Beyond the Bounds of Possibility

6 june 2017

How the U.S. Has Reached Its Peak and What Are the Results?

Alexander Baunov is Editor-in-Chief of Carnegie.ru.

Resume: The correction made by American voters means that over a certain period of time the world will see the emergence of more places free from American dominance. Russia should think hard about how it will fill in its part of the emerging vacuum.

The Democrats who lost the 2016 elections and Donald Trump who beat them are much more alike in their talk and deeds than one might think. Both told their respective electorates that the U.S. had fallen victim to hostile foreign forces. Apparently, the problem is not that the Democrats have suffered a defeat, but that the U.S. has lost sight of the limits to what it can do in the world. 

We have been hearing strange things in the U.S. since the middle of last year and even more bizarre rhetoric is emerging today. Trump’s rise turned out to be quite surprising, but so was the reaction to it. In fact, three intelligence services claimed in their report that Russian interference in the U.S. electoral process was Vladimir Putin’s revenge for Hillary Clinton’s firm position during the elections and protests in Russia in the winter of 2011-2012. American intelligence services cited Putin’s remarks cautiously favoring Trump as proof of Russia’s disastrous intrusion into the U.S. political system.

Equally dumfounding is the revelation that the three intelligence services based their conclusions on critical remarks about Hillary Clinton made by people linked to the Kremlin. One can hardly believe that American intelligence agencies failed to notice the fact that people critical of the Russian regime had also voiced doubts about Clinton’s candidacy.

There were also perplexing articles seriously arguing that the election was a struggle between pro-Western democratic forces and Russia’s candidate, as if it were Georgia or Moldova rather than the U.S. It was strange to hear progressive politicians arguing that criticizing the secretary of state, who is actually a civil servant, was tantamount to undermining the legitimacy of the future president, that an unrestricted Internet was harmful, that journalists were excessively fair, that there was suspicious contact with foreigners, or that security services would not bring charges without good reason. It is quite striking that patriotism should be manifested through an individual attitude towards foreigners or you will be a bad American if you do not blame Russia enough. We have seen all this here in Russia before, but witnessing the same in the U.S. is truly odd.

NON-PRESIDENTIAL BEHAVIOR

I have always criticized Russian patriots for trying to lament the loudest in a besieged fortress. Playing an offended victim suffering at the hands of a hostile foreign force puts Russia in a highly uncharacteristic sacrificial position of an emerging small nation whose statehood depends on another’s word of honor.  

So, when last summer I saw the first articles alleging that a Russian television channel, an English-language website, a legion of unnamed hired commentators, and Russian secret services—skillful but still not omnipotent—were about to deliver a fatal blow to freedom in the U.S., transform American democracy into a dictatorship, turn honey into vinegar and wine into water, I thought it was somewhat humiliating for the U.S. Why would a country that has been collectively rejected by others so many times (a sure sign of power) need to close ranks against a knowingly weaker opponent?

In 2010, WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of documents from U.S. diplomatic correspondence, but the U.S. suffered no consequences. In fact, it did not lose even one ally or gain even one new enemy. At the time it did not occur to anyone to start telling the world that Russia was behind it. Moreover, Russia was considered one of the affected parties (the leaked documents revealed many interesting details about its government officials and friends) even though anti-globalist Julian Assange’s anti-U.S. intentions were all too clear from the very beginning.  

What Trump’s opponents say and write is offending and too petty for the U.S. By contrast, the Kremlin blamed its problems on a much more powerful force. In fact, Vladimir Putin, who has been collecting external threats, never tried to shift responsibility for domestic problems to Polish security services, Ukrainian television channels, or Latvian bloggers; rather he was worried about the interference of a country that was much more powerful than his. 

