“Madness” is so much of a routine political insult that these days it means nothing much more than “something I disagree with.”
But I have begun to think over the last few weeks that very large numbers of the political, business, media and pontificating classes of the West have gone, quite literally, mad, or whatever is the current euphemism. That is to say that their behaviour, individually and collectively, shows symptoms which are typically described in studies of abnormal psychology. Put simply, the western ruling class is having a nervous breakdown, and no longer has much of a grip on reality. Ignorance is Strength, War (as of this week) is Peace. No doubt Freedom will soon be Slavery. The difference is that George Orwell saw these slogans as cynical attempts at manipulation by a Party which did not believe its own propaganda . The kind of people who see Russians under the bed or believe that peace in Syria is a bad idea do, in sense, believe what they say.
They believe what they say because they have become unhinged from reality. They live in a world made up of of fantasies and nightmares. They control nuclear weapons, unbelievable amounts of economic power, and the destiny of nations. God help the rest of us.
I’m not going to comment on the so-called “Russiagate” affair, since there is nothing to comment on. But there are two questions that are actually worth asking. First, how could a political class lose its mind so quickly and completely, and second, is this the end of the US party system as we know it?
The answer to the first is clear enough: it’s the phenomenon known to psychologists as Cognitive Dissonance, where people try to hold two conflicting truths in their mind at the same time, and this causes stress which has to be resolved by manipulating one or both of the truths. In this case, the truth that has to be manipulated is that Trump won the election. He can’t have done, therefore he didn’t, therefore somebody must have “interfered” with the elections.
The other truth, perhaps more interesting, comes from the overwhelming self-regard and arrogance of the Clinton camp, for whom the idea that they could actually lose did not seem real. This was not a mundane question of policies, strategies or turnouts, but an absolute belief in their own righteous nature, and an assumption that the universe would provide the result they anticipated, and that Clinton had been pursuing for decades. Clinton was leading a fragmented and argumentative set of single-issue identity cliques, whose dislike for each other was only exceeded by their self-righteousness and their desire for power. Those who disagreed were hunted down and destroyed if they were within the circle. If they were outside it, they were mocked and despised and treated as irrelevant. Well, we know what happened. But they don’t: the belief in their absolute entitlement to rule had come up against the brute reality of electoral loss. Something had to give, and it was obviously going to be reality.
That said, this may not have been a wise move even for a desperate political clique. Because there are signs that, having been used originally to explain away the unexplainable, the narrative has escaped the grasp of its authors, and is now being used to crush dissent all across the political spectrum. How long before it rebounds against the very people who started it? (After all, if the Russians really wanted to damage the US political system, wouldn’t they start hares running just like this, and then stand back and watch as the system fell apart?) Perhaps Hilary Clinton is a Russian agent. I mean, is there any proof she’s not?
Well, I was waiting for the self-pitying neurotic hysteria to die down, but it hasn’t. Maybe it will over the next week or so as Trump consolidates his power. (As of the time of writing he hasn’t been assassinated).
Take a deep breath and put yourself in the position of the Russians. (Yes, I know it’s difficult but try hard). There’s an election coming in the US and you want to know all you can about the major candidates. In the case of Clinton (whom you view as a dangerous and aggressive psychopath) you want to know more than she is saying publicly. Accepting that all politicians lie, your judgement is that she lies more than most, so that it’s important to know what she and her coterie really think. So maybe you hack into her party server (which seems to be about as secure as a meringue in a coffee grinder) or you just make use of leaks you come across naturally to brief your leader. This is what all intelligence services do. This is what all intelligence services are supposed to do. A Russian intelligence service that was not trying to find out everything about US electoral candidates would not be doing its job. Can we at least calm, down, stop hyperventilating and accept that?
I suppose that in twenty or thirty years time, there will be books and conferences devoted to the question of the origins of the current obsessive and hysterical hatred of Vladimir Putin by western ruling elites. Psychologists, psychoanalysts, sociologists and others will all have their own opinion, I’m sure. But let me start the debate off, as it were, with a simple suggestion. They are envious of him.
It’s easy enough to understand why. First, Putin is a former intelligence officer, a member of an elite paramilitary cadre, skilled in the black arts, who can probably still kill you with a blow from the side of his hand if he wants to. It’s like having a retired James Bond as your President.
And among his western counterparts there are … what? Obama was a former University lecturer. Hollande was a civil servant and political party manager. And Cameron…. can anybody remember Cameron having done anything at all before he became a politician? Which of all of these figures would you choose to accompany you down a dark alley at night? No wonder they are all envious of Putin.
In addition, of course, Putin is a strong leader while they are weak ones. (“Weak” is perhaps too strong a term for the current generation of political spokesmen for the forces of finance passing themselves off as western national leaders. “Spineless cowards” might be a fairer description). But here’s Putin, telling oligarchs where to get off, and threatening them with dire consequences if they don’t cooperate. And they do cooperate. Can’t you imagine how much western politicians would like to do that. No wonder they are envious. No wonder they hate him.
It looks as though common sense has triumphed, and that western leaders will, after all, be meeting President Putin in the margins of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day next month, for what are generally being described as “informal” talks.
There’s an element of self-interest here, of course, since western leaders are well aware that without Russia there can be no solution to a number of the world’s current problems, and that, for all that they may sulk about Ukraine, this is likely to be true for the foreseeable future.
But it may not be too much to hope that there’s another component to these decisions: shame. It’s hard to think of a greater historical injustice, after all, than the deliberate minimisation, and even denial, of the incredible suffering of the Russian people between 1941 and 1945, and the overwhelming role played by the Red Army in the defeat of Nazism. It can’t be said often enough: it was the Soviet Union that won World War II. Ninety percent of the German war effort was directed towards the East and, had it not been for the Red Army , there would have been no D-Day to write about, and you would be reading this (if I were even allowed to write it) in German. And I do mean the Soviet Union: without the energy and discipline of the Red Army and the Communist Party, Russia would have gone down to defeat in 1941, unpopular as that idea may be today.
Much as it chokes them to do so, western leaders can hardly deny what every historian knows. It’s nearly a generation now since the end of the Communist party in Russia made it politically acceptable to recognise the real nature of the Second World War and how and why it was won, and by whom. We owe the Russian people a debt we can never repay, even if, one day, we actually started to consider thinking about perhaps starting to pay it. How about just a few words of gratitude for the cameras, oh leaders of western Europe, whose countries would not exist today without Mr Putin’s predecessors. Come on, it won’t actually hurt.