Fiodorov was our bespectacled, sharp-witted guide through the ancient churches and towers of the Kremlin. He liked to tell a good-if-sometimes-grim joke as he regaled us with tales of Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin.
“Ah, you Americans,” he said at one point. “Two people get hurt in a car accident, and it’s front-page news. Here in Russia, hundreds get sent off to Siberia, and it’s not even in the newspaper.”
The Cold War between the United States and Russia was finally thawing. Americans and Russians could share in a little self-deprecating humor. The candle-lit, Icon-filled Orthodox churches in Moscow were filling with people able to show their faith and belief openly and without fear.
Today, as the cold, wintry drifts of January bring the new Trump Era in America into view, I wonder at the Cold War nostalgia that the 2016 presidential election seems to have unearthed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants President-elect Donald Trump to be his personal “lap dog,” charges John Podesta, who chaired Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign. He’s echoing similar comments by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof.
Of course, Podesta is referring to alleged Russian hacks into the Democratic National Committee’s email system that revealed how the DNC secretly worked to scuttle the primary campaign of Clinton’s chief Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.
Disgraced former DNC Interim Chair and television commentator Donna Brazile, who resigned her post after revelations that she slipped questions to primary candidate Clinton to give her an edge during televised debates, now calls herself “one of the main victims of the Russian attacks.”
Both Democrats and Republicans are planning further investigation into the matter. The CIA, FBI and NSA have publicly concluded that Putin and Russia were the culprits. President Obama ousted 35 Russian diplomats to show his anger. U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who would have put Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency in 2008, has called Russia’s alleged hacking “an act of war.”
Only one problem threatens to undermine this new Cold War mentality: Not the CIA or anyone else has yet produced any concrete evidence that Putin or the Russians indeed did the alleged hacking. Even the agencies’ much-ballyhooed report released to the public after their meeting with Trump this month included no specific evidence. Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks published the emails, says that the Russians were not his organization’s source. An Assange associate says no hacking even took place, that “an insider”, not a Russian, provided WikiLeaks with the information.
The rising Cold War-like hysteria reached ridiculous proportions in late December when it was determined that the supposed hacking by Russians into the state of Vermont’s electronic grid—an offense that prompted Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, to call Putin “one of the world’s leading thugs”—never happened. The Washington Post reported a story that had no foundation!
What baffles me about the controversy over the leaked emails—regardless of their source—is that it shows Trump was partially right when he claimed the system was “rigged” during the campaign. He was wrong in believing it was rigged against him. The system was actually rigged against Bernie Sanders and any other challenger to the Clinton Machine within the Democratic Party.
Certainly neither Russia nor any other nation should be interfering with the American political process. Is Putin happy Trump won? Sure he is. Candidate Clinton talked about imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, something that likely would have put the United States in a direct military confrontation with Russia.
Still, whoever gave WikiLeaks that information did the American public a service. Voters needed to know that Democratic Party leaders were putting the lie to their party’s name by trying to make sure they, and not the people, got to choose who the general election candidate would be.
Putin is no angel, far from it, and a sadness continues to underlie Roman Fiodorov’s joke because there’s likely still truth to it.
When Trump takes office this month, he’ll bring with him people like his choice for secretary of state, Exxon Mobile Chief Executive Rex W. Tillerson, a businessman who has worked closely with Putin and the Russians for years. What that portends for the environment as well as for relations with China, NATO and Europe is uncertain and even unsettling, like many of Trump’s cabinet choices.
Still, that doesn’t take the stink off the Democratic Party’s near self-destruction in the 2016 election, where its loss of the White House only compounds its loss of Congress, plus 900 legislative seats and two-thirds of governors’ offices over the past eight years.
The current leaked email controversy actually reeks of a “lap dog” mainstream media more than willing to promote an inside campaign to shift attention away from Democratic Party skullduggery to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
And it’s also hypocrisy. Consider the United States’ long history of mixing itself into the elections of other sovereign nations—from Iran to South Vietnam to Chile to Nicaragua to Libya to Honduras to the Ukraine, where a democratically elected president was ousted with U.S. complicity in 2014 with no regard whatsoever how neighboring Russia might feel about that situation.
“Systems are different, but people are the same, “ Roman Fiodorov told us Americans back in 1992. “People just want a (normal) life.”
He was right, and the fact that “systems” and politics often make that difficult is no joke.