How Comrade Trump Unleashed a Cold War in America – Vanity Fair

For at least a decade, Americans have been obsessing over the new Cold War about to break out between Russia and the West. In 2007, the much-anticipated tipping point was the Bush administration’s plan to install missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic. In 2008, it was Russia invading Georgia. In 2009, it was Russia turning off the gas to Europe. In 2014, the invasion of Ukraine. In 2016, Russian meddling in U.S. elections. In 2017, Washington imposing sanctions on Moscow for that meddling. This has come from the left—The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel frequently talks about U.S.-Russia relations with the warning of a “new Cold War”—and the right, which likes to clobber liberals for being so gooey-eyed they have no idea they’re being played by Vladimir Putin, who, we’re constantly reminded, was a K.G.B. officer. Then, of course, there was The New Cold War, written by The Economist’s Edward Lucas and published in 2008. Smart, thoughtful, thoroughly reported, and wrong. When I reviewed it for Time, my editor e-mailed back: “You sure about this?”

Lucas’s thesis has not aged well, and it does not matter that our president is an ignoramus and a powder keg who, one suspects, believes the Cold War was fought in the winter in Siberia. Nor does it matter that Donald Trump says U.S.-Russia relations are at an “all-time” low and that Congress is to blame. (Has our fearless leader forgotten the Cuban Missile Crisis? Was he ever aware of it?) Nor that the Pentagon is conducting war games in Eastern Europe. Nor that progressives, many of whom spent much of the Cold War apologizing for Russian aggression, now see worrisome signs of it resurfacing pretty much everywhere.

Video: The Trump Administration’s Ties to Russia

There is not going to be a new Cold War because the real Cold War was, at its essence, a clash of ideas. It involved two massive military alliances, with their sprawling armies and nuclear arsenals, but it was not really about that. That was just the inevitable outgrowth of the underlying rivalry, and that rivalry revolved around persuading hundreds of millions of people of the rightness of a particular vision. The intelligence apparatus of both superpowers sought to shape public opinion across the globe, covertly, of course, and overtly, too, spying and stealing and trading state secrets, and promoting their people’s accomplishments, their athletic prowess, artwork, literature, the heights of their towers, the lengths of their bridges, the vaccines they discovered, the good works they performed—all with an eye toward promoting the superiority of their respective systems. But none of that mattered much, because in the very end, in the late ‘80s, when glasnost gave way to the great unraveling, it was obvious that, America’s many shortcomings notwithstanding, the Soviet Union was little more than a caricature of itself, and the idea that had long animated the Bolshevik promise was—how to put this gingerly?—flawed. There can be no grand and global conflict pitting today’s Russia against the West (whatever is meant by “the West” now) because Russia is no longer a kleptocracy posing as a Communist utopia. It is simply a kleptocracy. It has been stripped of the idea the protesters in Moscow and Leningrad and the Caucasus and Baltics jettisoned before seeking, however tentatively, a new, post-Cold War order.

This confusion—about the perennial U.S.-Russia conflict and the nature of cold versus actual war—is not academic. It is not about history. It is about what is happening right now in Washington, where the special counsel is boring into the shadiest interstices of the Trump perplex, and across the land, where America is as much a question as a place, a debate or discourse about who we are and will be and for whom. The American idea of itself, our political identity, has always been changeable, prone to an almost-rhythmic waxing and waning, but it has also been welded to something more enduring. That’s harder to make out now. We are at a juncture, a chasm, and we do not know whether we will bridge that chasm or be consumed by it.

How Comrade Trump Unleashed a Cold War in America – Vanity Fair