Twenty years ago I was forced to follow the path of an unwanted alternate reality - a reality that had little in common with my life before the mid-1990s. Today, once again, I am at the crossroads of another alternate reality and the acceptance of one that has not been a part of my mindset for most of my adult life. On June 22, 1997, my husband died – suddenly and under a cloud of suspicion. He died in Moscow. Until my last breath, I will never accept that he died of natural causes. I will not go into the details about his passing or speak of his business affairs or associates, as these aspects were dissected in an arduous probe during an eight-year legal battle that followed his passing. Unfortunately, I still possess as many unanswered questions as I held twenty years ago, and no, justice was not served. Only a handful of people know all of the layered details and complicated nuances, and I stopped telling “all” about a decade ago. I still openly discuss my belief that my husband died under shadowy circumstances, but my tiers of dialogue about the whole have been greatly reduced. Because of this experience, however, everything “Russia” is painted black. Now, the media is pummeling my synapses with reports about Russian interference in our elections and I am obliged to compare the current political situation with what happened in my world twenty years ago.
I admit, I always possessed a circumspect eye toward the machinations of the former Soviet Union, and Russia. I was a terrified seven-year old child as I watched the insanity of the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold in a televised black and white exercise of brinkmanship by two superpowers. I remember seeing the yellow and black nuclear fallout shelter signs on so many buildings and my memorization of the path from my parent’s house to the closest shelter. I remember Barry Goldwater's Daisy Girl. I remember the nuclear arms races and the delicate balance of power scenarios. In graduate school, I was a student of Soviet Foreign Policy, so in the summer of 1991, when my husband, a perimeter security specialist, declared that he was heading to Moscow on a speculation trip for business opportunities, my anxiety flew off the charts. I pleaded with him to forget about this foolish adventure. At this time, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost policies were in their final days, with the Soviet Union no longer an entity six months later. I also knew that chaos in the evolving Russian structure was inevitable; as there were few institutional legal or regulatory mechanisms established, or even on the agenda, to fill the vacuum of disorder that would certainly occur following the dissolution of the Soviet political system. Additionally, there were rumblings of organized crime groups setting up shop in anticipation of the coming new order.
My husband was an eternal optimist regarding his business maneuverings and I was the perpetual suspicious analyst about the fabric of the upcoming political and business climate in mother Russia – our arguments were at odds and we were certainly not complimentary yin and yang thinkers. He travelled to the Soviet Union despite my protests. I took temporary refuge in the belief that his Soviet speculation trip would be an exercise in futility, as he would be shocked at the lack of services and comforts, would be unable to adapt to this foreign business culture, and undoubtedly, would abandon this crazy business notion in short order. Of course, I was badly mistaken with my assessment, and six years later, he was still in Moscow and President of a Moscow-based multi-national subsidiary.
My alternate reality descent into the hell of legal proceedings with vile Russian-associated players after 1997 is something I would never have believed possible in my wildest dreams. My journey into the abyss of the unimaginable, though, actually began in 1995. On one fateful night in April 1995, during an early evening phone call to Moscow, I sensed (already for several months at this time) the loss of my husband’s usual cheerful and joking disposition, and thus demanded, “WHAT is going on over there?!” I wanted answers and received, via fax at 3:30 a.m., the sickening particulars about his reality, and regrettably, now mine too. The loathesome Russian underworld forced a presence into my husband’s business matters. My life had changed and would never be the same. My husband ended his fax with assurances that the problems were contained in Moscow, would not affect me, and was undertaking strong measures to rectify the matter. My guarded nature, however, knew this problem was more insidious than any solution my husband thought he could solely direct, so I called one of his business associates, stationed in his Virginia office, and insisted on an audience. We met at a local restaurant for lunch and I proceeded to tell him what I planned to do about this complication. My declarations turned into my exercise in brinkmanship. I was angry and loud, and I knew others seated around me heard what I said, but I did not care. I was vocal and transparent about this situation for the next two years.
It did not take long for some of the Russian muck to make its way to my peaceful home in Virginia. I was in my new home for a few months and suddenly in July 1995; my phone lines started to malfunction, and malfunctioned in peculiar ways. One time, my dedicated fax line called my home phone line and when I picked up the receiver, someone was on the line. No, no, this is not a technical possibility! I assumed all of these quirky happenings were the result of underground line faults due to the heavy home construction underway in my new neighborhood. But … after placing a technical support/repair ticket with Bell Atlantic, their Richmond, Virginia office called two hours later and said, “An unauthorized user was detected.” I asked what this meant and the representative simply said, “Tapping. Please do not say anything else. We will be at your house tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.” In another incident, my home’s exterior gas valve was opened on January 1, 1996, and heavy gas vapors were spewing for hours. A special tool is needed to open a gas valve. The abnormal incidents continued. I wore a security alarm panic pendant while at home. My constant mantra to my husband, “Leave, just leave!” fell on deaf ears. Likewise, when American businessman Paul Tatum was assassinated in Moscow on November 3, 1996, reportedly for being defiant about a business dispute, I brought this forward to my husband with more, “Leave, just leave” begs, but the deaf ears prevailed. We know how this discussion ends and eight months later, I was dealing with a different layer of disturbing news, as well as many lawsuits.
