On the Midwives of Trump, episode DCCLX: @BretStephensNYT on the Trump/Putin political propinquity. Committed Observer comments

Mr. Stephens frames his critique of Trump by refracting it through the insights offered by Peter Pomerantsev’s book “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible”  published in 2014.  Pomerantsev was a Russian television producer,  in the Age of Putin, and narrates the challenges of a television producer faced with a coercive political environment, in sum, the truth was sacrificed to the ‘safe space’ of producing political melodrama, rather than reporting the actual news.

This is where Pomerantsev is so instructive. In one of his book’s early scenes, he relates a professional homily from a man he identifies as prominent Russian TV presenter. “We all know there will be no real politics” in Putin’s Russia, the man says at a staff conference.

“But we still have to give our viewers the sense something is happening. They need to be kept entertained. So what should we play with? Shall we attack the oligarchs? Who’s the enemy this week? Politics has got to feel like … like a movie!”

No matter how Stephens garnishes his propaganda, with tangential material that is supposed to represent the Age of Trump, as indicative of  decline or decay, a favorite Neo-Conservative trope, America is not Russia in the Age of Putin. More of  Pomerantsev paraphrase of a Russian TV presenter, does not describe Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice as a vehicle for the political assent of Trump. He played a ruthless boss, and or ringmaster, on television, whose tag line was ‘your fired’, to contestants who failed to perform to his ‘standards’, not a ‘bare chested action hero’!  Trump’s confected melodrama was the Neo-Liberal dog-eat-dog edited into the one dimensional life for the small screen.

This is why there’s a Colosseum in Rome, and why public spectacle, theater, cinema, TV and now the internet have always been handmaids of dictators. In Russia, it’s all about casting the president as a bare-chested action hero, pumping out anti-Western conspiracy theories and serving up remakes of Western sitcoms and reality shows.

The reader could simply ask the very salient question, what do these long quotations/paraphrases from Pomerantsev’s book serve? The point being  that the relationship Stephens argues, between the politics of Putin and Trump, share some commonality gets lost in the celerity of  the forward movement of his polemic: if there even exists such a commonality: the point of this propaganda is to create that commonality. That it need not meet a standard of argument, but that it plays on emotional registers, rather than a reasoned step by step building of empirically verified facts. Stephens constructs a convoluted tale designed to  indite Trump as a minion of Putin: that is the current Party Line of America’s respectable ‘Centrism‘, meaning the current alliance between the Neo-Liberals and the Neo-Conservatives.

The recent American elections put Democrats into power. Trump failed to repeal ‘Obama Care’. Will the Republican Tax Reform be the next Trump political defeat/stalemate ?  Twitter is not some all powerful propaganda tool. Trump uses twitter as a tool for political incitement, his only real political ability. Trump keeps his political opponents in a constant state of disequilibrium via twitter. He is Roy Cohn’s protégé , self-serving mendacity is his métier.

Mr. Stephens is a New Cold Warrior, and as such, ties Putin and Trump together to further his political agenda. Yet Stephens polemic, for all its dubious hysterics reeks of political desperation. The Stephens’  ‘argument’, such as it is:  that Trump is the purveyor of a political irrationalism,  accomplished by treason. While Stephens’ self -presentation, as steeped in rationalism, turns Neo-Conservatism on its head : Neo-Conservatism is defined by its toxic bellicose nationalism, and rule by a set of self-elected Platonic Guardians. Trump was elected to office, and in the current mythology is the tool of Putin, or at the least, aided and abetted by Putin. I use the word mythology – where is the empirical evidence of such collusion? Should we rely on the opinions of the notorious liars like Brennan and Clapper? Or the maladroit propaganda of Mr. Stephens?

Committed Observer


Added December 3, 2017:

As Mr. Stephens was born in 1973, he has no idea, or as a propagandist ignores as politically inconvenient, the influence, and indeed the heroic status of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. When the Gulag Archipelago was published by Éditions du Seuil in 1973, it  inspired among others Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain de Benoist. Why is this relevant to Mr. Stephens latest polemic against President Trump as a callabo of Putin? Here is a long and telling excerpt from William Harrison’s essay from August 2008 titled The other Solzhenitsyn:

But there is another side to Solzhenitsyn – one which most obituaries have mentioned only in passing, if at all. Solzhenitsyn’s analysis of Soviet communism was based on the notion that the Bolsheviks imposed a totalitarian system on Russia that had no basis in Russian history or character. He laid the blame on Marx and Engels and the Bolsheviks.