The current situation is different in that it has suddenly and completely lost all sense of proportion, something never seen before. Being out of proportion means a situation where a large animal starts acting like a small one: an elephant tries to hide in a burrow, gets hilariously stuck halfway in, and flaps his ears which are too big to squeeze in; or a driver starts parking his truck as if it were a compact car or a motorcycle and loses all sense of dimension. The idea that the king has been replaced, procedures have been corrupted, and voters stupefied by foreigners is not mere chest-pumping on the part of foreigners, but something that comes out of the depths of American political thought.  

We can see in the U.S. what we think is not quite American, as if some metric scale has suddenly shrunk. Trump was accused of “unpresidential” behavior during his campaign, but now the entire U.S. is acting the same way.  “Unpresidential” Trump is restless, has an intemperate mouth and tousled hair, and makes funny repetitions when he speaks. One can hardly imagine George W. Bush exchanging angry tweets with comic show hosts. Bush, also funny and tongue-tied, acted differently and had a completely different political bearing. But the U.S. today, including that part of the country which is criticizing Trump, used to be indispensable, but now it looks like an unpresidential country. A country with a stately air that chaired the world’s board of directors (the main motif in Russia’s policy in recent years was that we were or were not sitting at the same table with them) is suddenly acting like a child who has jumped to his feet, is swinging his arms around, clutching his head, tousling his hair, and hurling a cap at his opponent and an ink pot at the seemingly lurking shadow of the devil. 

The most vivid example of the U.S.’s unpresidential behavior is when it starts acting in a way which is more characteristic of small emerging nations; that is, when it refers to a big and strong external evil in order to strengthen its own collective identity, just like Slovaks did against the Hungarians, the Hungarians against the Austrians, Ukraine against Russia, and so on. All of a sudden, the U.S. is looking for an aggressive foreigner, something we have not seen in that country at least since the days of Senator McCarthy. Michael Flynn’s resignation is not just a light version of the Cold War, but a new round of McCarthyism, a practice that was widely used when Americans were terrified by the possibility that they might lose their nuclear monopoly and by a Soviet satellite cruising the starry sky above them.

Another side of the unpresidential behavior is the interpretation of American domestic policy as a continuation of foreign policy, not even its own foreign policy, but that of other countries. In Eastern Europe, and partly in Russia, we have become used to a situation where political forces or projects do not oppose each other inside a country, but rather a country itself becomes a battlefield for opposing global forces. The typical construct suggests that a country turns towards the West and no one tries to stop it. This is how the political process is described in Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Montenegro. There are pro-Western forces and a pro-Russian candidate or a pro-Russian party that must be defeated. Now the U.S. is trying to push its way to the West. It has suddenly turned out that there are “pro-Russian” candidates and “pro-Western” forces inside the U.S. and everyone must rally around the latter to make them first.  

The decision to expel Russian diplomats from the country and take away their summer houses in late 2016, which Putin condescendingly parried by inviting U.S. diplomats and their children to a New Year’s show in the Kremlin, presented a striking contrast to Barack Obama’s usual moderation and calm prudence. The act was clearly out of proportion to the declared threat allegedly undermining the foundations of American statehood. In fact, it had been “undermined” before when the Russian mass media apparently preferred Obama over McCain during the 2008 presidential election. 

In the most recent election, different countries supported different candidates. The Spanish El Pais and El Mundo, speaking the same language with a quarter of voters in the U.S., favored Hillary Clinton, while the political establishment in Israel, which has a lot of influence in another part of the American electorate, was on Trump’s side.  

With every new article in the U.S., assertions that the outcome of the elections critically depends on the opinion of foreign government officials, the plans of foreign security services, or foreign mass media reports legitimize authoritarian leaders’ claims that they are not fighting dissidents in their own countries, but in the U.S. So it is only fitting that they keep doing so, especially since authoritarian leaders read and hear many more unpleasant things about themselves than ordinary American candidates do.

