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Saturday, January 13, 2018

What Americans don't understand about Russia is that democracy failed there, but capitalism didn't

When the Soviet Union fell, Americans thought democracy prevailed:

In December of 1991, as the world watched in amazement, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Its collapse was hailed by the west as a victory for freedom, a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism, and evidence of the superiority of capitalism over socialism. 
Now, as Russia emerges as a disrupter of democracy not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, it seems to have reverted to its role as a Cold War enemy.   As a Cold War enemy,  Americans thought its threat was because it was a communist, a Marxist country.  That aspect of Russia is no longer the driving ideology in Russia.  What happened in Russia was that good, old capitalism, which Marxists detested, stepped in and took control of the country.

Boris Yeltsin as a leader in the Russian parliament renounced his membership in the Communist Party.  He then ran for president of Russia and won.  As president, he instituted many democratic policies, a freer press, the privatization of government-owned businesses, and fewer restrictions on public expressions.  Many business operations that were owned and controlled by the Kremlin, such as the oil and gas industry,  were put on the market.  The industries were snapped up by close associates and relatives of government officials who oversaw the transition to the free market.   These people, who are often referred to as the Russian oligarchs, became phenomenally wealthy and powerful.  

When Yeltsin resigned, he designated Vladimir Putin to succeed him.  Many refer to Putin's history as a Soviet KGB officer as the influence on his agenda.  His real source of power is the alliances he has made with the oligarchs and criminal bosses who control business in  Russia.   The threat that Russia now has for the free world is corruption, not communism.

There are Russians who long for the old Soviet days.  Novelist Martin Cruz Smith reflects that nostalgia in his works, such as Stalin's Ghost.  A recent New York Times article reports how a family in Kazakhstan feels about the takeover by the oligarchs:
“These new people count every penny,” his wife complained, waxing nostalgic for Soviet days when, she said, nobody on the state farm paid much attention to who was doing what with whose money.
Putin, like Trump, is interested in the power that wealth creates, not any particular ideology.  He has found that power can be gained and maintained most effectively through ruthless and shameless capitalism, and he seems to have dismissed any Marxist concerns about what it it means for the workers.   If there is any kinship between Tump and Putin, it is as fellow oligarchs.  They will embrace whatever politics facilitates their access to wealth and power.  They live with feudal mindsets which aspire only to be lords of castles, and their only regard for people is to have someone to be lord over.  It's precisely the mindset that democracy strives to overcome.

Putin brings KGB tactics into play when he deals with dissenters.  Trump brings his penchant for fraud, mendacity, and bilking contractors to bear when confronted with opposition.  About 40 percent of his business ventures have failed, some because of his ineptitude, some because they were outright fraud.  His power and wealth have been acquired by duping people who worship wealth,  even if it is fraudulently obtained.  Anyone else caught at the shenanigans that Trump has would have spent a lot of time in jail.  There is a plethora of documented evidence that Trump is a crook.  And there is his lying. Since taking office, Trump has documented more than 2,000 lies.  He is simply a wretched person with no redeeming qualities.

Given Russia's history,  people tend to think that the probe into its role in the 2016 election is looking for some kind of political intrigue.  However, money and the power it buys, not politics,  is Trump's consuming obsession.  Much is already known about his financial dalliance with Russian oligarchs and members of its mafia.  Special Counsel Mueller's investigation has focused sharply on Trump's financial ties even though Trump says his personal business is off limits.   But in numerous ways, Trump has made clear that he considers the United States just another subsidiary of the Trump Organization.

Putin has joined forces with the oligarchs, and those who oppose him receive KGB-like persecution.  Trump has his team of oligarchs and the oligarch-wannabes of the Republican Party who protect him and carry out his schemes.  It has always been an assumption in America that any president would separate his personal business interests from his job of presiding over the nation.  Trump has flouted that custom and has merged his financial operations with the presidential office.  The GOP has totally rolled over on his conflicts of interest.  

The nation has made The Godfather and The Sopranos stories of organized crime bosses national favorites.  It treats those fictional mafia bosses as if they are national heroes.  It seems that much of the nation was ready to be led by a corrupt oligarch.

Trump has clearly violated the office of president as it was conceived and conducted by his predecessors,  except perhaps for Nixon.  The Russia probe will most likely reveal Trump's activities as a corrupt oligarch in concert with fellows throughout the world.  But much of the nation finds corruption as an acceptable means to "sucess."

The only thing we may get out of the Mueller probe is an understanding of what happened to America.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States