Russian culture, he argued, and particularly that of the Russian Orthodox Church, was suppressed in favour of atheist Soviet culture. Persona non grata in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn lived in exile in the US from 1974, but found western culture equally to his distaste.

His historical writing is imbued with a hankering after an idealized Tsarist era when, seemingly, everything was rosy. He sought refuge in a dreamy past, where, he believed, a united Slavic state (the Russian empire) built on Orthodox foundations had provided an ideological alternative to western individualistic liberalism.

The break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Solzhenitsyn hoped, as he wrote in a Russian newspaper at the time, would lead to the creation of a united Slavic state encompassing Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in which this alternative culture would flourish.

On returning to Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn opposed the excesses that went with the introduction of capitalism in Russia during the 1990s. In addition, he vociferously opposed Ukrainian independence. But the rise of Putin and the resurgence of nationalism, and the notion of Russia as “unique” and “different” from western liberal culture, gave new currency to his views. Recently, he claimed in an article in a pro-Kremlin newspaper, which was reprinted widely in the west, that to call the 1932-33 Holodomor genocide in Ukraine was a “loopy fable” made up by Ukrainian nationalists and picked up on by anti-Russian westerners. This article came at the same time as the State Duma’s ruling to the same effect.

His article contained no serious historical analysis. Holodomor, in fact, coincided with an attack on Ukrainian culture and nationalism, which were considered a threat by Soviet leaders in Moscow. They were frightened of the Ukrainian national movement, terrified of many in the country’s desire for independence, and acted to bring it into line. “If we lose Ukraine,” Lenin had said, “we lose our head.” They, like Solzhenitsyn, considered Ukraine a part of their empire.

The parallels with contemporary Russian leaders’ attitudes are striking, and Solzhenitsyn’s pan-Slavism, alongside his powerful dissident credentials, made him an ideal ally for those who continue to seek to restrict Ukrainian independence. Ironically – disturbingly, in fact – the self-same unmasker of Stalinist terror with its sacrifice of human lives to a future ideal exhibited a desire to ignore people’s desires (Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1991) in favour of an equally fictitious ideal.

Solzhenitsyn’s importance as the writer who stripped bare the Soviet regime to reveal its true essence cannot be underestimated. His writings inspired people throughout the Soviet Union and the world with their unflinching revelations. But his credentials as a historian are dubious to say the least, and the fantastical, backward-looking political idealism that led him to support Putin’s project is a dangerous relic. Like many of those disillusioned with western liberalism, in Russia and the west, he fancied that “Putin’s path” provided an alternative. The reality of this “alternative”, involving, for example, the pilfering of resources by Kremlin-backed “businessmen” and the silencing of the media by censorship and killing, is less than promising.

Putin and Solzhenitsyn share in the ideology pan-Slavism : ‘ But his credentials as a historian are dubious to say the least, and the fantastical, backward-looking political idealism that led him to support Putin’s project is a dangerous relic. ‘ Or should the reader just call it by the name given to it by other Russiaphobes, across the political spectrum,   of ‘Russian Revanchism’ ?  This pan-Slavism, shared by Putin and Solzhenitsyn, is the untouched, and inconvenient political/historical reality,  that could give context to an honest appraisal of the current climate of The New Cold War,  and Putin as bad political actor. Pan-Slavism and American Exceptionalism are destructive political/moral ideologies.

The hysteria mongering about ‘Russian meddling’ in America’s presidential election is the starkest form of hubris:  American not only ‘meddles’ in the elections of other sovereign nations, but makes war on, invades and occupies other nations  at will! Not to speak of its NGO’s who actively subvert those whom it deems its political opponents.  And its National Security State apparatus, that pursues the American interest, using its network of military bases to launch its campaigns with  murderous abandon:  The Clash of Civilizations/The War on Terror is the American political destiny, in the nihilistic world view of the Neo-Conservative/Neo-Liberal cabal.

Committed Observer



About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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