A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE WORLD

The differences in the languages spoken by the establishment and Trump was partly behind the loss in the sense of proportion. Trump’s joyful effrontery has nothing to do with this. Democrats and traditional Republicans acted not just as Americans, but as the leaders of the global establishment and spoke the global language in terms of the values that must be spread worldwide. They met with ordinary voters, telling them what Putin wants and warning that his desires will lead to the disintegration of the European Union. But a large number of American voters do not think globally. Trump’s voters do not care about what Putin wants in his faraway cold-gripped country. Trump spoke to these people in a more mundane, more colloquial language, and won. But then it had become clear that the defeated party did not want to face reality in Arizona, fight its opponent on his own turf, or abandon the global language. Instead, the Democrats continued to talk to the American people not only as subjects of international relations, but also as actors engaged in global ideological polemics and endowed with global responsibility. When it comes to explaining their defeat in Arizona, Democrats suddenly break into a petty language that degenerates into a Russian conspiracy theory against American democracy and Russian interference in the electoral process in Oklahoma. And yet the Democrats do not see the ironic disproportion of their language and refuse to use a language matching their defeat, because they fear this would be a betrayal of the global mission. This explains why most questions to Trump at his first news conferences were about suspicious contacts between members of his team and foreigners.  

We think the discourse of American intellectuals and journalists is the result of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the presidential elections. The calm and derisive attitude assumed by Trump and his supporters are in stark contrast to the way Democrats act. But this is how it seems from Russia. In reality, both camps are fidgety.   

Hillary Clinton and her allies, on the one hand, and Trump and his supporters, on the other, act in a much more similar manner than it is generally believed. Both are scaring Americans with external threats. Both told their voters that their country had fallen victim to foreign intrigues, that freedom and democracy in one case, and prestige and economy, in the other, had been challenged by external forces, that the nation was in danger, and that the old rules no longer worked in new challenging times. Clinton blamed Russia and world populism, Trump pointed to Muslims, China, and Mexico, developing countries in general, and transnational corporations that work for the benefit of other countries, but not the U.S. 

Both Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s supporters are trying to frighten their voters with someone who only recently was considered weak. In fact, can Mexico really stand up to the U.S.? In the past, the construction of a Ford factory in Mexico was regarded as a sign of responsible power: We are rich and we help the poor develop, if, of course, we pay them fairly, do not pollute their rivers, and do not use child labor. Or it demonstrated the power of American business that was expanding to new markets. Now removing the Ford factory from Mexico would be a great national victory. Obama stated recently that Russia was a regional power with a GDP smaller than that of Spain and had an economy that had been torn to pieces. Now Russia is a threat to the U.S. political system, and the only Russian state-run television channel broadcasting in English can influence the American elections through its numerous YouTube subscribers, because this is what the report prepared by three intelligence services states. Concerns over the spread of influence through YouTube, social network blogs, and fake news on the Internet have caused such severe anxiety that one can soon expect calls for blocking online accounts and building a great American firewall. In fact, calls for controlling the Internet have already been made. 

Supporters of the defeated Democratic Party are apparently unaware that what they say echoes the words of their victorious opponents: We must reconstruct a country humiliated by foreigners and repair the damage done by external forces.

MAXIMUM RANGE

Since both parties feel the same anxiety and both warn their voters about external threats, there is something more than just the defeat of the Democrats. The main problem may be that the U.S. has achieved its maximum range and reached the limit of its possibilities, similarly to Russia in Syria. The U.S. finds it very hard, even harder than Russia, to understand that one should not bite off more than he can chew. For instance, many times over the past twenty-five years Russia has had to retreat, give up, and reevaluate its limits. But this is an entirely new experience for the Americans, who have become used to the fact that there is no limit to their possibilities. 

For the first time in twenty-five years the U.S. cannot go farther, partly because there is nowhere to go or it will run directly into Russia. Twenty-five years is almost double the time Putin has been in power. Over this period an entirely new generation of politicians, experts, and journalists has grown up and made their professional careers without encountering any external obstacles, maximum range limits, or attempts to stop their advance. They built their careers from the time they were students to middle age in this reality of almost unlimited power rooted in unlimited righteousness inferred from the “we are great because we are good” formula.  

