WASHINGTON -- As we count down to the inauguration of the next American president, the word -- but more the idea -- of Russia has dominated the news headlines. And, as the song put it in a more hopeful sense, the story has “only just begun.”
Russia has hacked into the Democratic Party computers. The highest level of the Russian state has attempted to throw the election to Donald Trump, who appears to just love Russian President Vladimir Putin, “a smart guy!” Russia and America can work together now, and will, to make the world one fine place to make a buck!
Politicos talk about how we can now “fix” relations between the two superpowers, how we can “reset” relations, how we can “redo” the relationship of two great nations that somehow lost their way somewhere between 1991 and 2017.
But here we have the problem. Because, my friends, there is no fixing, no resetting and no redoing. Those words presume, at least from an American viewpoint, that Russia is flexible, malleable, changeable. But it is not. It is what it is, and that ain’t a Vermont town meeting or an Iowa caucus (or even a closed-door South Side of Chicago aldermans’ cabal).
My beloved mother used to warn, with a knowing shake of her wise and beautiful head, “Don’t ever marry a man to change him.” Well, forgive me for rewriting a little, Mom, and allow me ever-so-humbly to warn the president-elect: “Don’t involve yourself with Mother Russia to reset or redo her.” Better men than you have had to learn the hard way.
The historic Russia that has somehow chosen Putin to rule it, at this dour moment for democrats everywhere, has traumatized roots that could not possibly be more the opposite of America’s roots. Hundreds of years before Putin -- and especially since the horrendously destructive Mongol invasion in the 13th century -- Russia personified autocracy.
Before the Mongols, those madly brilliant horsemen who stormed out of Central Asia, destroying everything in their way, Muscovy and Kievan Rus, the name given to the territory ruled by Orthodox Christian princes from Ukraine across Russia, were developing normally -- for that era. Kiev, with its glorious monasteries, some still intact, was developing thriving contacts with European Christendom.
Then, wrote one “Rus” quoted in the history books, “For our sins, unknown nations arrived. No one knew their origin or whence they came ...”
What they did know was that, after the Mongol onslaught, nothing was ever the same again. The Mongols proudly left Kiev with mountains of skulls, and the Russians had to kowtow (slap their temples to the ground and prostrate themselves in obeisance before their rulers in the new Asiatic style). The promising “veches” or town assemblies that had been growing throughout Russia were utterly destroyed.
Moreover, as the brilliant Russian Orthodox churchman Nicolas Berdyaev notes in “The Origin of Russian Communism,” the struggle in and for Russia always contained a predominant element of hatred for the values of the West. “In the soul of the Russian people, a struggle between East and West was waged, and that struggle is continuing in the Russian revolution,” he wrote, before the collapse of Soviet Communism in 1991.
What President-elect Trump all-too-obviously does not understand -- not in the slightest -- is that his pal, Vladimir-of-the-Modern Age, carries that hatred against and obsession with the West.
As arguably the greatest modern historian of Russia, Simon Sebag Montefiore, writes in his recent book, “The Romanovs: 1613-1918,” Putin calls his ideology “sovereign democracy,” which is really "authoritarianism, Orthodox sanctity, Russian nationalism, crony capitalism, Soviet bureaucracy and the fixtures of democracy, elections and parliaments. If there was an ideology, it was bitterness towards and contempt for America...”
Thus, what we are truly seeing is not the Russia Donald Trump sees, which is a big, lavish country just waiting to “do business” with him, but a continuation of Russia’s “business-as-usual,” which is an inner philosophical and political struggle over whether Russia should be an Orthodox Slavic center of the world or a modernizing helpmate of the West.
No matter that Russia today is a badly failing state. On the surface, with Putin, the West has lost, the only apparent problem being that the putative leader of the West understands neither this nor the fact that what the leader of the East really wants is to destroy him. Just another example of what communism’s father, that other Vladimir named Lenin, called employing the services of the “useful idiots” of the West.
Unless something changes after Jan. 20, this is essentially the saga that is going to play out in the new White House’s “Y’all come” open door to Tsar Vladimir the Cunning.