Why Russia Critiques the Idea of American Exceptionalism
Russia has never been particularly sympathetic to the Western civilization and its leader, the United States. Almost 50 years of the last century had lasted in the global confrontation of the Cold War, which repeatedly threatened to grow into a "hot" state. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union created lots of "black" myths about the West and its set of values. It has been more than 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but certain ideological myths continue to dominate the minds of Russians. And the rhetoric of the Russian leaders provokes an escalation of the anti-Western sentiments among the people.
This logic of events is quite predictable: the creation of an "enemy" image became a favorite technique of propaganda in the political, economic, and social conditions which exist in modern Russia. First of all, the growth of the social and emotional uncertainty caused by the spread of fear of real or fictitious threats, allows firstly, to effectively control people, consolidating them around a political leadership of a country, in which people hope to find protection from threats. Secondly, it diverts people's attention from problems of economic and social nature. Also, the actualization of the image of the "enemy" in the mass consciousness connects all the troubles that occur or may occur with actions of the "enemy."
At the same time, propaganda aims to idealize the deeds of a current government. The media actively describes the achievements of a wise leadership, praises the personal and professional qualities of the leaders. And, of course, it is necessary to constantly demonstrate the successful struggle against the "enemy", constantly reminding people about "enemy's" cruelty and aggressiveness. Here are just a few statements of Vladimir Putin, Russia's three-time president, who is well-known for his anti-Western rhetoric: "Let us not forget that the United States is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons, and used it against non-nuclear country. We will always respond to the threats that arise around our borders"; "It seems to me our partners don't want allies, they need vassals, they want to rule, but Russia doesn't work that way"; "During the presidency of Bill Clinton they bombed Yugoslavia and Belgrade, Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, then under the totally false pretext, they sent the troops to Iraq, eliminated all Iraqi leadership -- even children from the family of Saddam Hussein have died. Now they turn on Libya on the pretext of protecting the civilian population. But during the bombing of the territory they kill the civilian population. Where is any logic and conscience in this? There is neither." And finally: "I would rather disagree with a case he (President Obama) made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States' policy is "what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional." It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation." Add to these words Putin's own actions: the Dima Yakovlev Act, the Snowden's case, Russia's irreconcilable position in the Security Council, and demonstrative support of non-democratic regimes.
Second, and equally important, this rhetoric aims to reconstruct the lost image of Russia as a world superpower whose cooperation would be necessary to resolve any major international conflict.
The constant criticism of the United States adds political weight to Russia in the eyes of its own people and abroad. So we need to analyze whether Russia is really "rising from its knees," as the pro-Kremlin media say, and what real achievements Putin's "not exceptional but unique" regime can demonstrate.
Political system: a blooming kleptocracy
The current Russian political regime can be described as a kleptocracy. Kleptocracy and total corruption in the state system of Russia are the foundation of the regime. In merging of the government branches concentration of power in the hands of one political party, it becomes a serious threat to any further development of democratization whatsoever. Now, Russia has returned to the system of so-called government "feeding", in which government officials receive a symbolic salary or do not receive it at all, and "feed" themselves and their families by demanding bribes from the residents of a territory under their jurisdiction.
Just as centuries ago, "the tsars' men" lived much better than their official salaries allowed, and were not ashamed to show off their wealth. This kleptomaniac class is the social foundation of the regime. It is no coincidence that the label of "party of crooks and thieves" is so easily associated with the ruling party --"United Russia." If the Kremlin really wanted to jail all corrupt officials, it would need to destroy its social base, which generally supports the hierarchy of state power. So, there is no war against corruption in Russia, but a political fight for more influence and money between members of the corrupted clans. The fighting of the "Kremlin Bulldogs" has become public, and it is a clear sign of Putin's weakness. For fourteen years, ever since he came to power, he was able to remain "above the fight": he kept the balance between the court rivals, played the role of a judge, who, thanks to his unquestionable authority, resolved disputes, reconciled and punished those who played too rough. Now Putin has taken the side of the "Hawks". And when the time comes to look for candidates of Putin's successors, the deciding vote will be cast by the anti-Western conservatives.
