OXFORD—Back in the summer of 1992, just months after the failed coup that led to the fall of communism and Boris Yeltsin's rise to leadership in a new post-Soviet Russia, I traveled with my late wife, Marilyn, to Moscow and met Roman Fiodorov.
Fiodorov was our bespectacled, sharp-witted guide through the ancient churches and towers of the Kremlin. He liked to tell a good-if-sometimes-grim joke as he regaled us with tales of Ivan the Terrible and Rasputin. "Ah, you Americans," he said at one point. "Two people get hurt in a car accident, and it's front-page news. Here in Russia, hundreds get sent off to Siberia, and it's not even in the newspaper."
The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia was finally thawing. Americans and Russians could share in a little self-deprecating humor. The Icon-filled Orthodox churches in Moscow were filling with people able to show their faith and belief openly and without fear.
Today, as the cold, wintry drifts of December bring 2016 to a close and the new Trump Era in America looms, I wonder at the Cold War nostalgia that the 2016 presidential election seems to have unearthed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wants President-elect Donald Trump to be his personal "lap dog," says John Podesta, who chaired Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's failed campaign. He points to hacking of Democratic National Committee email as evidence.
Both Democrats and Republicans are calling for an investigation into the alleged Russian email hacking. The CIA has publicly concluded that Putin and Russia were the culprits, which the FBI now backs up.
Only one problem threatens to undermine this new Cold War mentality: Not the CIA or anyone else has yet produced any concrete evidence that Putin or the Russians indeed did the alleged hacking. Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks published the emails, says the Russians were not his organization's source. An Assange associate says no hacking even took place, that "an insider," not a Russian, provided WikiLeaks with the information.
What baffles me about this controversy is that the leaked emails—regardless of their source—show Trump was partially right when he claimed the system was "rigged" during the campaign. He was wrong in believing it was rigged against him. The system was actually rigged against Bernie Sanders and other challengers to the Clinton Machine in the Democratic Party.
Whoever gave WikiLeaks that information did the American public a service. Voters needed to know that Democratic Party leaders were putting the lie to their party's name by trying to make sure they, not the people, got to choose who the general-election candidate would be.
Putin is no angel, far from it, and a sadness continues to underlie Roman Fiodorov's joke because there's likely still truth to it.
When Trump takes office, he'll bring with him people like his choice for secretary of state, Exxon Mobile Chief Executive Rex W. Tillerson, a businessman who has worked closely with Putin and the Russians for years. What that portends for the environment as well as for relations with China, NATO and Europe is uncertain and even unsettling, like many of Trump's cabinet choices.
Still, that doesn't take the stink off the Democrats' near self-destruction in the 2016 election, where its loss of the White House only compounded its loss of Congress, 900 legislative seats and two-thirds of governors' offices over the past eight years.
The current leaked email controversy reeks of a "lap dog" mainstream media willing to promote an inside campaign to shift attention away from Democratic skullduggery to Russia and Putin.
And it's also hypocrisy. Consider the United States' long history of mixing itself into the elections of other sovereign nations—from Iran to South Vietnam to Chile to Nicaragua to Libya to Honduras to the Ukraine, where a democratically elected president was ousted with U.S. complicity in 2014 with no regard whatsoever to how neighboring Russia might feel about that situation.
"Systems are different, but people are the same," Roman Fiodorov told us Americans back in 1992. "People just want a (normal) life." He was right, and the fact that "systems" and politics often make that difficult is no joke.
Columnist Joe Atkins is a veteran journalist, columnist and professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi. His blog is laborsouth.blogspot.com. Email him at [email protected].