Rudy Giuliani is giving me Soviet flashbacks.
With his bizarre foot-in-mouth rants about how Barack Obama doesn’t love “America” the way “we” do, Rudy — and other “They hate us!” exceptionalist ‘Muricans like Eric Erickson and Steve Forbes — are starting to remind me of the frightened, denial-sick communist die-hards I knew as a student in Russia.
Not to go too far down memory lane, but in 1990, I went to Leningrad to study. The Soviet empire was in its death throes and most people there, particularly the younger ones, knew it.
But some hadn’t gotten the memo yet, and those folks, usually nice enough, often older — university administrators, check-room attendants, security guards, parents of some of my classmates, others — were constantly challenging me and other exchange students to East-versus-West debates, usually with the aim of proving that “their” way of life was better.
By the time I left Russia a dozen years and a couple of career changes later, a lot of those people still hadn’t gotten the memo. They were deep in denial about the passing of the USSR and spent a lot of time volubly claiming ownership of words like we and our and us in a way that quickly became a running joke in modernizing Russia.
U Nas Lusche — roughly, Ours is Better or It’s Better Here — was the unofficial slogan of the pining-for-the-old-days crowd in post-communist Russia.
These folks weren’t communists in any real ideological sense. They were mainly just people who had grown lazily comfortable with certain romantically goofy elements of the Soviet way of life and were (somewhat understandably) reluctant to give them up.
If you’ve spent the last 30 years sitting on splintered park benches with your buddies after work, drinking rancid keg beer out of a jam jar along with some salted vobla fish and some mushy “Doctor’s” kielbasa, well, you’ll be damned if you’re going to worship at the more expensive altar of a warm Coca-Cola and a Snickers.
You liked your disgusting salt-fish and your unhygienic beverage choices and your absurd “kassa” multi-cashier store payment system that could make shopping for groceries an agonizing three-hour ritual.
And it rankled you to no end when people told you that these things, and by implication you yourself, were vestiges of a dead-and-gone world. (I actually loved the vobla and the particulate-filled Soviet beers and a lot of other USSR delicacies — the infuriating kassa system, not so much).
All of which is a roundabout way of saying the Soviets also had a strong sense of exceptionalism. It was something that was carefully nurtured and encouraged by The Party and had been spread successfully from the Kremlin to the remotest drunk-tank in Kamchatka.
But the problem with exceptionalism is that it can turn unintentionally comic with the drop of a hat. You’re made to believe you’re at the center of an envious universe, but then the world changes just enough and suddenly you’re a punchline clinging to a lot of incoherent emotions. I watched this happen with my own eyes to a lot of people in the former Soviet Union.