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​Vlad Putin’s and the GOP’s Sclerosis of the Imagination

Last Word | March 16th, 2022

By Charlie Barber

“Imagine there's no countries; It isn't hard to do; Nothing to kill or die for;… You may say I'm a dreamer; But I'm not the only one…”

- John Lennon

“(Generalissimo) Franco’s triumph (in the Spanish Civil War, 1939) shook Roosevelt the hardest, for his own policies had helped shape the outcome. It was clear to him that the embargo (against arms for anti-Fascist forces) had been a grave mistake.” - James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, 1956 “One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty…as a positive force there is nothing to set beside it…

The liberty of the individual is still believed in (in England), almost as in the 19th Century. But this has nothing to do with economic liberty, the right to exploit others for profit. It is the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above.” - George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius, December, 1940

“The continued weight of Stalin and Stalinism on the life of the countries of the Soviet bloc was not so apparent even a few years ago, and some Western writers treated him [and it] as no longer significant. But it has since become clear that this was an error.” - Robert Conquest, Stalin: Breaker of Nations, 1991

“[Saddam] is an egomaniacal sociopath whose penchant for high-risk gambles is exceeded only by a propensity for miscalculation…he suffers from what is popularly called ‘malignant narcissism,’ a sense of self-worth that drives him to act in ways that others would deem irrational, such as invading neighboring countries. But the trait also makes him highly sensitive to direct confrontation and embarrassment, even as he is contemptuous of compromise.”- Joseph Wilson, The Politics of Truth, 2004 “…President Barack Obama (March 2014) met with other NATO leaders in Brussels to discuss Russia and Ukraine…’This is not another Cold War that we’re entering into,’ he said. ‘After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia leads no bloc of nations, no global ideology.’ He was tragically wrong. He had missed Putin’s transformation from a bureaucrat who had accidentally been entrusted with a huge country into a megalomaniacal dictator who believed he was on a civilizational mission—and who was apparently supported in this view by the people of his huge country.” – Masha Gessen, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, 2014 “[Nadya] ‘(Pussy Riot) staged our political punk performances because the Russian state system is so rigid, so closed, so caste-based, and its politics so subservient to narrow corporate interests, that it pains us to breathe the very air in this country…Like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end, words will break cement.’…’[Maria]…jail is Russia in miniature…In jail it’s things like a tablecloth or plastic dishes, which can only be procured with the personal permission of the boss. Out of jail, it’s standing in society that people treasure just as much, and this is something I, for one, have never understood.’…’[Kat] Why did Putin have to use the Orthodox religion and its aesthetics at all? -This must be when he decided he needed (it), with its historical connection to the best times of the Russian empire, when authority was derived not from such earthly expressions as democratic elections and civil society, but from God himself.’” (July 30, 2012) – from Masha Gessen, The Passion of Pussy Riot, 2014

“The Trump administration shared two key features with the Soviet government: utter disregard for human life and a monomaniacal focus on pleasing the leader, to make him appear unerring and all-powerful.” – Masha Gessen, Surviving Autocracy, 2021

Pussy Riot was right about Vladimir Putin in 2012, just as the Dixie Chicks were right about George W. Bush in 2003. Both bands had reason to feel shame and sorrow for where they were from: Russia and Texas, but no shame for their own opinions and modes of expression. Will there be a “Mission Accomplished” moment for Czar Vlad? Maybe he’ll land on an aircraft carrier in the Black Sea, like Dubya’s stunt off the coast of San Diego, to announce his and his country’s destructive folly to the world. Maybe he waits for the murder of Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky. Or he reached that point of hubris when, after invading Ukraine, he announced that Russia “was reaching its objectives.” Vlad also mentioned that he’d consider use of nuclear weapons if NATO and the U.S. interfered with those objectives in any way he didn’t like. That point has been reached already. While such a threat likely represents Vlad’s weakness more than strength in his military operation, not unlike any and all tough talk from Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), it was still a nasty thing to hear from “a gas station with nukes.”