The U.S. does not encounter unsurmountable obstacles because it is always right. Omnipotence and righteousness have merged into a feeling of concern. The loss of absolute power is regarded as a mission failure rather than as a natural state all other countries live in quite well. The simple thought that one can be right, but not omnipotent, or that one can be right in one case and wrong in another, has vanished somewhere beyond the horizon of consciousness.

And all of a sudden everything has changed. For the first time in twenty-five years, the U.S.’s external influence is not expanding; it has stopped and is even shrinking, just as the European Union has shrunk for the first time in its history. The fact that the U.S. has reached the limit of power is viewed as a mission failure, an encroachment on its righteousness and values, and an internal threat; if nothing can be achieved outside, things will start tumbling down inside too, because the coordinate axes of external power and internal success have long merged into one never-ending straight line.  

Simultaneously, all other countries are doing more or less all right with limited power. In fact, what the Americans considered a norm was an exception. Throughout the 20th century the U.S. was not quite omnipotent and achieved unlimited power only with the end of confrontation between the Soviet and non-Soviet systems, partly because the winner nearly missed the moment when that confrontation ceased. The U.S. still sees either an empty space in place of Russia (that is, looks right through it) or a continuation of the Soviet Union, which must be fought the same way and for the same reasons the old Soviet Union was fought.    

It is hard for the winner to notice external changes (the Soviet Union continued to view Germany as a revanchist state up until perestroika, which partly was done intentionally) or its own mistakes. It is unbearably hard for the winner to realize the need for change. Why should it? Stalin won the Second World War and resumed political repressions. Why should one reconsider his own behavior if it led him to victory? Many ordinary Americans and even intellectuals never noticed the end of the Cold War or Russia’s role in ending it, let alone the fact that Russia was the U.S.’s ally in winning that victory. They simply had no reason to do so because the U.S. did not change from within.

The victory in the Cold War is often portrayed as the liberation of Germany or some common territories from Russia, which simply retreated under the attack of external forces. It would be natural to assume, therefore, that Russia is preparing a counteroffensive to take revenge, and the West must hold the territory it has won (liberated) and possibly do more by liberating something else. Russia’s own life is ignored completely. 

There is a striking gap between the norm setter and all others who have to abide by these norms. None of the other countries is omnipotent, and only one country aspired to achieve all of its goals. China, Japan, let alone Russia or even the European Union could not have such aspirations in principle. So when we say that the U.S. has lost a sense of proportion and realized its inability to achieve all its goals and is suffering all the ensuing pains, we should understand that it is simply returning to normalcy and becoming aware of its limits.

Just like Russia, Turkey, Iran, China, and all other countries, the U.S. has reached its limits in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere. The U.S. started something in Syria and now it does not know what to do about it, but cannot give it up either. This “we don’t know what to do about it” situation began long before Russia intervened. The U.S. understands that it will have to go through a period of Euroscepticism in Europe, which started to emerge long before Russia meddled in political discussions inside the European Union. Attempts to pack Turkey into the European Union have almost been abandoned even though this was one of the immediate goals. There is also going to be a retreat in Ukraine, where the forces declared the only democratic and allied ones will lose elections to a more reticent and underrepresented part of society.

American voters clearly feel, but most U.S. politicians do not, that their country is overburdened with allies who are constantly trying to turn their own agendas into an American one, make their priorities American priorities, infect Americans with their own fears, and create conflicts for America that it never intended to create. Moreover, those forces draw borders and red lines for American policies which the U.S. never drew itself. In this sense the U.S. has long stopped being omnipotent; it cannot afford what some will find alarming, others, offending, and still others, upsetting. This concerns not only young democracies, but also old authoritarian regimes and sometimes even warring groups.     

Practically every conflict in the world turns into an American one, because one of the parties involved always claims it is an ally of the U.S. and its frontline trench. Any problem anywhere in the world concerns the U.S. The ambassador of every country always has things to discuss in Washington. American journalists always expect Russian voters to ask Putin about Syria. Why they do not expect the same from their own voters is a big question.

CORRECTION BY ELECTION

Benefits from such global leadership look increasingly obscure to voters. Explanations that this produces free labor, brings happiness to people, and emancipates Oriental women no longer seem convincing, especially since efforts continuously exerted over five or even ten years failed to achieve the stated goals and often produced the opposite results. 

When something is not clear to voters, they simply do not vote for it. If all the didactic capability of the American political and intellectual community consisting of respected and renowned people happened to be overpowered by just one developer’s tweet, a legion of unnamed commentators working on Moscow Standard Time, and unknown anchormen on just one foreign television channel, then all questions must be put to that community.

We do not know whether the current lack of omnipotence is something temporary or permanent or whether it is reversible or not. But we know that great powers acted nervously when they lost global significance. We know this from our own history, and Britain and France from their own experience. Achieving maximum range limits in the outside world may be taken as the end of internal development, because the two have long merged into one. But this is not the case. Russia did not face worse problems when it stopped leading the global utopian project. The world did not stop developing technically and intellectually after the sun began to set over Great Britain. The latter did not stop being a sophisticated, advanced, and educated country and its citizens did not fall into poverty when it became less omnipresent.

THE BEST OF EVILS

The problem is not that the winner is changing outwardly rather than inwardly after the victory. The task is to remain the winner permanently. It is extremely hard to create counterbalances and restrictions for oneself in place of those that were swept away by the victory. When the U.S. was omnipotent, it did not create institutions that would operate without it after its omnipresence ends or at least with its reduced participation. It seems the U.S. never even considered such a possibility. The United Nations was pushed aside by the coalition of the willing in Iraq and by a broad interpretation of its resolutions on Libya and Yugoslavia. Attempts to convert NATO from an organization intended to fight Russia into something else were vapid and finally failed, partly because its new Eastern European members did not want to change anything. NATO or united Europe with a more pronounced role for Russia could have become such an institution, but it is precisely for this reason that no one ever considered this option seriously. 

References to a new Yalta Conference do not mean a new rough division of the world, even though this idea has more than enough supporters. But it is impossible to divide the world in such a way that would exclude conflicts on the borders of spheres of influence. There will always be countries and zones on these borders that will want to go or will be enticed to go one way or the other with the same consequences we can see today. They will be divided, but they will still want to take sides.

This is not the point, however. The point is that while you are the boss and you are strong, you have to create institutions that will work without you, and to bring into the world order the division of power and institutional restrictions that underpin democracies within themselves. However, this will require voluntary self-restriction. Western European countries willingly accepted this when they created the European Union, but only among themselves, inside the West. The U.S., democratic within and having a broad system of institutional restrictions, did not even try to create something like that in the outside world; instead it acted otherwise.

Instead of building institutions whose jurisdiction would extend to the U.S. and other countries, the U.S. simply relied on its own force. Its rhetoric in the outside world was similar to what we hear about Putin in Russia: He is an experienced, strong-willed, and knowledgeable person who has the support of his people, and therefore he is authorized to make all critical decisions personally. Institutions only have to formalize and legitimize them. What do Americans say? We have the strength, wisdom, experience, and will, and the best part of the world is with us. So they simply did not bother to create any institutions that would work without them or with their reduced participation. There are no procedures to confirm the American mandate, and those that exist are waved aside when they contradict the U.S.’s understanding of its own mandate.

 The “a man is known by the company he keeps” postulate does not work in international relations; nor does the “democracies make friends only with democracies” rule. Extremely authoritarian regimes may become U.S. allies, while less authoritarian ones may be classified as opponents. While being democratic within, the modern West acted like an autocrat in the outside world. The West is liberal for itself, but it is much less liberal in foreign policy for others. This is one of the fundamental contradictions of the modern world.

