Russia-gate as Symptom: The Crisis of American Community

By far the best article on Russia-gate to date.

By Paul Grenier


Are the divisions that fragment the United States primarily driven by some deep flaw in its political life, or was the United States doing just fine, thank you very much—until Russia came along during the 2016 presidential race and started sowing division and dissension?

Framed that way, the question answers itself. Whatever some state-sanctioned Russian actors may have done to pester the American political process, it is obvious that America’s deep divisions exist for reasons having essentially nothing to do with Russia. They long precede the last election.

Even if Russia’s interventions into American electoral politics turn out to be more significant than they presently appear, this cannot change the more fundamental reality that our confrontational posture, including vis-à-vis Russia, is by no means something external to the United States’ Lockean liberal political concept.

That there is something intrinsically confrontational about that political concept, at least in the sphere of foreign affairs, has been suggested by, among others, Richard Sakwa. For Sakwa, the post-Soviet settlement with Russia was undermined almost from the very start by a monist worldview in both the United States and Brussels that would brook no alternative perspectives. The result has been a de facto monologue between “the West” and post-Soviet Russia rather than a genuine, transformational dialogue.

Similarly, John Mearsheimer calls out ruling elites in the United States for their “liberal intolerance” and their failure to take seriously the possibility that other sovereign states, including Russia, might have a different perspective regarding everything from culture to their own vital interests. This habit of nearly hermetic intellectual self-enclosure on the United States’ part helped precipitate the still-ongoing crisis in Ukraine.[2]

In Russia-gate, this same closed system of confrontation and self-enclosure appears once again in a new form, one rooted in domestic U.S. processes, and with Russia’s relation to the matter being almost wholly instrumental. If there is something novel about Russia-gate, broadly considered, it would appear to be the striking lowering of standards for reasoned argument and proof.

In short, Russia-gate should interest us not for what it can teach us about Russia (almost nothing) but for what it can teach us about ourselves.


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