Putin: If the world is essentially Americanized, who needs America?

Max Fisher expresses bafflement regarding the last lines of Vladimir Putin’s instantly famous op-ed, particularly the final words “God created us equal.” Apparently, Fisher misses the echo of the Declaration of Independence, and specifically of one of the single most important sentences in political history. Putin or his ghostwriter or committee of ghostwriters might even have seen themselves as in part paying homage to American history – or appealing to American narcissism and especially the narcissism of those God-fearing American “Constitutional Conservatives” who have been Russia’s allies of convenience during this episode – but the move is more complex than a nod to friends or a propagandistic grace note.

Putin is declaring himself or his own country, and all of the countries of the world, “large and small,” and all of their people, all of us, “equal” or “created equal.” His argument against American exceptionalism is effectively that the American project as an ideological project is essentially over. Having triumphed, it is no longer necessary. The prophecy has been fulfilled: What in 1776 was a message of a few colonial upstarts – that “all men are created equal” – is now everyone‘s basic belief, even the belief of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Belief in equality no longer sets Americans apart: Everyone believes everyone is equal – or equal before God or whatever atheist or other divine surrogates – so there’s nothing exceptional about believing so, and no need for Americans to go abroad seeking monsters to destroy.

The basis of America’s exceptional status is not a simplistic Jeffersonianism. Exceptionality, to be distinguished from any abstract idea or -ism, would be as much a fact, or functional facticity, of geography, economics, and the triplet outcomes of three world wars – First, Second, Cold – and it remains fundamental to an international security system that even Putin himself likely does not wish to see overturned, but within which he seeks a broader role, an enhanced counterbalance to American preponderance. Yet even as idea, Americanism awaits full realization, not just acknowledgment in principle, because it awaits the facts of democracy in Russia and Syria, however Russified and Syrianized, not just democratist lip service from authoritarians.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

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TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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