Why am I writing about this? Well, this is an anniversary milestone for me and my reflections sadden me so writing is often a therapeutic tool for me, but more importantly, I love my country and its democratic processes and I am compelled to speak out about the disturbing developments in our political system. I am unable to stop comparing what happened to me with what is now happening in our country. As a first step, I will speak out and change my political direction. This is my truth to power statement.
One of my favorite series, Amazon’s Man in the High Castle, a production of Phillip J. Dick’s 1962 alternative history novel where the United States is still enmeshed in the Great Depression, does not enter World War II, but is held hostage in a world ruled by fascism, prompts reflection and comparisons to my personal experiences twenty years ago, but more significantly, I find the series holds inferences to the current political climate. A fundamental argument in Man in the High Castle explores the question as to why some accept or reject a given political system – the operative words are collaboration and resistance. Although united resistance is a central theme in the series, the series upholds the view that individuals are the masters of their free will to act morally or not. The series, nevertheless, generally infers that most people are affected by the conditions of their place and time and adapt and accept accordingly. Resistance takes effort and is often painful, while collaboration is usually the easier road. Will the United States accept the Russian interference and simply adapt to the consequences of this act? Trump seems to accept it, as I do not see any outrage on his behalf about this interference. I do not see collective outrage on behalf of the Republican Party either. In my own case, upon returning from my husband’s funeral twenty years ago, I was greeted with several ludicrous lawsuits, akin to my personal fascist directive. I could cave in to some of the demands, including one from a white shoe law firm, and avoid the painful steps that were sure to follow, or I could resist and fight for what I surely believed was truth. I chose the latter and resisted the duplicitousness that became an unwanted visitor for eight long years. Similarly, will the United States seek the difficult path to truth or house the unwanted Russian visitor?
I often said I felt like I was a character in my own Kafka novel. I was Josef K. in The Trial and enslaved to a nightmare scenario. Like Josef K., I could not believe this was happening, but yes, it was happening. An important precept of Kafka’s philosophy is that the reality we know and depend on is not necessarily constant. Reworded precept for today’s political climate: If we are not vigilant and watchful, the democratic principles we know and depend on might alter before we are even aware of these dynamics.
The scars of twenty years ago are so deep that I refuse to accept an alternate reality for our democratic ideals, so after thirty-six years of being a registered Republican, I have come to the conclusion that the GOP has left me and no longer serves my strong beliefs. My primary political motivation for voting in presidential elections for almost forty years concerned United States foreign policy. The President, along with some within the Executive Branch, are the drivers of U.S. foreign policy and generally, are responsible for its implementation. The foreign policy platform of the Republican Party was usually my deciding point for presidential votes and sometimes, the Democratic foreign policy platform seemed more Republican to me, so that party got my vote. I must say that I rarely voted straight ticket for other candidates, because foreign policy is usually not the overriding concern for these elections. I am appalled at what I am witnessing in the news and especially where Russian matters are concerned. How can a political party depart so drastically from its basic foreign policy tenets? I am unable to support a President that places Russian interests over United States interests. I am sickened by Trump’s silence of this matter, and especially since there are dramatic revelations of Russia’s direct meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. Affirmations of Russian tampering were established when, under oath on June 8, 2017, Former FBI Director James Comey, stated to the Senate Intelligence Committee, "The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose. They did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts. And it was an active-measures campaign driven from the top of that government," Similarly, on June 21, 2017 former Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, speaking under oath before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, exclaimed, "Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on the U.S. election. Plain and simple." Further, The Washington Post expose of June 23, 2017, “Obama’s Secret Struggle to Retaliate Against Putin’s Election Interference,” by Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, presents intelligence disclosures of Putin ordering the hacking of our U.S. election in order to advantage Trump – there is nothing grey about this revelation! Of course, we already knew this was happening since last year, but without the level of detail rooted in the Washington Post article. The day after the Washington Post article was published, Trump shifted the responsibility of all of this to Obama, as if this Russian trespass was new news to him. C’mon Mr. President, we know President-Elects receive daily classified national security briefings immediately after the election, so you most certainly had to know this was not “fake news,” even though you kept saying it was. But wait, did not you say that you did not need daily national security briefings and if you received them, they should be one-page summaries in bullet form, because as you said, you are, “like a smart person”? … #SMH.
