I’m rewatching The Americans featuring Spy Family Jennings. That’s what I called them while recapping seasons 5 and 6 when the show was airing; or is that cabling since it was on FX? That’s neither here nor there but an unused joke, like a mind, is a terrible thing to waste.
I’ve gotten to the final season where the Soviet Union is divided between hardliners and reformers. It didn’t matter: the Communist party was doomed regardless of who was in charge. The edifice of the state was rotten to the core and came toppling down with shoves from home and abroad.
That brings me to a fascinating article in the Atlantic by Tom Nichols who is a Russia expert and national security conservative. He’s a lapsed Republican who casts a jaundiced eye on his former party: The Republican Party Is Now In Its End Stages. If anything the tagline is even more revealing: “The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.”
Nichols’ opening paragraphs set the stage beautifully for his comparison of two decadent political parties:
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
For those of you too young to remember the Cold War, the Brezhnev era was one of stagnation and confusion. The Soviet regime’s policy vacillations made one’s head spin. The went from detente to a resumed arms race, to collapse within nine years of Brezhnev’s death.
In addition to sucking up to the dear leader, the only things the Brezhnev regime was good at were spying and oppression. They believed in nothing except for the perpetuation of rule by Communist party elites. Their economy collapsed under the weight of the Afghanistan War and an arms race renewed by the Reagan administration.
Back to Nichols’ point. He bores in on the notion that the GOP is an empty vessel that has been filled by the empty ideology of Trumpism:
The Republican Party has, for years, ignored the ideas and principles it once espoused, to the point where the 2020 GOP convention simply dispensed with the fiction of a platform and instead declared the party to be whatever Comrade—excuse me, President—Donald Trump said it was.
Falling in line, just as in the old Communist Party, is rewarded, and independence is punished. The anger directed at Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger makes the stilted ideological criticisms of last century’s Soviet propagandists seem almost genteel by comparison. (At least Soviet families under Brezhnev didn’t add three-page handwritten denouncements to official party reprimands.)
This comparison is more than a metaphor; it is a warning. A dying party can still be a dangerous party. The Communist leaders in those last years of political sclerosis arrayed a new generation of nuclear missiles against NATO, invaded Afghanistan, tightened the screws on Jews and other dissidents, lied about why they shot down a civilian 747 airliner, and, near the end, came close to starting World War III out of sheer paranoia.
Nichols is convinced the GOP is doomed. I’m less certain of that. The Soviet system was highly centralized whereas Republicans remain in control of a majority of state legislatures and governorships. Additionally, our system makes it difficult for third parties to get on the ballot, which ties into the point about GOP control in the several states.
The most likely prospect for the GOP is a struggle for its “soul” between its crazy and sane factions. I put the word soul in quotes because the current party is soulless. They sold it to Donald Trump in 2016.
The last word goes to Tears For Fears with a song that some believe is about the Cold War. I’m less sure of that but it sure is catchy: