From Rossiiskaya gazeta, Nov. 5, 2020, p. 6. Complete text:
Melpomene did a hell of a job this time – the 2020 presidential election was a real thriller where the outcome remained in question until the very last minute, so a round of applause is in order. But if we forget about emotions and visual effects for a moment, we have to say that this campaign and its outcome confirmed some fundamental trends that remain true regardless of the name of the winner.
America is divided in half, and there is no reason to expect the situation to change in the foreseeable future. This is not a temporary division, but a split caused by differences between two worldviews. The two candidates, regardless of their personalities, personify two different types of political philosophy. In one corner, we have the growing and increasingly aggressive “progressive America”; and in the other, the conservative America determined to defend its traditional way of life. Judging by the general tone in the media, it seemed lately that the former was getting the upper hand. The results, however, have shown that fierce fighting continues. Mainstream media are either intentionally or subconsciously misleading their audiences. Demographic and cultural trends seem to favor progressives, but even if that’s true, the time for their decisive victory has not yet come. America will inevitably go through a difficult transformation (even the ages of the two candidates indicate that the current situation is merely a transition to a new stage). This is why it is hard to predict at this point what the future ideological landscape may look like. It is quite possible that once America emerges from the current period of internal transformations, we will see some shifts in popular support for various political views and parties.
The most interesting question in the context of this election is: What is going on with democracy? On the one hand, all the mechanisms are functioning like clockwork. All the procedures created in the past for maintaining the system of checks and balances are being followed. Even if [election results] go to court, the hearing will probably go strictly by the book. But when the political situation is so polarized, and you have a force majeure(the lockdown, the pandemic) on top of that, resulting in one-third of the electorate voting by mail and many days in advance, it is really hard to tell how much the official results truly represent “the choice of the people.” On top of that, you have the aforementioned extremely biased media: Some outlets are hammering home a message borrowed from Boris Yeltsin’s “Vote or Lose” campaign. Others are digging in their heels and fighting back fiercely with grit and determination. Objectivity is long lost in the media. There is still some plurality of opinion on the news market, but it does not help much. It simply guarantees that people can always find a news outlet that matches their own views and make it their only source of information.
This is not to say that everything was perfect in the past. There has always been some amount of fraud. The quote ascribed to Churchill about democracy being the worst form of government except for all the others is true. But when the world was more orderly and had a fairly set ideological framework, democratic procedures were more in line with people’s sentiments. Today, though, the situation is different. What would have been regarded as outright cheating in the past is now presented as protecting people’s rights and freedoms.
The recent events in the US will have little to no effect on Russia – for three reasons. First, Russia and the US have exhausted their old political agenda (even if the New START treaty gets extended), and it is not clear at this point when a new agenda may emerge. Economic ties do not play a major role. Even if there are some successful examples of economic cooperation, they usually happen in spite of the government’s policy, not because of it. And as far as ideology is concerned, we have long shifted away from each other, taking up diametrically opposite positions after a brief period of romantic illusions about liberal harmony in the early 1990s. Second, the current shifts in the geopolitical landscape have caused both Washington and Moscow to reconsider their priorities. Both sides are no longer as focused on each other as they used to be. And in fact, they are no longer as important to each other, at least at the current geopolitical stage. Third, the American political class is so polarized today that no matter how the current situation resolves, the new administration will not be able to pursue an active and consistent foreign policy.
The world is so chaotic and polycentric today that all our experience from previous eras is not just useless, but actually interferes with our understanding of the new trends. In Russia’s case, past experience causes it to fixate on the US too much and neglect other areas. This is something we must cut down to a minimum. Russia and the US could discover some common interests eventually, but in order for that to happen, we will have to rethink the very nature of our ties and overcome the inertia we inherited from the cold war era – and especially the period following it.
The US will be busy mainly with domestic affairs for some time. The biggest challenges that all countries face today are domestic issues. Foreign affairs will lose some of their significance, but there will be more opportunities to use them as a tool for resolving domestic problems. This, in turn, will leave us with less room to maneuver in our attempts to have a meaningful international dialogue. So, it is a vicious circle.
We will truly enter a new stage when US elections no longer send the whole world into a frenzy and are instead regarded as a domestic process in another country, albeit an important one, and when sympathies toward a particular candidate are guided by aesthetic preferences, not by how a candidate’s victory may impact the rest of the world.