The above affirmations about Russia’s intrusions are all I require to pursue the alternate political road. Trump does not see Russia as a threat even though Putin meddled into our sacred affairs. Trump’s public posture, (and private, as implied in the Intelligence Hearings testimony) has not embraced the severity of Russia’s actions. Trump’s silence on Russia’s activities illustrates just how sizable Putin’s victory is.
Putin is not our friend. I just re-read a seminal 2014 book written by my former (and favorite) University of Maryland graduate school professor, Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy, Who Owns Russia? Dr. Dawisha’s analysis is more frightening three years after publication in light of today’s political atmosphere. The dictionary defines kleptocracy as a government or state in which those in power exploit national resources and steal; rule by a thief or thieves. On the surface, Putin presents himself as a firm and noble leader who unchained Russia from the disorder and failings of the 1990s. But … has Russia changed since the 1990s? Dr. Dawisha maintains that the foundation of Putin’s system is massive corruption, and he is the recipient of the resultant spoils. Just as in the 1990s, one can still find extortion, bribery, kickbacks, privatization and real estate scams in present-day Russia, but the new mob mentality, nonetheless, is more official and business-like in appearance and organization and also sanctioned from the top political level. Putin’s inner circle of oligarchs embraces Team Putin and in return, Putin demands loyalty – Lordy, there’s that “loyalty” word!
An article by Mark Galeotti for the July 2016 issue of Newsweek, “Putin Welcomes the Return of the Russian Mafia,” proclaims, "In the 1990s, the so-called 'Russian Mafia' was Europe’s new nightmare, an overblown threat surging west into Europe instead of Soviet tanks. In the 2000s, it had become a cliché’, the thriller writer’s staple. Now it has become a 'fifth column' of the Kremlin’s effort to undermine European security. Organized crime is certainly often close to the state, and in some areas it has clearly been used to the advantage of Russian elites. A classic example is the harnessing of Russian hackers, who are granted a degree of impunity in return for their willingness form time to time to target Kremlin’s foes. “
Galeotti speaks of European security, but one can easily switch “European” with “American.” One is unable to read a newspaper, or watch a news hour without the mention of the Russian hacking of our political system, and I cannot help but extend inferences to organized crime with these intrusions. Furthermore, an investigative article about Russian-directed assassinations, “From Russia With Blood,” claims that, “Senior US intelligence officials said they had been watching the pattern of suspected assassinations across the Atlantic with mounting alarm, and are concerned that it could spread to American shores. (BuzzFeed News Investigations, Heidi Blake, Tom Warren, Richard Holmes, Jason Leopold, Jane Bradley, Alex Campbell, 15 June 2017).
Under Putin, Russian expanded its power and international influence in recent years. As I stated, the Republican Party’s deviation from the traditional foreign policy platform perplexes me as does their institutional sclerosis in the face of Trump’s foreign policy objectives. In an August 2016 Newsweek article, “How Vladimir Putin is Using Donald Trump to Advance Russia’s Goals,” Michael McFaul, U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 says Trump is departing from the Republican foreign policy doctrine and, "… is departing radically from Ronald Reagan, something never done by any Republican Party presidential candidate. It’s easy to see how Putin views Trump’s victory as a blessing and thus marshaled his cyber infiltrators." McFaul proceeds to note, “Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world … A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin’s international interests.”
Putin’s long-standing plan is to promulgate disruption and chaos in the West. Incidentally, Russia was also accused of interfering in the French Presidential race after documents from Emmanuel Macron’s campaign officials were hacked before election day. Putin expressed an election preference toward Macron’s opponent, Marine Le Pen. Putin wants to wreck havoc on the veracity of western democratic values. At the base, Trump is an instrumental fool for the Kremlin’s grand plan to encourage U.S. isolationism, NATO division, the dissolution of European unity, acceptance of the Crimea annexation, and most importantly, interference with U.S. elections. Putin’s preferences for the disruption of western principles look too much like … Trump. Putin is not our friend.
The very essence of our democratic ideals is at risk if we are not prepared to prevent, or even address Russian obstruction. This should not be a partisan issue but Trump’s continued efforts to moniker the Special Counsel’s Russian investigation as a witch-hunt are inexcusable. He will not address this issue and instead, dismisses it with arrogance.
I think many are shell-shocked at what is playing out on Pennsylvania Avenue and do not know how to absorb the daily dysfunction. It is difficult to comprehend that our present American way of life is not the only life possible, or that there could be any purpose to abandon it, because what we have generally fits us and is generally comfortable. I see Trump’s actions, and especially his un-actions, as an attack on our very notion of a preferred collective reality by way of making normal democratic politics impossible. When the truth is little more than an arbitrary personal decree, oftentimes a lie, there is no common ground. Regarding his tweeting, Trump has said, “I’m not lying, I’m creating reality.” (New Republic, Alex Shephard, 23 March 2017). What reality? These message twists are not realities no matter how much magic Trump might think they possess.
