LETTER FROM THE FUTURE: ON COLLABORATIONISM
As someone from Russia, which has been ruled by alt-right autocratic regime for the last 17 years, I have a privilege of conveying messages from the future to my friends in the US and Europe. You can find the previous message here.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected, you have every reason to be depressed, but there is a guy next to you thinking: “Now this is my golden moment!”.
It might be someone you didn’t pay much attention to because of their perceived lack of talent or charisma. In your intellectual snobbery, you may have even insulted them on more than one occasion without even noticing.
The success of a populist regime, like Putin’s, depends on its ability to provide social lifts to those who couldn’t succeed in a more meritocratic system – often due to mediocre education and a lack of confidence. Many of these people are genuinely talented, but not in the way you are – they begin to shine when the epoch requires a more vicious and misanthropic kind of talent.
Now they can overtake you in the race for better life by going over ethical barriers, which matter for you but not so much for them.
Putin has elevated a whole generation of non-entities, turning them into billionaires, ministers, spin doctors, television stars and top security agents. He has created numerous youth movements, agencies and institutions that pamper and educate young followers during their meteoric rise to power.
If Trump wants to succeed, he will need to do the same, else he’ll find himself alone against the old establishment that will simply eat him up. Like Savonarola or ayatollah Khomeini, he needs an army of loyalists obliged to him for having a life they could never have dreamt of.
I used to have many friends in the 1990s who are no longer my friends. They would depart into Putin jobs saying something like: “Good people need to be inside the system, else no one will ever stop these bastards”. Many would insist that the other – liberal – side is ethically no better than Putin’s, that they are technocrats who can help Russia no matter who is in charge. Some of them would point to the theory of small local improvements that eventually lead to tectonic cultural shifts.
All of them eventually turned into hideous monsters. I remember how in something like 2000 my wife complained to her school friend, who had just become a major political operative in the Kremlin, about the cynical way Putin tackled Kursk submarine disaster. “Now you are talking like an ordinary person”, said the man who over the next couple of years made a full evolution from living in a dingy Soviet apartment to owning oils wells and 17th century Flemish paintings.
Putin’s regime, both political and economic team, is comprised of young talented people who would fit naturally into a crowd of cynical Wall Street executives, such as those who precipitated Enron scandal, or crypto-fascist Silicon valley bosses of Peter Thiel type. Only their job is arguably more fun because on top of getting super-rich, they can manipulate millions of people, start wars, move borders and destroy the lives of their perceived enemies.
You’d say this is impossible in America because of long-established institutions, oversight, checks and balances, free media. But I also remember hearing that a candidate who blatantly ignores facts, logic and basic ethics couldn’t be elected the president of the United States. Trump has done the impossible and yes he can do much more.
To avoid what happened in Russia, it is crucial to be intolerant to any form of collaboration, to attack and ostracise anyone who turns to the other side without giving them a chance to breath and find their bearings. The psychological damage due to constant pressure should outweigh the perks of their jobs and shiny prospects. Many people say Trump and his team should be given a fair chance to govern. Well, you may give that chance to them, but they won’t give you any.