Russia and the US hone the skills developed half a century ago.
As we announced in January, by highlighting the everyday abuses of the language of public personalities and the media, Fair Observer’s new running feature prolongs the four-year-old tradition of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary (now reduced to a weekly format). We will frequently add new items to the month’s entries. Each item will cite an occurrence in the news and add a short reflection focusing on its intended and unintended meaning.
We invite readers to join us and submit their suggestions of words and expressions that deserve exploring, with or without original commentary. To submit a citation from the news and/or provide your own short commentary, send us an email.
February 3: Anti-Western tropes
Anton Troianovski at The New York Times — perhaps following the lead of our dear friends, Atul Singh and Glenn Carle — believes that the showdown at the Ukrainian border can be explained by President Vladimir Putin’s ideology that sees “Russia as a bulwark of ‘traditional values.’”
Singh and Carle identified Vladislav Surkov as the actor who, honoring the Tsarist tradition, stepped up to the role of Putin’s Rasputin and shaped Russian politics. As Putin’s confidant, Surkov was the equivalent of Steve Bannon to Donald Trump, though their stint together lasted longer than Bannon’s. Surkov left the Russian government somewhat dishonorably in 2019. Troianovski has identified Surkov’s successor, Putin’s latest Rasputin, the spiritual enforcer of the traditions that some believe are at the core of Putin’s politics. “Mr. Putin is known for indulging misleading, anti-Western tropes, but his main national security adviser, Nikolai Patrushev, espouses them with even greater ardor,” Troianovski writes.
Alongside the expected “misleading, anti-Western tropes” that are the bread and butter of propaganda, there may also be a few fact-based anti-Western tropes, the kind that the suppliers of equally misleading, anti-Russian tropes at The New York Times prefer to ignore in favor of more vaporous ones, like the Havana syndrome that finally appears to have been put to bed. The two rivals of last century’s Cold War appear to be busy refining the fine art of trope dissemination they perfected in the aftermath of World War II.
“Mr. Putin,” Troianovski reports, “paints a picture of enemies bent on falsifying Russia’s glorious past, but his foreign intelligence chief, Sergei Naryshkin, has taken on the fight over history as a special priority.” The journalist seems surprised that a government might try to engineer a reading of history that reflects its particular interests. He implies that might include the scurrilous practice of mischaracterizing one’s enemies. How very Russian that is. Nothing like that could occur in an enlightened democracy.
The simple truth is that projecting a misleading understanding of national history is the duty of the government of every nation-state, especially ones that achieve the status of hegemon. In the US, a Democratic president such as Joe Biden has less need to make the effort. He counts on Republicans fulfilling that role. The Democrats seem quite happy to have delegated to their rivals that ungrateful task. Republican senators such as Tom Cotton not only militate to excuse the taste for slavery of the republic’s founders, Cotton’s fellow Republicans have traditionally dominated the publication of US history books to make sure that the undiminished glory and unanimously proclaimed “exceptionalism” of the nation is the only message taught in schools and, implicitly, transmitted by the media.
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