There is a paranoid, hysterical quality to the public discourse on Russia and all things Russian in today’s America. The corporate media machine and its Deep State handlers have abdicated reason and common decency in favor of raw hate and fear-mongering. We have not seen anything like it before, even in the darkest days of the Cold War.
The roots of Russophobia’s emotional appeal to the left seem clear: It comes as a huge mental relief to the ultrasensitive liberal mind to be able to hate an outside group with impunity, and even to appear virtuous in the process. Of course, the object of that animus is a Christian and European nation that stubbornly refuses to be postmodernized, or become gripped by self-hate and morbid introspection; a nation not ashamed of its past and unwilling to surrender its future to alien multitudes; a nation where nobody obsesses over transgender bathrooms, microaggressions, and other “issues” indicative of a society’s moral and intellectual decrepitude.
The liberals’ ideological and emotional Russophobia has blended seamlessly with the bread-and-butter hostility to Russia shared by Deep State operatives in the intelligence and national-security apparatus, in the military-industrial complex, and in the congressional duopoly. The result is a surreal narrative that mixes supposedly unprovoked “Russian aggression” in Ukraine, hostile intent in the Baltics, serial war crimes in Syria, political destabilization in Western Europe, and gross interference in America’s “democratic process”. The result is an altogether fictitious “existential threat,” which has made President Trump’s intended détente with Moscow impossible. He may have been serious about turning over a new leaf, but the Deep State counterpressure proved just too great. A solid rejection front emerged, left and right, conservative and liberal, which extends even into his own team and finally inhibited him from making moves that could have appeared too friendly to Putin.
The Russophobes’ narrative is unrelated to Russia’s actual policies. It reflects a deep odium of the elite class toward Russia-as-such. That animosity has been developing in its current form since roughly the time of the Crimean War, when in his Letters From Russia the Marquis de Custine said that the country’s “veneer of European civilization was too thin to be credible.”
“No human beings, black, yellow or white, could be quite as untruthful, as insincere, as arrogant—in short, as untrustworthy in every way—as the Russians,” President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1905. John Maynard Keynes, after a trip to the Soviet Union in 1925, wondered whether the “mood of oppression” might be “the fruit of some beastliness in the Russian nature.” J. Robert Oppenheimer opined in 1951 that, in Russia, “We are coping with a barbarous, backward people.” More recently, Sen. John McCain declared that “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.” “Russia is an anti-Western power with a different, darker vision of global politics,” Slate wrote in early 2014, even before the Ukrainian crisis reached its climax.
This narrative has two key pillars. In terms of geopolitics, we see the striving of maritime empires—Britain before World War II, and the United States after — to “contain” and if possible control the Eurasian heartland, the core of which is of course Russia. Equally important is the already noted cultural antipathy, the desire not merely to influence Russian policies and behavior but to effect an irreversible transformation of Russia’s identity. Some of the most viscerally Russophobic stereotypes come from Russia herself, from those members of Moscow’s “intelligentsia” who feel more at home in New York or London than anywhere in their own country. The late Anna Politkovskaya thus wrote in the Los Angeles Times 12 years ago that “it is common knowledge that the Russian people are irrational by nature.” It is impossible to imagine a mainstream publication publishing a similar statement about Jews or Muslims.
The Russophobic frenzy comes at a cost. It further devalues the quality of public discourse on world affairs in the United States, which is already dismally low. It has already undermined the prospects for a mutually beneficial new chapter in U.S.-Russian relations, based on a realist assessment that those two powers have no “existential” differences — and share many actual and potential commonalities. It perpetrates the arrogant delusion that there is a superior, “Western” model of social and cultural thought and action that can and should be imposed everywhere, but especially in Russia.
Saddest of all, Russophobic mania prolongs the European civil war that exploded in July 1914, continued in 1939, and has never properly ended — not even with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It would be in the American interest, as well as Russia’s and Europe’s, for that conflict to end, so that the existential challenge common to all— that of resurgent jihad and Europe’s demographic crisis — can be properly addressed.