LETTER FROM THE FUTURE: ON TRUMP’S RACISM
As someone hailing from Russia, which has been ruled by alt-right autocratic regime for the last 17 years, I have a privilege of conveying stories and messages from the future to my friends in the US and Europe.
The first one will be about Trump’s racism and xenophobia. The president-elect and members of his team are often being accused of spreading hatred towards Muslims, Jews and Hispanics. The outrage is justified, but if Trump is to become a successful alt-right autocrat, he will soon neutralise this criticism by coopting numerous representatives of these communities into his camp and indeed the government.
For someone like Trump or Putin xenophobia is only a means of mobilising their constituency, not an end in itself, like it was for Hitler. People like them have no qualms about embracing someone who they hated just a second ago. Trump and Putin are ecumenical nationalists.
Putin has always been able to reach out to and find support base among Muslims, Jews, Chechens and even a part of LGBT crowd. Putin’s version of nationalism is truly non-ethnic and non-racist, but it is just as vicious and radical as nationalist movements that took over much of Europe in the 1930s. In the same vein, now being in America, I can see how Trump can appeal to Afro-Americans, Jews and Hispanics. I met all of these at Trump rallies and I am now writing from Brighton Beach, a Russian-speaking Jewish district of New York which is overwhelmingly and vehemently pro-Trump.
Putin has created a version of modern nationalism which myself and many others in Russia call nashism. It comes from the word ‘nashi’, which means ‘our folks’ and was used by Putin and his alt-right predecessors in the 1990s to define the supporters and their enemies, who would naturally fall into the category of non-ours. The latter would include everyone who disagreed with the system – some minority activists indeed, but mostly straightforward Russian liberals of non-exotic origins and walks of life.
The likes of Putin and Trump don’t create ethnic movements, they create gangs, in which the only criteria that really matters is whether you are “with us” or “against us”, whether you are ready to insult or hurt the “others” no matter who they are and what you felt about them in the first place. They are mob artists, they are majoritarians or – translating the latter term into Russian language – the Bolsheviks.
Trump’s and Putin’s advantage is that they are not bound by logic or intellectual decency. Their constituencies have the span of attention of a toddler – they won’t even notice the leader and his propaganda machine switching from hating to praising and coopting a certain group. That’s what Putin has done with former Chechen independence fighters, who are now playing a key role in his machine or terror.
The anti-Trump march held by the opposition last weekend was all about minority rights, but I am not sure to which extent everyone present – the crowd included many radical left-wingers – is united on values, such as democracy, rule of law, transparency of the government and internationalism. Trump’s spin doctors will have no problem breaking this movement, pitting its diverse components against each other, the same way Putin did with Bolotnaya protests in 2012.
With their old rhetoric and linguistic taboos, left-wingers and liberals look obsolete and lagging far behind Trump or Putin who both represent a very modern, sophisticated and media-savvy political movement. To beat Trump, his opponents need to start everything anew and unite under more universal and unifying slogans.