America and Russia: The Real Story Is Not What You Think

There will be no peace until Pantsuit and Suburban Dad are no more

We here at Tropics of Meta–and our sister podcast Doomed to Repeat–have been thinking about Russia for a while. Remember when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried a goofy PR gesture of handing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a “reset button,” meant to symbolize a desire to renew relations between the US and Russia?  (The Russian word on the button actually meant “overcharged,” not “reset.” Foreshadowing much?)

Remember when Mitt Romney said Russia was our “number one geopolitical foe”–and everyone laughed at this weird Cold War throwback?

Well, when we sat down to start mapping out our new podcast series in the Summer of 2016, we were casting about for ideas, and we thought Russia would be a neat topic.  Some James Bond and Dr. Strangelove jokes, a Boris and Natasha soundbite, and it would all be good.  This was sort of the part of All the President’s Men when the dirty tricks are going on, but people were only really dimly aware of them.  In June 2016, it was not clear–at least to us–that the Russian regime was monkeying around in our election, although those stories began to dribble out more and more over the course of the Summer and Fall.

The point being: we started developing this episode well before November 2016, and the second half of it we completed after Russia became the center of the biggest vortex in American politics, after Putin and his Macedonian teenage Twitterers kneecapped Clinton.  Nic recorded our first interview with Professor Jack Moran of Kennesaw State University in July 2016–Dr. Moran had worked for the State Department during the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he now teaches in the Political Science and International Affairs Department at KSU.  Our other interview, with historian Sean Guillory, creator of Sean’s Russia Blog and podcast, occurred after Americans–and especially liberals–engaged in a collective freakout about the inscrutable evil of Russia.

The past is unpredictable, until further notice

The other point being: when Joy Reid and other liberals start trotting out the hoariest of Cold War clichés to justify their otherwise perfectly justifiable hatred of the Cheeto Satan, a little historical perspective is needed.  Dr. Moran explains why Americans find it difficult to understand Russian political culture, while Dr. Guillory tells us about a much deeper, more complicated, and more interesting American-Russian relationship that goes back well beyond 1917 or 1945 (or 2016 for that matter).  Russia and the United States were not always foes; they even saw each other as potential friends and allies in the nineteenth century. Indeed, we will see that Russia has often been the funhouse mirror in which Americans see themselves reflected.  The latest episode of Doomed to Repeat is a romp through Russo-American history that will surely add some depth and context to a political debate that sorely needs them.

Check out the podcast.  Read Sean’s great, contrarian work on the history of Russia, and Jack’s scholarship on Russian politics and culture.  There’s a lot to learn!

Author: Alex Sayf Cummings

Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.

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