The West was omnipresent because there was no alternative. The U.S. liked the comfort this status gave and became its chief beneficiary, seeking to reproduce it continuously. The bipolar world was an alternative, even though an outlived one. Even escapism, voluntary refusal of choice (the Non-Alignment Movement), and the hesitation of those who make the choice created some sort of global pluralism, albeit often perfunctory. 

But once the Soviet alternative was gone (precisely because at the end of its existence it stopped being a real alternative), the West exerted every effort to ensure that no alternative to American leadership emerged anywhere ever again. 

The U.S. acted exactly like an authoritarian ruler who clears the ground around himself and takes every measure to exclude any new challenge to his authority. With their only opponent gone, the Americans took steps to solidify this status quo. But it soon became clear that they could not patch all the holes and there would always be someone outside the system who would challenge them, whether the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Islamic extremism in general, or something else.

It is not that there are no institutions for making arrangements with others in order to fight this evil together and decide which of the evils is lesser and what can be sacrificed. Having to fight a non-systemic evil over and over again alone appears to be a less unpleasant undertaking for the Americans than creating a systemic opponent with their own hands. In fact, negotiating institutions that are based on something other than the U.S. and can operate without it would mean reducing American global power, creating an alternative force, and recognizing its legitimacy. When such a force appears illegally out of the blue and we fight it because no one in the world will recognize it anyway, that is one thing. But creating such an alternative force with one’s own hands is something different. After a quarter of a century of unchallenged omnipotence, this is the last thing the U.S. wants to do. This is why Russia from time to time is placed officially above ISIS on the list of threats or unofficially considered the worst of the two evils, because unlike ISIS, Russia is legitimate. There is a great temptation to delegitimize Russia and turn it (using its real and thought-up faults) into a non-systemic evil so that telephone calls or trips to Russia, a lunch, or business contacts with Russian representatives, would be extremely harmful for those who dare do it.

SUBSTITUTION WITH IMPORT

Trump and Brexit are generally viewed as a crisis of liberalism which must be stopped at all costs. But Russian advocates of liberal values claim that this is not the case. They see the crisis of the liberal world in the fact that while trying to stop the collapse of the liberal order, its defenders are resorting to practices that are usually employed by authoritarian regimes, thus supporting the main message of the propaganda they are opposing so zealously—all nations are essentially the same, and the difference between democracies and non-democracies is no more than sophistry. 

Panelists at scientific and journalistic conferences seriously debate whether their countries should respond to the success of Russian propaganda with their own information campaigns. They fail to understand that by addressing this issue they reaffirm the success of those who claim that there is no such thing as a free press. There are numerous articles presenting only one point of view provided exclusively by unnamed sources. One can hear and read that the American press was “too objective” during the elections or even biased against Hillary Clinton. Civil activists are trying to pressure companies that advertise in the “wrong” mass media in much the same way pro-Kremlin youth activists earlier lashed out at businesses that advertised or financed independent mass media in Russia. It turns out that in the post-liberal Trump era, which began last summer, any contact with foreigners or foreign diplomats can mean treason in the West as well, regardless of the outcome. Distrusting your own citizens, including government functionaries, and asserting that they are defenseless before the tricks of cunning foreigners and therefore should be shielded from any suspicious contact are distinctive features of the most authoritarian regimes.  

The reason why Russia cropped up in U.S. politics is very simple. An intellectual from the coast would probably be tempted to say that ignorant and spiteful folks from the heartland forced a rude rogue upon him as president, but something tells him that it is wrong to talk about his own people in such a way. This goes against his own opinion and he finds consolation in the thought that the ignorant president was forced upon him by uncultured and vindictive Russians led by their own rogue president.     

