Recently, Trump supporters have begun sporting T-shirts that say: “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.”
Some of you might be surprised to find Republicans so blissfully happy about Trump’s relationship with Putin. After decades of Cold War, and hot bloody proxy wars like Vietnam, with our arch enemy the Soviet Union, they watched Putin lead Trump around on a leash, whack his nose with a rolled up newspaper, and feed him treats from his hand when he said the right thing after the recent Helsinki Summit. Liberals found that whole display humiliating, and it offended their sense of national pride. Think about that. How weak and obsequious does a US president have to act to offend liberals? And who knew liberals had any sense of national pride?
Republicans, on the other hand, just took it all in stride. Many Republicans admire strong authoritarian dictators like Putin, and secretly yearn to serve, or lead, a regime like his, here in the USA. Honestly though, the real reason Republicans like Russians better than Democrats, despite the enmity, wars, and spying, is that Russians are whiter than Democrats. It’s not about patriotism, history or politics, it’s all about complexion. When it comes down to it, Russians look more like them than Democrats do.
Besides that, you have to credit the Russians. Recent news stories reveal that Russia has been working very hard to make friends with Republicans, especially those in the NRA. I can attest that Russia works very hard to make friends, all over the world, and it seems to be working for them.
Even before I left the States, last Spring, my friend in the Czech Republic started sending me news-clips from Russia Today, including one well-produced documentary by a kid from SoCal, about how happy the people of Crimea are to be part of Russia now. I got this from someone who grew up in Czechoslovakia, under Soviet Communist rule, where the loudspeakers that used to broadcast Soviet propaganda still hang on utility poles in every village and hamlet. Now, everyone gets Russia Today on cable TV and everyone in Europe seems to watch it.
Besides that, it seemed like everywhere we went in Europe, Russia had found some way to promote itself. For instance, in Bled, Slovenia, we visited a tourist information office, which turned out to be quite a large space, and appeared to still be somewhat under construction. The employees were helpful, and spoke very good English and they had a nice lounge with free wifi, so we hung out for a little while. They also had a performance space where they could host lectures or show movies, and a gift shop offering local crafts and delicacies. All around the perimeter of this substantial space however, the Slovenian Office of Tourism in Bled featured an impressive temporary exhibit called “The Wildlife of Russia” which consisted of more than a dozen large color panels.
Then, in France, at Grotte de Rouffignac, an ancient cave with prehistoric cave art, including more than 150 depictions of woolly mammoths drawn on the walls and ceiling more than 13,000 years ago, we saw a very interesting exhibit in the lobby. Very professionally laid out on about 8 color panels of about 4’x8’ each, we saw graphic depictions and explanations in French, English and German, of the ancient petroglyphs in Altai (part of Russia near the border with Mongolia). This exhibit was brought to us by the: Institut d’Archiologie et d’Ethnograhic de la branche siberiene del’Academie des Sciences de Russe. Everywhere we looked, Russia was there, acting friendly and inviting us to visit, right under the noses of our hosts.
I can’t imagine that happening in this country. I can’t imagine going to a ski resort in Colorado, for instance, and seeing a big splashy display, taking up half of the lobby, showing off great skiing conditions and saying “See, we’ve got some great snow up here in Canada!” …or visiting a tourist information center at the Everglades National Park in Florida, and seeing a huge exhibit called “Wildlife of the Costa Rican Rainforest.”
Then there was the World Cup. Once the World Cup started, every TV in Europe was tuned to Moscow. We happened to catch part of the first game of the 2018 World Cup in a cafe in the central train station in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The game pitted Russia against Saudi Arabia, and it was clear that everyone in the cafe that day, especially the locals, were rooting for Russia. The camera often cut to a shot of Vladimir Putin, an Arab Sheikh, and between them, a Russian oligarch, enjoying the game from the stands. Club Russia won the game handily and that victory elevated the mood in the room noticeably.
At a bar in France, I saw the most surreal pregame show to a World Cup Match. The players from both teams paraded out onto the field, each holding the hand of a young child, and each child wore a yellow jersey with the McDonald’s Golden Arches logo. Then they performed some kind of logo-heavy solemn ritual and then cut to a commercial for Air Emirates airlines.
I’m sure that the people in the room who spoke French understood what was going on, but to me it all looked vaguely satanic, fascistic or both, but the strangest thing I saw there was the ad I saw for Russia itself.
The narration was all in French, so I could not understand a word of it However, this ad showed a number of strong images of Russia, including a big bear lumbering through a frozen forest, rows of tanks, and a modern city skyline at dusk, but did not seem especially geared to promote tourism. Then three bullet points appeared in text on the screen: “*Pouvoir Politique Russe, *Force Militaire Russe, *Spiritualite Russe,” which I translate as “Russian political power, Russian military strength, and Russian spirituality” finally, an image of the Kremlin appeared, and dissolved along with the text. As near as I can tell, the ad appeared to communicate something like “Cordial greetings from your powerful white neighbors to the East.” I saw that ad at least twice.
Still, people around the world ate it up. Every toy store had the Club Russia 2018 World Cup sticker album in the window, every magazine had “Moscow World Cup 2018”splashed on it somewhere, and coverage of it ran nonstop on TV. After Mexico beat Germany, my friend in the Czech Republic sent me this image, which went viral on the internet:
Everyone loves Putin it seems, while Angela Merkel has taken a lot of heat for letting so many Syrian refugees into Germany. Putin’s Russia, by contrast, accepts none. Putin criticizes his European neighbors for “diluting their culture” by admitting so many refugees. It sounds rather racist, frankly, but I think that’s what the ad meant by “Russian spirituality.” That kind of “spirituality,” apparently, transcends past political differences and has the power to heal old wounds all around the world.