As most Americans now see, Vlad Putin has always been at war with the U.S. and the West that destroyed his beloved Soviet Empire in the Cold War that ran from 1945 to 1991. Also, he came very close to carrying out his vendetta successfully, which makes the Ukrainian setback hurt all the more. His interference in America’s election of 2016, helped install his puppet, Donald Trump, as President. More than his gobbling up of sections of Georgia in 2008 by brute force, and parts of Ukraine in 2014 by stealthy force, his Trump coup, using cyber weaponry and Quisling Republicans, was a masterstroke. Vlad’s only problem was that the millions of American women who began America’s all-out attack on male chauvinist, authoritarian government on the day after the Donald’s inauguration, couldn’t be dealt with as easily as Pussy Riot. Trump was a pushover. He gave GOP fat cats the tax cuts they craved and so were they. Republicans went from Cold War warriors to Pimps and Wimps for Putin (PWPs). Had he moved on all of Ukraine while Trump was attacking NATO, he might have pulled it off. Figuring out why he didn’t do it is Vlad’s problem (and perhaps the CIA’s) more than ours.

In 2020, with Trump’s and the GOP’s craven handling of Covid-19, and chickens of U.S. racism coming home to roost with the killing of George Floyd and its aftermath, the Republican’s race card was called. A rainbow coalition elected President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris on November 3rd. Whereupon, loser Trump and other Quisling Republicans staged a coup against the U.S. Constitution that culminated in an armed insurrection aimed at Congress on January 6th, 2021. They failed, and so did Vladimir Putin’s plans to easily gobble up all of Ukraine by immobilizing the will of NATO’s most powerful member. Vlad could have then moved on his neighbor while the U.S. was still embroiled with Covid deniers and in Afghanistan, but he didn’t. Now that he has done it, without an exit strategy - just like Bush and Dick Cheney in Iraq - Vlad’s problems belong to all of us. It’s “back to the future,” like the “good old days” of the Cold War, the Beach Boys, and the bigoted TV character, Archie “Those Were the Days” Bunker. I asked my KGB animal friends to shed some light on this dark subject.

High Plains Reader: Dear Friends, how could Vlad Putin have so underestimated the West?

Mr. Crying Wolf: Just as American leadership underestimated the extent of his hatred for the West, Vlad overestimated the size of his Russian dog in this fight, and underestimated the size of the fight in the Ukrainian dog he seeks to subdue. He also underestimated the willingness and ability of the West and NATO to respond to Vlodymyr Zelensky, a courageous comedian transformed into a imaginative and formidable national leader.

Lena: Just as importantly, Putin may have underestimated President Joe Biden; as many pundits in the national media, and cynics in the Republican Party continue to do.

Rasputin: Whatever else he didn’t know (most everything), Donald Trump didn’t underestimate Joe Biden. That’s why his impeachable offenses (the 1st one) took place in and about Ukraine.

High Plains Reader: Trump is probably done, but his hatred of democracy and diversity is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of millions of voters who turned out for him in 2020. GOP State Legislators scramble to curtail votes for Democrats, criminalize a woman’s right to choose how to govern her body, as well as proscribe the teaching of African American history the way that Vlad Putin proscribes calling a war a “war.”

Chicago Dog: Republicans in Congress, content to support Trump’s undermining of NATO for four years, now hasten to prove their patriotism with bi-partisan support for Ukraine. These PWPs have little real enthusiasm for democracy and freedom, either at home or abroad, but they do recognize how many Ukrainians and Germans from Ukraine live in their Districts and States.

Brenda Bison: A case in point is Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), up for reelection in 2022. He is desperate to hide the fact that he was tweeting out “Happy Independence Day” on July 4, 2018,

while in Moscow, helping Trump suck up to Vlad Putin. There is a large Ukrainian Community in North Dakota, but even more significant is the 40% of its voters of German ethnicity, the vast majority of whom have family ties in Ukraine, and remember Czarist and Stalinist persecutions.

Becky Badger: Wisconsin’s Senator Ron Johnson, also up in 2022, was one of the other Republicans blowing smoke up Vlad Putin’s ego instead of blowing off firecrackers that July 4th, along with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL),Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX).

Chicago Dog: Each one of these States have sizable numbers of Republican voters of German, Russian, and Ukrainian speaking ancestry, without particularly fond memories of Stalin and Stalinism. They might not even need to be reminded by Democrats of such Republican treachery in the service of Trump to question the loyalty of anyone with an “R” beside their name in 2022.

Omar Khayyam: Critics rightly point out the greater concern shown in Europe and the U.S. for white refugees from Ukraine than for millions of refugees of color in other parts of the planet. However, a majority of Americans, after viewing the murder of George Floyd, agree that black lives really do matter. Hearts and minds in Europe and the U.S. are changing. Conversely, racist dog whistles that move MAGA heads are less convincing from the mouth of Vlad Putin as he attempts to “Make Russia Great Again” at the expense of people who look like him. Irony lives!