In fact, he must have been elected by someone. It is import substitution in Russia, but substitution with import in the U.S. The fall of the liberal consensus manifested itself not only in the fact that the Oval Office is occupied by a president who is not considered part of this consensus or liberal by conviction, but also in the fact that those who advocated liberal values are using non-liberal methods to fight him, thus copying the manners of their internal and external opponent. Trump’s critics believe that such methods used against him and Russia are a justified and useful exception, but it will boomerang on them where they expect it least of all, be it young democracies which are closely watching the situation or Russia. Freedom obtained through a compromised and truncated notion of freedom becomes compromised and truncated itself. 

The current challenge to progress and freedom is not the first one in history. The world has always been divided into more liberal and less liberal parts, and the latter always employed threats and tricks to protect itself from external influences and delay the future where it does not belong. But the real danger for the liberal world does not come when it has opponents, because it always has opponents, but when in the pursuit of victory it is willing to make what it thinks are tactical moves in order to limit the freedoms it has declared or apply those moves selectively. This is exactly what happened a hundred years ago to Russian revolutionaries who opposed the backward and repressive tsarist regime, but never noticed their own degradation under progressive slogans into a system that became even more repressive, anti-modern, and archaic than the previous one would have been if it had evolved along with the rest of the world.

FILLING THE VACUUM

It is really striking that Americans living inside democracy fail to notice how it helps them correct disproportions and show state flexibility. Where autocracy balks and pursues the policy of one unchangeable person, who as a rule is not willing to admit his own mistakes, and where any change of policy is tantamount to treason, correction often occurs through an internal catastrophe. In a democracy, voters can simply blackball an unpopular policy and delay unclear decisions until they are properly explained to them. Correcting policy through elections is a sign of flexibility and a healthy society. Internal democratic mechanisms worked in 2016 when voters thought it was necessary to correct the external overload.   

Strange as it may seem, American intellectuals happened to be the least flexible in this situation. The working class got what it wanted and latent xenophobes got what they desired. But the pragmatic business community did not get scared; markets quickly recovered from an initial slump after Trump’s victory, exceeded the previous level, and keep growing. But growth cannot last forever, and we may see statements and actions that will provoke reflection or capital flight, but there was optimism, not panic, in the businesses community after Trump’s election.

Intellectual workers turned out to be the most enthusiastic expansionists, for the extensive growth of power during the twenty-five years of unchallenged U.S. leadership in the world became the proof of righteousness for them. It is they who took an ordinary correction—a candidate from one systemic party defeats another candidate—as a political catastrophe and accepted its result, or at least the inner logic of this result, very grudgingly. American intellectuals and the political-bureaucratic community linked to them proved to be a collective autocrat who saw nothing short of treason in the correction of policy during elections and who considers themselves, rather than the voters, the only source of correct decisions.   

This is not as surprising as it may seem. Academics are naturally an important part of the active minority that charts the political course, the bearer of delicate culture, and the arbiter of values. But they are also the most conservative part of society that lives in the comfort of academic institutions or government councils. These people encounter reality as tourists when using public transport, shopping, or receiving public services, and they often keep their views from when they were students for the rest of their lives. In fact, academics are paid for reproducing the patterns they created in college, basically for improved versions of their course papers, but it is they who were the least flexible where others promptly responded to the overstrain of ubiquitous leadership.

The correction made by American voters means that over a certain period of time the world will see the emergence of more places free from American dominance, similar to the situation at the turn of the century. There will be regions where the United States will have to cooperate with other countries and regions where it will not. Now that the U.S. has not acted in a manner that would be appropriate for its status of the boss, and its president (and with him a majority of the populace) has questioned America’s rectorial functions, and his predecessors failed to create proper institutions for this contingency, America’s allies—Europe, Japan, and South Korea—are beginning to think about acquiring more political identity of their own.

Russia should think hard about how it will fill in its part of the emerging vacuum. If it chooses monuments to Ivan the Terrible, controversial bills, or forced ideological constructs, it will simply miss one more historic opportunity. 

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