"Our history shows that most of the people can be fooled for a very long time. But now all this idiocy is coming into clear contradiction with the fact that we have some level of openness."
Dmitry Rozhkov/Wikimedia Commons
Writer Vladimir Voinovich broke onto the Soviet literary scene in the 1970s with the satirical novel The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin. But as the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union ossified, he soon fell afoul of the authorities. Stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1980, Voinovich settled in Munich and worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Russian Service. In 1986, he published his classic dystopian novel Moscow-2042, which depicts a totalitarian Soviet Union run by a combination of the KGB, the Orthodox Church, and the Communist Party.
For Voinvovich's 80th birthday on September 26, I spoke with the author about how present-day Russia compares to his dark vision of the future.
Did you think that you would see so much of what you predicted in Moscow-2042 already in 2012?
Well, there are only 30 years left until 2042. ... But, to be honest, I didn't expect this. I described a future that I hoped would never happen -- it was not a utopia, but a dystopia. But now reality, it seems, is already exceeding what I wrote then. In my novel, the country is ruled by the KPGB -- the Communist Party of State Security.
And there was an ideological pentagon -- patriotism, security, religion, and so on. I have heard many times that the patriarch is sometimes referred to as Father Zvyozdony [editors' note: Father Zvyozdony was the major general of religious service in "Moscow-2042"].
But the stupidity and vulgarity that are becoming the banner of our times -- no one could have expected that. The most idiotic laws are passed, the most monstrous trials are going on. Take the notorious Pussy Riot case. That exceeded everything that could be written in satire.
Moscow-2042 was published in 1986 -- a time of transition, perestroika. Now many in Russia are speaking of another looming transition. Do you see such a thing coming?
In 1986, perestroika was just getting under way. But already then -- in its very first stages, I viewed it with enormous hope. But, to get back to the novel -- since those times I have begun to think that reality somehow moves in the other direction and, God willing, things won't turn out as they did in my novel.
But then I look and I see -- no, things are unfolding as I imagined them, as if someone didn't want reality to drift too far [from the novel]. I don't consider myself a prophet. But some things really do seem prophetic.
But it wouldn't be right to compare the present with those times because the beginning of perestroika was the beginning of hope. Events now produce a despairing pessimism, though, the kind that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.
Then can you compare the present with the years before perestroika, when you were expelled from the Soviet Union. Did the hopelessness of those times differ from the current hopelessness?
The situation then, surprisingly, fostered hope. I could see that the Soviet authorities were doing stupid things that would ultimately lead to destruction or to an attempt at renewal, which, in fact, happened in the mid-1980s with the arrival of [Mikhail] Gorbachev. When I left in 1980, I was saying all the time that radical change would begin in the Soviet Union in five years. Maybe I was off by a couple of years, but that isn't important -- I turned out to be pretty correct. If you build your optimism on the expectation of collapse, then I guess you can say the same thing about the present.
Let's take a look at the ideological pentagon of your novel. Populism -- we already have that. Party loyalty -- only about half of what we had back then, but we still have it. Religiosity -- no doubt about that. State security -- well, of course. Vigilance -- we have that. Four and a half out of five. What can we expect going forward, according to Moscow-2042?
I already said that we are once again in a phase when it is possible to make optimistic forecasts based on pessimistic assumptions.
This is because all branches of power are working as one. The Duma writes some laws; the courts try Pussy Riot; the church does its work -- in short, all the social institutions and branches of power are approaching some sort of explosion. That explosion will definitely come because it isn't possible to upset such a large -- and daily growing -- number of people day after day.
Someone once said that you can fool some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.
That someone was Abraham Lincoln, and he didn't really have Russia in mind.
Yes -- our history shows that most of the people can be fooled for a very long time. But now all this idiocy is coming into clear contradiction with the fact that we have some level of openness: RFE/RL's Russian Service exists, there are some opposition publications, the Internet can't be controlled, although they try to restrict it.
But against this background, it all looks very stupid. A naked person only seems natural in a sauna. When he goes out into the street, people will either laugh at him or stone him.
People often say about you that your predictions were self-fulfilling.
Yes, they have said that. They've even proposed that I write another book -- with an optimistic view of the future. It really does seem that reality is trying to imitate my imaginings -- so if I think up something optimistic, then reality will imitate that.
And do you take such suggestions seriously?
As soon as we finish this interview, I'll start working. I'll write a glorious future -- communist -- and then we'll [see]. ... By the way, in Soviet times they more or less said the same thing -- that writers must depict the glorious future and then people will imitate it and it will be brought about.
