We are besieged, readers. As the archives of this magazine make perfectly plain, the spasm of Russophobia now threatening to overcome us is but a variant of the anti-Soviet paranoia that defined the 1950s and early 1960s. “We’re in the most dangerous confrontation with Russia since the Cuban missile crisis,” Stephen Cohen, the noted Russianist (and Nation contributor), said on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! earlier this month. This is just the point—the reality we must now consider with utmost seriousness.
The ever-greater risk of open conflict between nuclear powers that Cohen referred to is the most evident danger confronting us, but there are others requiring attention-paying people to bolt upright. Senator John McCain, oozing that faux-gravitas he likes to affect, asserts that anyone objecting to the anti-Russian orthodoxy is “lying,” and he wants a select committee to open hearings to investigate the CIA’s recent conclusion that Russia tampered with the US elections last month. The corporate press, from the government-supervised New York Times on over, now hastens to obscure the same shameful collaboration with power that it displayed in the Cold War’s depths. On a shocking website called PropOrNot.com, Salem witch-hunters who refuse to identify themselves list hundreds of media that they assert are manipulated by the Kremlin.
Read these, too, as danger signs. Anyone too young to remember the House Un-American Activities Committee and Red Channels and all the destruction they wrought ought to study up: We are a few short steps away from both. Russia is not destroying (what remains of) American democracy. “Patriotic Americans” are.
It is essential, as I suggest, to understand our moment in historical context. Then each of us must decide, just as those called before the HUAC had to: Do I acquiesce or participate in this freakish exercise in crowd control and fear-mongering, or do I repudiate a propaganda campaign as irrational and morally wrong as any concocted during the McCarthy years? At last the question confronts us, and it is especially acute this time for those self-described as progressives: Is one a descendant of that muddled, gutless lot known as Cold War liberals, or does one insist on clear sight and principle even in the face of the ideological blasts our corporate media deliver daily?
Think it through: This is the imperative of our moment—a significant moment, because the American propaganda machine is now unusually challenged. Its efficacy is no longer the certainty it was during the Cold War decades. My own view, to be clear straightaway, is without ambivalence. It is our minds that are the objects of this onslaught: They are finally what is at issue. Surrender yours to this most flagrant case of scapegoating—hatred and anxiety conjured from thin air—and your place in the history books will be with the ghosts of all the shrill Cold Warriors and cowering chumps of decades past.
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