I am a member of the last generation that grew up thinking the Soviet Union was a godless, murderous regime that cast its enslaved inhabitants into perpetual darkness. I remember sitting at my desk at St. Mary’s Academy in 1967, praying for the souls of the boys and girls, the future swimmers, gymnasts, ballerinas, pole vaulters, weightlifters and cosmonauts who would battle us for world domination. I didn’t put a lot of effort into those prayers, because even at that young age I knew that those kids hated us as much as we hated Ovaltine (if you know what it is, you understand, and if you don’t know what it is, I can’t even begin to explain).
As I grew older, I became fascinated with what I called “Russia,” because even though I knew there were a lot of countries with distinct and separate cultures that had been swallowed up by this monstrous geographical hydra, I couldn’t pronounce 99 percent of the places with names that ended in “azakstan,” “bekistan,” “ikistan” and other things that sounded like seasonal allergies.
Russia was so seductive precisely because it was so foreign. For all that, it was our greatest enemy, which seemed silly to Generation X and Millennials until this year, when it wasn’t silly anymore. We had very little information about what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. We knew that their women were being crossbred with yaks and Ural mountain goats from the glimpses that we saw at the Olympics (except for Olga Korbut, who looked like a Slavic version of Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island), and we knew they were sending men into space with annoying frequency, but beyond that and the occasional shoe banging at the United Nations, they were under the radar and an enigma.
So when Russia, this time divorced from all of the “-stans,” made its reappearance in our national consciousness as a honest-to-God “thing,” I found myself strangely delighted. It was as if the years had melted away and I was catapulted backward to the time I had a crush on Rudolph Nureyev, who apparently had a crush on Mikhail Barishnikov, not that there’s anything wrong with it.
The floodgates of memory opened as I watched President Trump play diplomatic “footsky” with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and I recalled the time that John F. Kennedy wrapped Nikita Krushchev in a warm bear hug and Richard Nixon chatted amicably with Leonid Brezhnev about how to keep their wives happy. I even remember Ronald Reagan suggesting to Mikhail Gorbachev that if he didn’t want to tear down the wall, he’d send Nancy over to give him some ideas about how to make it more aesthetically presentable.
And then I woke up.
It is impossible to remember a time in recent history (or since Leon Trotsky was sent to that big gulag in the sky,) when we as a nation were more chummy with the Slavs. Some people think that this is a great idea and that Trump is engaging in mental jiu jitsu with the Russians. Keep your friends close and your enemies in Trump Tower (including your idiot son and son-in-law, as the saying goes). Some of those people who think this way, uniformly Trump-supporting conservatives, are new to this “liking Russia” game. They spent most of their lives attacking the Soviets as the evil empire, which it most certainly was. All you have to do is go to Northeast Philadelphia and ask a random Soviet Jew what he feels about his former home, and you will get an earful. I felt that way, and still feel that way, because any regime based on a godless rejection of the innate dignity of human beings is a despotic hellhole. The fact that you now want to open trade relations with and to reduce sanctions on that hellhole does not change its intrinsic nature. Plus, I’d hate to think all of those prayers at St. Mary’s were wasted and the Soviets were actually living the good life while I was drinking Ovaltine.
But apparently, the people who used to hate the Soviets now like Russia, because Trump likes Russia and they want to support our president. That’s fine, if hypocritical. The horrible communist monsters have not changed their fundamental character, regardless of how much we want to hold hands and sing “Kumbayatski, Boris, Kumbayatski.”
But far more jarring than the sight of conservatives embracing the pinkos is the sight of our own homegrown pinkos, the American Left, now rejecting the very country they once held up as a model of social engineering. Liberals in the United States have always had good things to say about socialism, which is communism’s prettier younger sister who doesn’t wear a babushka or have a hairy mole on her cheek. Now, however, they are hysterically and hilariously pointing to Russia as, wait for it, the “evil empire,” and Reagan keeps kicking Nancy in the head with all the revolutions he’s making in their shared grave.
The hypocrisy from the left is as astounding as it is expected, because anything it can do to delegitimize this president is fair game. And it is getting a run for its money in the chutzpah department from the old-line neocons who once wanted to bomb the USSR out of existence and now think all American children should be forced to learn how to spell in Cyrillic.
Comrade, we have a problem.