With efforts to repeal Obamacare collapsing, the GOP faces a difficult landscape as it looks ahead to 2018.
Here’s an after-action report, as Congress prepares to recess:
The signature Republican domestic-policy demand of the past seven years is dead again. Deader than ever. Brought down by Republicans themselves, in the face of nearly unanimously hostile public opinion.
Democratic constituencies have been mobilized to an intensity not seen since the worst days of the Iraq war. They have crowded town halls and barraged senators with phone calls and messages. The party’s serious internal differences—including over the future of health care—have been laid aside for the time.
Republican constituencies have been split and demoralized. Working- and middle-class Republicans have been put on notice: Their party wanted to cut their Medicaid and other health-care benefits. Why should they show up in November to vote for more of that?
Upmarket Republicans have been formally informed: Their party was duping them on Obamacare repeal, in all those years of yammering, it never developed anything like an alternative. The Obamacare taxes will remain in place, as will the law’s other costs and burdens. Why should they show up in November to vote for more of that?
The White House is melting down in recrimination, rage, and failure. While opponents condemn Trump as authoritarian and corrupt, supporters in Congress and media want to talk about almost anything else: Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, dirty rap lyrics—anything.
Donors are hearing that funds donated to the Republican National Committee and other party funds have been used to pay the personal legal bills of the supposedly super-rich Trump family—and that more such spending is probably on the way.
The special counsel’s investigation is triggering more and more erratic behavior from the president. Trump has repeatedly and publicly denounced his own attorney general—the one cabinet secretary executing a policy generally popular with the party’s conservative base, immigration enforcement. And this before the investigation has resulted in any legal consequences.
The president has achieved the lowest approval rating ever recorded for a chief executive at this point in his tenure, despite generally favorable economic news and the absence of any acute foreign-policy crisis.
The Democrats need take only 14 seats to flip the House. There are 7 Republican incumbents on the ballot in California, where the president’s approval rating has tumbled to 25 percent, down five points since Inauguration Day. There are 5 more in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie’s approval rating has plunged to 15 percent.
The 2018 Senate map favors Republicans, but the president has gone out of his way to tie the single most imperiled Republican incumbent, Nevada’s Dean Heller, tightly to him and to the unpopular health-care bill. The president is waging open war against Arizona’s Jeff Flake—and his approval rating has sunk below 50 percent in states that might otherwise have been thought of as pickup opportunities, including Missouri and Michigan.
The Arizona veteran cast an unexpected vote against Mitch McConnell’s last-ditch proposal to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving the GOP once again without a way forward.
Senator John McCain brought down the latest Republican health-care plan early Friday morning.
In a moment of high drama on the Senate floor, the Arizona senator, stricken with brain cancer and railing against his party’s secretive legislative maneuvering, provided the decisive vote against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act. The amendment fell, 51-49, thwarting once again the GOP’s longstanding efforts to deliver on a central campaign promise. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska also voted against the bill, continuing their opposition to the GOP’s partisan repeal effort. But it was McCain who surprised the Senate, breaking with his party after earlier helping it on a key procedural vote.
“I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.
The financier Bill Browder has emerged as an unlikely central player in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney Browder hired to investigate official corruption, died in Russian custody in 2009. Congress subsequently imposed sanctions on the officials it held responsible for his death, passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government retaliated, among other ways, by suspending American adoptions of Russian children.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who secured a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, was engaged in a campaign for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, and raised the subject of adoptions in that meeting. That’s put the spotlight back on Browder’s long campaign for Kremlin accountability, and against corruption—a campaign whose success has irritated Putin and those around him.
Trump’s opponents have often been accused of naïveté for their appeals to norms and civility. But early Friday morning, at least, that faith was rewarded.
After Donald Trump implied Ted Cruz’s wife was ugly and accused his father of helping to kill President John F. Kennedy, Cruz still worked the phones for him. Trump humiliated “liddle” Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump anyway. Trump implied Ben Carson was a child molester, and then appointed him to his cabinet. Trump ran a campaign in which he exhorted audiences to call for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment, and she showed up to his inauguration. Trump rose to prominence by questioning whether the first black president was even American, and won the opportunity to destroy a huge part of that president’s legacy.
All of that made former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memorable line about going high when the other side goes low seem dangerously naive. Trump belittled, humiliated, threatened, and smeared his opponents (and sometimes his supporters) nearly every day since the beginning of his candidacy for president. His opponents appealed to precedent, to norms, to comity, and to decency. Today, Trump sits in the White House.
The failed seven-month drama over rolling back Obamacare illustrates just how far the Republican Party has drifted from constituents and good governance.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, the last gasp of Senate Republicans’ efforts to repeal Obamacare died, amid applause and tears.
The last proposal on the table, the “skinny repeal”—if it can really be called a repeal—wasn’t one of the options germinating for years in conservative intellectual circles, or even the blanket return to status quo ante that Republicans had promised for years. Rather, the bill that hit the floor late Thursday night was written earlier that day at lunch. It was a slapdash scramble from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to roll back something in Obamacare after months of stalled bills, protests, and rapidly deteriorating public opinion.
The seeds of McConnell’s failure were planted way back in January, when House Republicans finally began to deliver on seven years of promises on repealing Obamacare. The first signs of inter-party discontent came with the earliest decisions as a new governing party, as GOP leaders couldn’t decide whether they wanted to just repeal Obamacare altogether—and thus absorb the political risks of something on the order of 30 million uninsured people—or use the opportunity to replace Obamacare with a more conservative health-care paradigm. They weren’t helped by the fact that President Trump displayed Heisenberg-like uncertainty regarding the White House’s official stance on that front.
The Arizona senator keeps confounding partisans on both sides who don’t understand that his alliances of convenience are rooted in his deep respect for Senate traditions.
The last two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for many Americans, but it’s unlikely many of them can match John McCain’s experience.
About two weeks ago, the Arizona senator was diagnosed with a brain tumor after an operation to remove a blood clot in his head. Last Wednesday, that diagnosis became public. By Tuesday, he’d flown back in to Washington for a critical vote to open debate on an Obamacare repeal bill. First, he cast the decisive vote to proceed to the debate, handing Republican leadership a big win, and then he delivered an impassioned speech, taking Republican leaders (and the president) to task for their process on the bill.
Several decades before hebecame the father of industrial design, Raymond Loewy boarded the SS France in 1919 to sail across the Atlantic from his devastated continent to the United States. The influenza pandemic had taken his mother and father, and his service in the French army was over. At the age of 25, Loewy was looking to start fresh in New York, perhaps, he thought, as an electrical engineer. When he reached Manhattan, his older brother Maximilian picked him up in a taxi. They drove straight to 120 Broadway, one of New York City’s largest neoclassical skyscrapers, with two connected towers that ascended from a shared base like a giant tuning fork. Loewy rode the elevator to the observatory platform, 40 stories up, and looked out across the island.
A new study finds that believing society is fair can lead disadvantaged adolescents to act out and engage in risky behavior.
Brighton Park is a predominantly Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s a neighborhood threatened by poverty, gang violence, ICE raids, and isolation—in a city where income, race, and zip code can determine access to jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. It is against this backdrop that the Chicago teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett arrived at the neighborhood’s elementary school in 2014.
Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.
Investor and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs will share ownership of the magazine with David Bradley.
David G. Bradley, the chairman and owner of Atlantic Media, is announcing this morning that he is selling a majority stake in The Atlantic to Emerson Collective, an organization led by philanthropist and investor Laurene Powell Jobs. Bradley will retain a minority stake in The Atlantic and will continue as chairman and operating partner for at least three to five years. In a letter to his staff, Bradley wrote that Emerson Collective will most likely assume full ownership of The Atlantic within five years.
Bradley, who bought The Atlantic in 1999 for $10 million from Mortimer Zuckerman, is credited with transforming the Boston-based monthly magazine of politics, arts, and letters into a profitable digital-journalism and live-events company of global reach, even while continuing to publish The Atlantic’s award-winning print magazine, which was born four years before the Civil War. “Against the odds, The Atlantic is prospering,” Bradley wrote in his memo. “While I will stay at the helm some years, the most consequential decision of my career now is behind me: Who next will take stewardship of this 160-year-old national treasure? To me, the answer, in the form of Laurene, feels incomparably right.”
Even prominent right-wing populists are beginning to worry that they invested their faith in an unstable leader.
This week, as Donald Trump publicly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an assault one restrained observer described as “a multitiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly,” even David Horowitz, the anti-Leftist intellectual and author of Big Agenda: President Trump’s Plan to Save America, felt compelled to admit something to his Twitter followers: “I have to confess, I'm really distressed by Trump's shabby treatment of Sessions.”
Trump has always been vehemently opposed from the left and distrusted on the right by Never Trump conservatives, who continue to be dismayed by his behavior. But this week as never before, public doubts surfaced among Trump boosters and apologists, prompting Jay Cost to quip, “at the end it's just gonna be Sean Hannity huddled in a corner, quietly whispering to himself that Trump is a great American.”