Economic system: the neo-Soviet model
Naturally, the obvious shortcomings of the political system fully effect the economy: currently, Russia occupies 139th place out of 185 countries according to the Index of Economic Freedom and is classified as a "mostly not free" country. According to Transparency International report, Russia is ranked 133rd among the 174 countries on the level of corruption in the economy.
At the same time, the structure of the economy remains essentially Soviet: the main industries are extractive (oil, gas, chemicals, and metals), as well as heavy and defense industries. Light and food industries are falling far behind. Despite the general increase of the production, the Russian economy continues to focus on the production of raw materials.
Although general economic growth is quite rapid, this has little effect on the welfare of the broad masses of Russia. Poverty has become chronic: many retirees (an average pension does not exceed 3,000 rubles, or $93) and low-skilled workers in depressed regions live in poverty. It is important to bear in mind that Russia artificially understates its poverty level. For example, if in the U.S. a person is considered to be poor if he or she earns less than $1,000 a month, in Russia this amount is just $200.
To overcome poverty and the deep economic stratification of the population it is very important to maintain economic activity, to develop a small business, to involve the widest possible range of people in the business -- the only way a considerable number of the Russians can increase their wealth. But over the past decade, the number of small businesses in Russia fiailed to increase, and now there are just one million. It can be assumed that Russian leadership does not try to support the development of middle class, since a vast middle class is a typical foundation of real democracy. The middle class is a bearer of the values of freedom and human rights, and rapidly responds when these rights are violated. Putin's regime just does not need this in Russia.
Social system: poverty, alcoholism, demographic decline
There are a number of social issues in Russia, and lots of them are not being addressed and are growing more and more critical. All kinds of policies and measures taken by the government have not given any meaningful results. Below, we cite the results of the research of N. P. Popov, Ph.D.
The main social problem is poverty, as we pointed out above.
Next problem is alcoholism. According to the UN data, the consumption of 8 liters of alcohol per person a year leads to a degradation of the nation. According to the official Russian data, this number reaches 18 liters per person a year, and according to the unofficial data it is more than 20 liters. People are dying in large numbers from general alcoholism. Over 80% of population consumes alcohol, a third regularly drinks vodka. Sociologists connect a significant increase of alcoholism in Russian society at the end of the last century with the massive worsening of the quality of life for tens of millions of people. Public disorder, along with social and economic insecurity and uncertainty, have contributed to a significant increase of public demand for alcohol, the use of which for many serves as a means of escape from reality, "overcoming" discomfort and stress, "forgetting" difficulties and concerns.
The other problem is the consumption and distribution of drugs. During the last ten years, the consumption of drugs in Russia has increased tenfold, while in the United States during this period it has decreased by half. The number of addicts registered in the dispensaries is 550 thousand people, and it is estimated that there are 5 million drug addicts, or more than 7% of the population between the ages of 11-40.
Inevitably, all of these factors affect the demographics. Since 1992, the mortality curve went up sharply and crossed the birth rate (in sociology, this phenomenon is called the "Russian Cross"). Since then, the death rate exceeds the birth rate constantly, sometimes by as much as half. According to the official prognosis, if this trend continues, by 2025 the population would be reduced to 120 million people, and by some estimates, down to 85 million (now the population of Russia is 143.4 million).
So, the U.S. and its allies are seen as the cause of all these and many other problems. It does not matter how often and how loud the Kremlin carries on about the dark conspiracies of Washington. No anti-Western propaganda would ever resolve the critical problems facing millions of Russians every single day. Moscow may criticize the idea of American exceptionalism as much as it wants, but secretly it hopes to regain the former exceptionalism of the Soviet Union and dreams of its vanished imperial power. However, while this is not achievable, we will continue to hear harsh criticism from Moscow.
Finally, we have to note that such a wave of anti-Western rhetoric was partially provoked and even somehow encouraged by Washington -- the more the top political leadership of the U.S. makes concessions to Moscow, more it forgives or ignores the unfriendly antics of Russia, the more this behavior is assessed as a weakness of the opponent, and the more active and bolder Russia behaves.