Madame Inspector Chen: Corporate empires and their advertising adjuncts are also paying greater attention to the color of their customers. Everyday TV commercials now reflect a racial and gender diversity that looks much more like America than the U.S. Senate or right-wing media. And McDonald’s, KFC, and a host of other popular outlets and essential businesses in Russia are cutting off their “cuisine” and services!

Señor Perro: “Business as usual” nauseates, when dead bodies of victims of violence are not virtual, but real. I’m delighted to see Senator Warren (D-MA) and President Biden going after money laundering rackets of crypto currencies employed by Vlad Putin, North Korea and Iran; as well as banking giants, like Switzerland, weighing in against Czar Vlad’s money empire.

Omar Khayyam: And the United Arab Emirates is urging OPEC to pump oil, thereby relieving Joe Biden’s biggest short term inflation headache. Confused pundits should take note that the world’s biggest sports event (bigger than the Super Bowl and Olympics combined) World Cup Soccer, is taking place November 21-December 18, 2022 in Qatar, next door to the UAE.

Mr. Swamp Fox: In stark contrast to the sclerotic imaginations of empire builders among fossil fuel CEOs, white supremacy fantasies of the GOP and Vladimir Putin’s Stalinist histrionics, is the “Piano Man,” Davide Martello, a German man who traveled to the Ukrainian-Polish border with his piano to bring peace and hope to Ukrainian refugees through his music. Martello was also in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s murder, providing the solace of music for the grieving.

Señora Perro: Martello, like Pussy Riot and the Dixie Chicks, exhibits humanity demanding from their leaders in the U.S., the boardrooms of the big boys, and even China, that they imagine a transition from full time world policemen and empire builders to more gainful employment as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Otherwise, humans go the way of the originators of fossil fuels: the dinosaurs. The GOP, true to their “greed is good” mantra, sticks to “drill baby drill.”

Kermit the Tree Frog: It’s not easy being green, but the first step to getting there is to be able to imagine it, like Dr. Seuss did in “The Lorax,” and Rachel Carson did in Silent Spring. Shell and Exxon/Mobil corporations may be signing on to the newly popular “business boycott” of Russia, but how much they are willing to do to drastically insulate their energy customers from oil autocrats and the oncoming onslaught of Mother Nature against a carbon infested human habitat remains to be seen. Maybe sacrificing for the sake of Ukraine is easier for Americans, especially those many Trump voters in Red States whose family roots are from that region, to digest than sacrificing for something as abstract to the unimaginative mind as “the planet.”

Ms. Recovering Republican Lap Dog: “Patriotism at the pump” is about to get a real test in America. Europeans already have cars that get 50+ miles to the gallon; something you could have had if you had bothered to insist on it. It would be truly pathetic if President Biden’s sober leadership, and the blood sacrifices of Ukrainians, were to be rejected in November by another drunken binge of Trumpism and fossil fuel dependency. Vlad Putin would love that.

HPR: But what is Putin really thinking? I had a Professor of Russian History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1963 who angrily stomped into class one day after lunch with some U.S. historian colleagues who had naively asked him: “who was Stalin’s speech writer?”

Rasputin: They sound like the “not so best and brightest” advisors to Presidents Kennedy, and Johnson, on how to manage nationalism in Southeast Asia by calling it “Communism.”

Prudence Possum: That was before Civil Rights legislation, as America tore itself apart over race, imperialism, and environmental issues down to today. Bob Dylan’s song: “The Times They Are A-Changin’” proclaimed then, as it does now, that we must change for the better or die.

Annabelle Anaconda: Vladimir Putin doesn’t understand the imagination of poets like Bob Dylan any more than he understands Billy Joel (“Leningrad”) or Pussy Riot, but our swamp creature friends were able to get testimony to his secret self-doubts from a night time visitor to this man who would be Czar of Europe, courtesy of our Scrooge connection:

Imperial Dreams and Nightmares………………….The Ghost of Stalin’s Speechwriter

When Peter polished off the Swedes, back then;

He did it in Ukraine. Then Cath’ryn reached

The Black Sea; Alex: Paris, worn and breached;

While Comrade Stalin made it to Berlin

It’s Grozny squared; Aleppo cubed, I care

Not who gets killed; As long as Russia’s fate

Is greater than it was before the late;

Not great, men: Gorby, Boris, and such fare.

Apocalyptic Covid slowed me down;

Or else I could have pounced while Trump was my

Good servant. But Olympics held me back;

And now, my soldiers will not help me crown

Myself as Czar. They rain down death, but die

Inside. My train of dreams has jumped the track. 

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