It’s finally happened: I’m actually angry about an anti-Trump ad.
No, I haven’t been hitting the hydroxy, and my brains remain unbleached. After over 125,000 Americans deaths that could have been prevented with just a modicum of competence, and after four years of a president who would gladly establish fascism if he only knew how to spell it, I’m not about to reach for a MAGA hat.
But “Fellow Traveler,” the latest video from the Lincoln Project, has made me see red. And I’m afraid that was the intention.
The Lincoln Project, founded by George Conway (Kellyanne’s husband) and other Never-Trump Republicans, has produced a series of attack ads that seem to have two aims: swaying unhappy Republicans and Independents, and renting space in Donald Trump’s head (there’s plenty of room). Their “Mourning in America” video (a play on the famous Ronald Reagan ad) is a devastating indictment of Trump’s failures to handle the coronavirus crisis, while “#TrumpsNotWell” so clearly angered our Orange Duce that he spent almost 10 minutes at his Ill-fated Tulsa rally rehashing his failure to drink water with one hand and walk down a ramp without doddering.
On July 1, after allegations that Trump ignored intelligence about Russian bounties on American soldiers, the Lincoln Project released a new video, this time about Trump and Russia.
And it’s awful.
The format of the video is clever, borrowing (not to say stealing) from the credits for the FX series The Americans. But this is also where the trouble begins. Even though everyone in The Americans is always talking about “the Russians,” the spies and their bosses are best understood as Soviet. The show’s iconography (hammers and sickles, statues of Lenin) were perfectly appropriate for a story that took place when there was a Soviet Union (which, yes, consisted of 15 republics, the largest of which was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).
It might sound like splitting hairs, but it’s an important distinction, both ethnically (not all Soviet citizens were “Russians”) and politically (the Soviet Union was an ideologically-based state that no longer exists).
Not that you would know any of this from the Lincoln Project’s ad. The problem is not simply the thesis that Trump owes his position entirely to Putin and his intelligence services (that’s a question for another post), but that, judging by the imagery and language used here, Trump is working on behalf of….Soviet communism.
There is nothing subtle about it: the hammer and sickle appear every few seconds. Before we see Putin, the Lincoln Project makes sure we see his …predecessors?: Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev. Andropov, Chernenko, and Brezhnev (18 years in power!) are nowhere to be seen. But why should any of them be there? They ran the Soviet Union, not Russia. More important, where is Yeltsin, the first president of the Russian Federation? Nowhere, because he doesn’t fit the narrative constructed here.
Putin is called “our great leader,” using the Russian term “vozhd’,” associated almost exclusively with Stalin. Trump, meanwhile, is repeatedly called “Comrade Trump,” even though people stopped using the address “comrade” almost thirty years ago.
But none of that matters, because the important point is that Russia (in whatever form, whatever name it takes) is established as our eternal enemy (ignoring a minor blip called World War II). And Russia always equals “communism,” even when that equation makes no sense whatsoever. In a country where Trump’s followers rant about socialism without having the slightest idea what the word means, this is probably to be expected. But the people behind the Lincoln Project should know better.
This is not a defense of Putin or his policies (invading neighbors, crushing civil liberties, getting weird with animals). But it is a plea to remember the consequences and ramifications of this sort of demonization.
From Russia with… Oh, please, God, stop…
Here’s a thought experiment: instead of Putin and Russia, let’s imagine another country with an authoritarian leader whose support by a majority of his population alarms a lot of people in the rest of the world. What if this were a scandal about Trump accepting illegal electoral interference from Bibi Netanyahu and Israel? How would we feel about a two-minute video filled with Stars of David, men in Orthodox garb, sinister snapshots of Bibi, and soldiers in tanks, all to the tune of “Hava Nagila”? If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, I’m not sure what to tell you.
For years, Russian State Media have been harping on the West’s alleged “Russophobia,” that is, an American and European reflexive hostility to Russia that motivates every criticism of the country. I’ve long maintained that “Russophobia” is primarily a phenomenon internal to Russia. Claiming that the Russian Federation is surrounded on all sides by people with an irrational hatred for the country is politically extremely useful. Protesters in Moscow demand fair elections? They’re Russophobes taking money from the State Department. Sanctions agains Russia for seizing Crimea and invading Ukraine? More Russophobia. Pay it no mind.
But the Lincoln Project seems dead-set on proving that the Russian state propagandist are actually right. I can easily imagine this video playing on Russia’s Channel 1, with the smug, snide commentary of Dmitri Kiselyov, state television’s Troll-in-Chief: “See? This is what they think of us! This is how stupid they are!” And he’d be right.
Trump has to go. But that doesn’t mean we have to make Russian propagandists’ work so easy for them.