Trump’s messages are often illogical and arbitrary, and sometimes absurd - “Covfefe” comes to mind. He tweets and makes pronouncements for the record and then denies ownership of same. He challenges accepted facts and then disdains anyone who identifies the shortcomings. He even misrepresents matters when he has no palpable foundation to do so, and sometimes spouts another misrepresentation that breaches the first misrepresentation. Oh wait, we should not forget about Kellyanne Conway’s reference to “alternate facts” and apply it when we are in possession of a Trump message, and especially one that flies in the face of facts. A June 2017 John Oliver satire identified Trump as a walking, logical paradox and would not be surprised if a Trump tweet said, “I just traveled back in time and killed myself. VERY UNFAIR!” Funny? Yes, but it is also a serious matter that we joke about such message paradoxes because we certainly have had our share of them. These reckless messages only present distractions in place of the needed workings of a healthy government process. And really people, why is the word “hookers” a part of the President’s vocabulary in a discussion with the former FBI Director? Talk about distraction! We are more than a divided nation – we are a confused nation. I often envision thought bubbles encapsulated with “WTH” when someone reads one of Trumps tweets for the first time, or second time, or third … ∞ . The only logic I can apply to Trump’s tweets is that he must be channeling Schrodinger’s Cat when he tweets – they exist and they don’t exist.
If one is unable to understand the essence of many of Trump’s messages, it is a possibility that the elected body as a whole is unable to concur on essential beliefs and practices, and consensus is not attainable, thus regressing the political process toward a Social Darwinian raw power political struggle with competitive tussles for selfish benefit. The weak are dominated by the strong. Truly, Trump embraces the winner-loser ideology of Social Darwinism. Joseph Ingram’s article, “Donald Trump’s Destructive Darwinian Vision,” (iPolitics Insights, 18 January 2017), asserts, "With the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, both the American political landscape and the liberal international order – which, since the Second World War, have been largely driven by an accepted set of rules based on core western values – will be subjected to an unorthodox vision belonging to a self-serving businessman whose life experience has been limited to the pursuit of money and hedonism, and to making deals with zero-sum outcomes."
Will the international order be thrust into a zero-sum game, such as the fictional global representation in Man in the High Castle? Remember, there are only equal wins and equal losses in zero-sum games – I guess European NATO members lose … and guess who else loses? The sub-title of Ingram's article says it best: “The world is not a zero-sum game. Thinking it is leads to bloodshed.“ Although I think Trump is a Russian pawn, unwittingly or not, Trump does not have to be a Russian instrument to be perilous; he just has to be Trump. Trump is, however, out of his league with regard to understanding Putin’s sophisticated officious tricks, just as my husband was out of his league in thinking he could avoid or counter-balance inherent Russian corruption and run a Russian-based business as if it were planted in Virginia.
I shudder when I hear Paul Ryan excuse our Commander-In-Chief’s message stumbles because Trump is “new at this,” or Newt Gingrich excusing The President’s questionable tweets because he is not a “professional politician.” If a President is so careless or unknowing with his words, messages, thought processes, rules, and protocols, do we really want someone like this to be the only one that can order a nuclear launch, even if the United States is not under nuclear attack? Indeed, based on Trump’s comments, he seems clueless when it comes to understanding the crucial differences between “first use” and “first strike” with regard to nuclear warfare strategies. With the Doomsday Clock stationed at two and one-half minutes before midnight, I think Congress needs to address the issue of this President, actually any President, not having sole authority to trigger a nuclear event.
In ten years, I do not want to write another anniversary article on my husband’s passing and note that his passing is like a metaphor for America. I am setting forth a new reality for myself by breaking with the Republican Party. I am still very conservative when it comes to United States foreign policy, and doubt this will change, but the Republican Party has abandoned this policy tradition. It is also time for an alternate reality for the United States and especially one for the executive branch with the executive branch holding to: one that is free of reality show tactics; one that welcomes all credentialed journalists, cameras and audio into daily press briefings (!!); and most importantly, one that will treat the Russian threat with the seriousness it requires. Our voting system was attacked by the order of Putin. What is next - the U.S. power grid? If our power grid is compromised, the government loses its ability to function, and protect its citizens. Like it or not, the United States is in a state of war, but devoid of leadership to combat this Russian threat. Fortunately, there is an ongoing investigation into Russian matters by the appointed Special Counsel, as well as multi-faceted investigations by several congressional committees and the FBI. I hope all of these investigations and especially the investigation by the Special Counsel will place the United States on a stable path and further set in stone that Putin is not our friend. Godspeed Mr. Mueller.