By Jesse Crall
In 1996, Russian President Boris Yeltsin suffered from debilitating health problems and single-digit approval ratings. The upcoming election was in jeopardy, with the communist opposition promising a return to the more stable conditions found during the Soviet Era.
As Yasha Levine documents in a recent piece, Yeltsin called upon his ally in Washington, Bill Clinton. Clinton sent over slick operatives who used propaganda, media blitzes and good old-fashioned voter fraud to ensure that heart attacks, drinking binges & a spiraling economy didn’t cost Yeltsin another term. Under Yeltsin, the lifespan of the Russian male fell 12 years and millions died as a direct result of poverty and despair. American influence helped strip-mine the country’s resources, turning the nation into the oligarchy we know today. Russians still feel overwhelming shame over what was done to their nation and they know the part we played.
Americans constantly warning about Russian threats, Putin and election interference seldom take this history into account. It screws with the narrative. America good. Russia bad. Who has time for reality?
We’re seeing a similar dynamic play out today. Trump and the Republican Party offered a typically-repugnant display of nonsense and fear-mongering during their convention this week. And any sober analysis of Trump’s presidency would find little to praise unless you own stock in defense contractors and private equity funds. Cries of “Fascism” and warnings about “the end of democracy as we know it” litter the media landscape, with old Republican stalwarts finding a second (or third…or fourth) wind to their flagging careers by coming out in favor of Biden and earning plaudits from Democrats whose politics have been whittled down to “Orange Man Bad.”
Lost in all the mewling is the absence of reckoning as to why Trump garners support in the first place. Why do all the fact-checks and rundowns over Trump’s lies fail to move his supporters? Gosh, he’s violating the Hatch Act, for chrissakes. The Hatch Act!
What media mavens either fail to realize or willfully ignore is the level of deceptions and outright lying they’ve done over the last few decades. Policies like NAFTA and the Iraq War decimated communities here and abroad, thrusting a growing number of Americans into the throes of depression, addiction and poverty. Not unlike Russia in the 1990s. But as great swaths of the country suffered, the predatory figures, corporations and broader systems at work kept up with their smug, elite lives. NAFTA may have destroyed towns across America but it made board rooms even richer. Iraq may have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians but it didn’t stop any of its notable champions from retaining plush jobs in media, government or in think tanks.
Joe Biden was one of the leading figures in the push toward a more brutal, Neoliberal landscape. He supported NAFTA and free trade with China and served under Barack Obama as banks were bailed out and homeowners were screwed following the 2008 market crash. Occasionally, Trump will nod to Biden’s abandonment of the working class, lacing his usual cascade of bullshit with a long-unsaid truth to make himself credible to the voting public. And as Democrats continue to run on Biden’s “decency” while refusing to reckon with their failed policies, they give Trump enough of a window to position himself as a serious candidate once again. Democrats remain convinced that fact-checks and cozying up to Never Trump Republicans will turn the tide. They’re lost in their own elitism, unable to understand the circumstances which led to the results of 2016. They’ll tell you that Russia’s the enemy, Biden will “Heal the Soul of America” and that Trump will usher in a new Nazi Germany. It’s possible and maybe even probable that enough people will believe them to ensure Biden’s victory. But he’ll be elected on little more than a new wave of misunderstanding and omission. And while fascism won’t emerge in America, neither will peace and prosperity.
Featured Image: President Clinton and President Yeltsin toasting at the state dinner, Hall of Facets, The Kremlin, Moscow, May 1995 by Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP