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The Dumbing Down of Russia Looks Painfully Familiar


I had hoped to write something new for today, but the holidays have a way of intruding on one’s plans, so I’m returning to a post from last March, when Putin’s atrocities were still fresh and Republicans were envious of his absolute power. As it happens, little has changed since I first posted this, though the tanking of Roe v. Wade was not yet a fait accompli at the time. Which means things have only gotten worse.

 

On one hand, we have Putin, perfectly content to obliterate anyone in his path, with a special emphasis on pregnant women, children, and babies.

On the other hand, we have the Republican right, perfectly content to obliterate anyone in its path, with a special emphasis on pregnant women, children, and babies.

The difference is one of degree. Putin can make obliteration depressingly literal — he kills and maims indiscriminately, and with impunity.

Republicans are — for the moment anyway — more subtle. They’re more about undermining the civil and human rights of anyone not white, male, straight, or Christian.

But let’s not fool ourselves about their aspirations.

The parallels between Russia and America are, at this moment, more striking — and more disturbing — than we’d like them to be. Putin is clearly showing us where Republicans want to take us, and where that path leads. He’s teaching us the ways in which the authoritarian playbook devolves into little more than a killing machine. I hope we’re paying attention.

Too many Republicans — particularly those currently ruling red state legislatures — appear to be Putin wannabes. Whatever obligatory noises they may make about defending Ukraine and preserving democracy, many of them feel exactly like Trump — sheer envy at Putin’s ability to kill anyone, in any number, whenever he feels like it. Their enchantment with mass murder is a guilty pleasure.

Some of them are only now getting in touch with their inner ruthlessness, long hidden behind a veneer of moral rectitude. But they like how it feels, and they want more.

Both Putin and the Republican right are committed to an alternative reality made up entirely of lies. And both are committed to the dumbing down of their populations, so they can use the resulting ignorance to sell those lies.

In Russia, the consequences couldn’t be clearer. As we speak, Russians of normal intelligence are emigrating by the tens of thousands. They’ve seen the dumbing-down of their country first-hand. They’ve witnessed the systematic zombification of the Russian people through endless propaganda. 

Imagine that your only available source of information is FOX News — all bullshit, all the time — and you’ll see why so many Russians have had enough. They see their country under Putin for what it is, and they’re nauseated. They have no voice, no political agency of any kind, and they’re smart enough to understand what that means for their futures.

For the most part, these are the critical thinkers, the educated professionals — the academics, scientists, engineers, techies, lawyers, doctors, artists and other types we would all recognize if they lived in our town — and they’ve thought about leaving Russia for a long time.

But now they’re facing a confluence of catastrophes. A moral catastrophe in Ukraine. An economic one at home. A growing worldwide loathing for all things Russian. And an undeserved guilt-by-association for Putin’s atrocities.

So with no way of influencing the direction of their country, no way of even expressing an opinion without risk of arrest and imprisonment, they’re uprooting their lives. They’re taking their advanced degrees, their near-useless credit cards, and very little else. They’re hoping they might get to drive an Uber in Prague or make pizza in Tbilisi.

It’s a brain drain of massive proportions, and Russian society will be dealing with its cost for decades.

For all we know, Putin planned it that way. The dumber the citizenry, the easier the lie. Most Russians — particularly those outside the major cities — have never had a voice in their government, and aren’t clear what having one even means. They believe what the government tells them, and they hear nothing else. They parrot the party line with Orwellian rigidity, and they turn a blind eye to the atrocious behavior of their government, both at home and abroad.

And yes, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the Trump base. How different are the millions of Americans who’ve been sold the big lie of the stolen election? How different are the millions who believe what right-wing media drills into their brains? And how different are the incorrigible few who shamefully manipulate those gullible millions for their own monstrous ends.

The dumbing down of America is in full swing. After five decades invested in the methodical grooming of millions and millions of easily led, programmable zombies, the investment is visibly paying off.

Covid denial and vaccine idiocy seem, in retrospect, to have served as a test case — an exercise in mass dumbing-down — and it passed with flying colors. It got large segments of the population to celebrate their own ignorance, to blithely risk the lives of their own families and, amazingly, to insist on their right to do so. This is as good as propaganda gets. Almost as good as Putin’s.

Building on that success, right-wing propaganda is enabling all sorts of draconian measures — especially at the state and local levels — each promoted and sold using disingenuous, dumbed-down rationales.

We’re seeing astro-turf assaults on school boards, where so-called “parents” show up at meetings demanding curriculum changes, seething with faux outrage at the notion of history classes that teach actual history, or books that convey actual thought.

We’re seeing red state legislators drafting new laws whose only purpose seems to be abject cruelty. Drooling at the thought of eliminating Roe v. Wade, they’re conjuring up outrageous abortion restrictions that fall heaviest on poor women and women of color — in effect, forcing them to carry every pregnancy to term, no matter who or what caused it.

There is, seemingly, no end to these obscene laws. Laws designed to punish state residents who leave their state for an abortion. Laws that criminalize parents who seek transgender therapies for their children. Laws that undermine the entire electoral process, so that the people who enact them can stay in office forever.

Putin is shining a bright light on the Republican version of the American Dream. He’s taken control of all media, so he can pump out uncontested lies nonstop. He’s actively culling critical thinkers from the herd, either by arresting them or giving them no choice but to emigrate. And he’s driving out all but the most gullible, the most obedient, the most dumbed-down of his subjects.

Okay, we’re not there yet. But who doubts that we’re heading there? Or that our own country is getting dumber all the time?

 

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