Alice in Wonderland, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump
Illustration by WhoWhatWhy from John Tenniel, / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED), and DonkeyHotey / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED).

I never thought I would see the day when the American Right bedded down with a murderous Moscow-based dictator.

Listen To This Story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Goodness. What if I should fall right through the center of the Earth… And come out the other side where people walk upside down? 

Alice in Wonderland 

Today, we truly inhabit Alice’s world — or maybe a better example is the “Upside Down” in the hit series Stranger Things.

Things have certainly gotten strange. 

As a youth, I was active in supporting world peace and lay awake at night anticipating an emergency broadcast system bulletin announcing nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Despite the aggressive language on both sides, I also “knew” that the average Russian wanted peace and my younger self wished there was some way to stop the Cold War hostilities and live in mutual respect and harmony. 

Awkwardly, haltingly, from the dark depths of the Cold War came a flickering glimmer of hope. From chess to sports to space, hints of a thaw, gestures of cooperation and tentative trust began to appear. Then, suddenly, in 1989 the iron curtain was pried apart, and what followed felt like a rush of hopes fulfilled.

As a young journalist I covered the fall of several communist regimes and the sense of unlimited possibility in societies freed of brutal repression. I also knew that peril lay ahead. The Great Depression illustrated how, when free societies embrace unfettered capitalism, widespread misery can result. Then in the 90s we all witnessed how the collapse of communism (combined with Reagan’s focus on building capitalist structures before democratic ones) unleashed its own forms of free-market corruption that would soon undermine the fragile democratic institutions struggling to gain a footing in formerly communist states.

Today, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, we see the excesses of dictatorship combined with the most modern and most ingenious tools of mass deception and mass murder. 

Putin is believed to be possibly the world’s richest person. His oligarchic friends are riding high. Meantime, from the Russia that Putin rules with an iron hand, we’ve seen an endless procession of brutalities on both the individual and mass levels — from poisonings, shootings, at least one plane crash, various “accidents” and “suicides,” mostly involving windows, to the launch of a one-sided war against a neighboring country that has never attacked it, leading to hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. A staggering 87 percent of all the troops Putin had at the start of his invasion have died or been injured, disposable pawns in furtherance of whatever truly motivates him. 

This is the tragic reality. And yet a large plurality of our country thinks none of this is a problem — in fact, it greets the instigator of these horrors with rounds of mindless applause. 

The latest is the news that, right after a famous American Right media star conducted a jovial interview with Putin, the Russian president’s bravest domestic opponent, Alexei Navalny, died in custody at age 47. Just the day before, Navalny, who had been poisoned some years before but recovered, was seen on video attending a court hearing, in which he seemed in good health and good spirits, and was even joking with court officials. 

An official of Navalny’s foundation issued a statement: “That’s it. It’s over. Alexei Navalny has been assassinated.”

Perhaps some lesson may be drawn from all this tragedy — and in how it comes back to haunt the West. 

The scalding irony is that throughout the Cold War American demagogues like Sen. Joe McCarthy grossly magnified the minuscule domestic component of the Russian threat to serve their political ends, while the kind of internal threat they falsely warned against then has become all too real now with the Cold War far in the rear view mirror. 

Today, the poles have coalesced, and MAGA can both embrace Putin and seek a return to the authoritarian reign of terror against fellow citizens that McCarthy represented. 

As a result of this hyper-debasement, the traditional American right wing, long defined by its implacable, obsessive hostility to Moscow and continuous warnings about its threat to the United States — is now Moscow’s partner in domestic US subversion. 

Kinda makes your head spin. 

Putin, Master of the Game

Putin is a master of the global chessboard. He sees opportunities to continue his own aggressive gambits while at the same time neutralizing those who might stop him. As this article noted, 

Russia Is Boosting Calls for ‘Civil War’ Over Texas Border Crisis

An all-encompassing Russian disinformation campaign is using everything from bots to lifestyle influencers to powerful state-run media to sow division in the United States.

US citizens and organizations on both “right” and “left” who enthusiastically take funding from Russia and its domestic supporters, push Putin’s agenda because their personal objectives, blind loyalty to long-ago worldviews, and obsessive hatred of domestic enemies supersede their allegiance to both their country and to the evident decent course. 

We see examples everywhere. 

In Tucker Carlson’s super friendly interview with Putin. Carlson was only too glad to ask puffball questions, stare numbly as Putin made all sorts of statements that were demonstrably untrue or incomprehensible, and push it all out to a large American audience. 

He ridiculously chided the media for supposedly not asking Putin for interviews, to hear his side of things — as if Carlson didn’t know about the two US journalists jailed in Russia for asking questions, and the legions of Russian journalists jailed, exiled, or dead for the same thing. Even the Russians had to issue a statement correcting his claim that no one was asking for interviews with the Russian president. 

And Putin let it be known that he himself could not stand the way Carlson prostrated himself before his favorite dictator. (Which reminds me, I wonder what he thought of the sycophantic behavior of leftist Oliver Stone when Stone interviewed him for a documentary some years ago -– but that’s a different rabbit hole.)

Meanwhile, the leading contender for the Republican nomination is this close with Putin, though who is up whose whatever I will leave to you to decide. Much of the Trump’s MAGAverse loves Putin for everything he does, including invading a neighboring country. And they don’t want the US to do anything to help that smaller country. 

I never thought I would see the day when the American Right and the GOP jump into bed with a Moscow-based dictator.  Yet here we are. 

Meanwhile, Russian attacks on our technology infrastructure continue and grow. 

Not long ago, Microsoft’s corporate entity was attacked by a Russian state-sponsored entity. It used a “password spray attack” to access the email accounts of Microsoft senior leadership and cybersecurity/legal personnel, looking for information that Microsoft might have on… the Russian cyberspying entity. 

This story got almost no attention, and why should it? Such fishing expeditions and worse are now so common that no one — except US digital counterspies — pays them any mind. 

I personally have noticed a steady and ominous increase in Russian bots on a growing number of social media platforms, now expanding to emails “commenting” on our WhoWhatWhy website, to newsletter mailing lists, and more. What is going on? What is their goal? 

To many folks, this is pretty much just the new normal. 

But it isn’t. A war is being prepared. Indeed, on the digital front, it’s already started. And if we don’t want it to escalate, we’d better get serious about defending ourselves. 

And now we’ve been told the Russians are working on a nuclear anti-satellite system in space potentially capable of neutralizing US missile monitoring and response. 

As I continue my research on a book about the death of John F. Kennedy, I am immersed in the warnings of the far right circa 60 years ago — that the Democrat Kennedy was not tough enough, too much of an appeaser; he needed to “get off his daughter’s tricycle.”  

Only the more extreme sectors of the GOP, America was told, could be trusted to man up against Moscow. 

It would be instructive to hear more from those alive at the height of the Cold War who warned not to trust Russia. What would they make of Donald Trump inviting Putin to invade Europe

Then again, maybe I just need to spend more time reading Lewis Carroll. As far as I can tell, we’ve fallen, just like Alice, right through the center and everything is upside down.

Comments are closed.