I’m sitting in a hotel in Riga, Latvia, taking a writing break during a two-week RoadScholar study tour of the three “Baltic states”: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A few paragraphs down, I’m going to comment on the American political process and the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton candidacies.
But first, I want to create a historical context with a short report on this morning’s lecture about Latvia’s politics, economy, and demography during the Soviet occupation (1940–1991) and the present. The speaker was Prof. Anita Naciscione, from the Latvian Academy of Culture.
Two things were striking about Professor Naciscione’s talk: (1) the simple clarity of her description of the effect of the Soviet occupation of Latvia from 1940 through 1991, and (2) the cutting sarcasm of her reflections on the methods of Soviet repression. She said “During the Soviet occupation, we became ‘a culture of lining up.’” I was brought to attention by her remarks.
In March 1949, when meetings were held to promote collectivization of agriculture, Latvian attendees were asked “Who is in favor of collectivization?” No one raised their hands. Nearly overnight, 41,800 of Latvia’s most effective and profitable farmers and their families were deported to Siberia on the charge of being “exploiters” and “capitalists.” A second round of meetings promoting collectivization was held in April 1949. The attendees were asked “Who is in favor of collectivization?” Everyone raised their hands. For more than 50 years, “democracy” in occupied Latvia was thus controlled by Soviet tyranny. Latvians lined up behind the Soviet program in order to save their lives.
Among the consequences of this Soviet “command economy” were severe shortages of life’s necessities, including food. Professor Naciscione described how the economy worked. When you saw a line, you knew something was available, so you got in line. Then you asked, “What’s on sale?” No one ever knew, however, if there would be enough bread (or whatever) to supply everyone all the way back to the end of the line.
I suspect that Professor Naciscione’s sarcasm arises from her direct experience of chronic pretense: the culture of disinformation, psychological manipulation, and democratic paralysis that was the basis of Soviet power. As I listened to her lecture, I recalled a famous one liner from the Soviet period: “The Soviets pretended to pay us and we pretended to work.”
Fast forward to August 2016 and the campaigns for the presidency of the United States.
The 2016 campaigns will be remembered as the time when Americans woke up to our own catastrophe of chronic pretense. We have kidded ourselves into thinking that we live in the land of opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We do not. At least not for everyone. We have been living in personal and social illusion. We might well say, “Our politicians pretend to serve us and we pretend to believe them.”
We should not be surprised that so-called “uneducated, blue-collar workers”—especially those who are unable to find work—are pissed off and willing to follow a candidate who speaks the language of pissed off. Remember the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes that we learned in high school English?
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun? / Or fester like a sore— / And then run? / Does it stink like rotten meat? / Or crust and sugar over— / like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
This year, the dream deferred has exploded in our faces. The cynical and arguably imbalanced Republican candidate has capitalized on legitimate anger to create immoral havoc. Donald Trump uses assertions to gain notoriety, lies to enroll adherents, and innuendo to foment disorder.
Donald Trump made a calculated faux casual comment on August 9, 2016:
“If [Hillary Clinton] gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”
This is the tyranny of innuendo and comes close to treason. It is not legitimate political discourse.
The cautionary line “loose lips sink ships” during World War II counseled good citizens to “beware of unguarded talk” that might aid America’s enemies. Donald Trump’s “loose lips”—the epitome of “unguarded talk”—reflects the opposite of good citizenship. By what he omits and what he says, Trump’s language practically invites the outraged, the imbalanced, and the unhinged to break the rules that bind us together as Americans and protect us from social chaos.
What’s the connection with Latvia, the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, and the reflections of an expert of Latvian culture? Donald Trump is using the same tactics of disinformation, psychological manipulation, and social chaos as Joseph Stalin and his successors during the years of Soviet occupation from 1940 through 1991.
In our time, Vladimir Putin is using outright lies, half truths, assertions without factual basis, and innuendo to manipulate the emotions, thoughts, and judgements of whole populations to his own ends. Putin and his operatives are waging a global war of disinformation related to the state of hostilities in Ukraine, the wishes of Crimean citizens, the aspirations of the Baltic states, the aims of NATO and the European Union, the intentions of the United States in the world, etc. The aim of this state-sponsored campaign is to destabilize whole societies and regions of the world to Putin’s own self-serving ends.
From whatever causes and for whatever reasons, Donald Trump is cut from the same cloth and seeks only to further his own self-serving ends. Read the history and listen to the people who suffered because of Hitler, Stalin, and now, Putin.
I am a person of good will who cares about justice and opportunity in American society. If you share my sense of both urgency and good will, we have heavy lifting to do to reach out to neighbors of other political persuasions, who doubt the viability of their own lives, or can not envision the possibility of political change.
Donald Trump is heading in the exactly wrong direction. Hillary Clinton needs support heading somewhere closer to the right direction, which I for one, define as inclusive opportunity for employment, lifelong education and health care, and the blessing and creativity of multiculturalism, including NRA members. We have careful, heeling work to do.