Syria’s civil war. While coverage of the deployment of 400 Marines into Manbij, Syria has been scant in US media, it is a significant military and diplomatic breakthrough signalling a change in US attitudes toward a solution in Syria.

The national news media. People enjoy hating on Russia. It serves as an external enemy to vent against, and to confirm the exceptionalism of our democratic principles and moral character. Under the Orwellian slogan of “War is Peace”, this tactic is unsurprising. Particularly relevant is that, under the capitalist system, media houses are for-profit corporations acting under severe pressure of financial survival and political agendas. If stories about Russia continue to sell pageviews and drive up viewership, then they are guaranteed non-stop coverage. The longevity of the Russia connection is tied only to how long the media can keep up interest. The saga will be drawn out with series of unexpected twists and turns. But interest will soon wane, and then our attention will be moved to worry about the next earth-ending crisis.

I am not an expert on Russian culture, principles, or ways-of-life. As a non-citizen of Russia, and having no connection to the country or daily experiences of its regular people. I do not believe we are empowered to make value judgments about their political system and values. It is tempting to label other regimes as dictatorial and antagonistic, but I believe this judgement is only for people to make about themselves.

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