Wednesday, December 11, 2019

America Starts to Feel a Little More Soviet

NYC's St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Many historians and columnists - as well as this blog - have lamented the drift of America towards an authoritarian regime where actions once expected only from dictatorships and the so-called banana republics of the past are now common place among the Trump/Pence regime and Republican sycophants. America's decline is being noticed abroad as well where other NATO leaders whisper about Trump - America's version of Kim Jong-un. It is also being noticed by those who immigrated to America seeking a better life and a political system that supposedly held to ideals embodied in the U.S. Constitution who now, as noted in a piece in The Atlantic, feel as if they are witnessing a Soviet/Putin form of corrupt authoritarian rule.   The world is watching to see if Congress steps up to defend America's supposed ideals by impeaching and removing Trump from office or if we are witnessing the first major step in the death of the American republic.  Here are excerpts from the Atlantic piece: 

Walk down a barely marked stairway into a basement in New York’s East Village on a Sunday morning, and you may find yourself in a hub of Ukrainian American life. Members of the vast Ukrainian diaspora regularly gather here, at a church-run restaurant called Streecha, trading the latest on Ukrainian politics over plates of pierogi and bowls of borscht. As formal impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump were finally getting under way recently, several of the patrons here told me that America had lately been feeling more like home—and not in a good way.
Diplomats and officials as prominent as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have attempted to revive Ronald Reagan–style rhetoric about America’s role as the world’s foremost defender of liberty and freedom, including signaling support for Ukrainian self-determination. Meanwhile, [Trump] the president and his associates appear to be more invested in courting power and personal gain, from Trump’s cozy press conferences with Russian President Vladimir Putin to his attempt to get the Ukrainian government to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden.
The Ukrainians I met here weren’t surprised by this Trumpian mode of politics, in part because it’s very similar to the status quo in the part of the world they come from. The impeachment inquiry is a test not just of Trump’s character, but of the country’s: Is a pitch for America’s exceptionalism still plausible, or is corruption the only true universal principle any government will ever embrace?
“I used to think that American politicians and politics is much more nice than Ukrainian,” Natalie, a short, chatty woman who gave her age as “in her 30s or 40s,” told me. “Come on. It’s even worse.” . . . . The United States government is just as corrupt as Ukraine’s, Natalie said, comparing political leaders here to squabbling seventh graders. This realization has been disappointing, she said, because she is an American by choice: She came to the U.S. a little less than a decade ago, after feeling pushed out of Ukraine by instability and lack of opportunity.
[Trump’s] The president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his business associates have come under fire for trying to coordinate a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens. And Trump, of course, is now the subject of an impeachment inquiry focused on his apparent attempt to pressure Ukrianian President Volodymyr Zelensky into a similar investigation.
As this unlikely series of events has unfolded, Trump and his allies have taken to casually demonizing Ukraine as suspicious and untrustworthy, calling back to Cold War–era stereotypes of Soviet spies and no-goodniks. Leaders ranging from Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana to [Trump] the president himself have promoted the false claim that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Kennedy later walked back his statement.)
The portrait of his [Trump’s] behavior that has emerged in news reports and congressional testimony is one of using his office for personal gain: He sought to leverage military aid to a vulnerable ally in order to damage a major political opponent. This move had real consequences for Ukraine, where millions of people are currently living under Russian occupation in the eastern part of the country and soldiers fighting Russian troops are underarmed and strapped for resources. The message of his actions was clear, said Natalie, the woman I met at Streecha: “Trump has no idea where is Ukraine, what is Ukraine, and what’s going on in Ukraine.”
Iwan Kinal, a 35-year-old who grew up in New Jersey and wore a furry black Cossack hat as we stood outside St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church in the cold, told me he’s a lifelong Republican and even likes some of Trump’s policies. But he’s been disturbed to hear the president echo what he described as Russian propaganda about Crimea, Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014. “I’m disappointed in his treatment and his opinion of Ukraine from the start,” Kinal said of Trump.
As the impeachment inquiry and other investigations have revealed, Russian propaganda has in fact infiltrated American political discourse, sometimes at the very highest levels of government. Fiona Hill, who served for two years on Trump’s National Security Council, said during November’s impeachment hearings that members of the House Intelligence Committee itself were perpetrating “a fictional narrative” created by Russian security services that Russia did not, in fact, interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and that Ukraine may have done so instead. The truth has become subservient to political expediency, and the American government has become a little more similar to any other strongman regime.
Just as Ukraine has long been a football in Russia’s regional schemes, it has now become a Rorschach test in America’s partisan feuds, consequences be damned. “Ukrainian people have been dying for five years in that territory, and they still do,” said Natalie, referring to the Donbas region, where Ukraine is attempting to fight off a Russian incursion. But in America, all that seems to matter are politicians’ personal fortunes and the next domestic elections, reminiscent of so many strongman regimes. As people die in her home country, Natalie said, all of this “is just a game, unfortunately.”
An irony is that the church referenced in the article is where my father was baptized.  His parents fled Austria-Hungry shortly before WWI and settled in New York City.  My paternal grand parents fled a monarchy for political freedom.  Now, I find myself living in a country drifting towards Trump's self-styled monarchy if Congress fails to act and stop the cancer.

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