segunda-feira, 14 de novembro de 2016

Trump fever grips Russia

Trump fever grips Russia
Watching the US elections in Moscow.

By OLGA ZEVELEVA 11/15/16, 5:19 AM CET

MOSCOW — As exit polls from the American presidential elections rolled in, I was making my way from London to a snow-covered Moscow to visit my grandmother. What I saw when I got there surprised me: Russia was gripped by election fever. The U.S. was entering a new era, and Moscow wanted to go along for the ride.

For three days I watched as state television covered the intricacies of the U.S. election as if the rest of the world was on hold. I talked to students who could not concentrate on anything but Donald Trump. Professors told me it had become impossible to teach their classes. Family members, not usually so opinionated, suddenly started using words like “racism” and “sexism.”

I traveled across the city and walked its streets for days: There were no Trump-free zones. In the tram, strangers chatted to one another about the number of electoral college votes in Ohio versus California. People yelled into their cell phones at the supermarket, relaying results in North Carolina and Florida. On the street, I caught snatches of conversation between two older women walking arm in arm, talking about “white America” and the “racial divide” on their evening stroll.

One block further south, a woman carrying grocery bags told her daughter how happy she was that “the Madam” did not get elected since she had “said such harsh things about Russia, her presidency would have been terrible for us.” A dog-walker chimed in, “What an interesting conversation you’re having, you’ve made such good points, thank you very much, I agree completely!”

Despite state television’s warnings that voter fraud threatened to hand Hillary Clinton the election, everyone now appeared to have a high degree of faith in the American electoral system.
A usually cold, reserved, individualistic Moscow had turned into a buzzing village, bound together by common rumors and concerns.

A man working for the hotline of a member of the Moscow City Council wrote in a Facebook post that he had received calls from people in his district congratulating him and each other on the Trump win. He hadn’t seen anything near this level of enthusiasm after Russia’s parliamentary elections in September. “Apparently this is a more fateful moment for residents of this city district,” he mused.

While some did seem thrilled at the prospect of a Trump presidency — mostly because they are hopeful that sanctions will finally be lifted — the overarching mood was not so much joy, it was surprise and curiosity. And most of all: excitement.

Despite state television’s warnings that voter fraud threatened to hand Hillary Clinton the election, everyone now appeared to have a high degree of faith in the American electoral system: People all agreed that Trump won the electoral college votes and came into office after free and fair elections.

When it seemed Clinton would win, the editor of Russia Today tweeted “Democracy RIP” – but then quickly rescinded her comment when it became apparent Trump had come out on top. Russian state TV similarly switched gears, churning out a narrative of American working classes flooding the polling stations and finally taking back their country.

Trump’s win was proof that American propaganda had failed to fool the electorate.
“This is real working America – people who work with their hands and produce real things, not people who work at universities or people who work in finance,” said the news anchor. “These aren’t immigrants, they’re locals who have suffered at the hands of American elites for years.”

Trump’s win was proof that American propaganda had failed to fool the electorate, one woman told me: “The U.S. media was all in favor of Hillary, and still the people chose Trump. Americans really showed everyone what they’re made of.”

State TV channels eagerly explained that Americans had voted for Trump “because they were tired of the anti-Russian attitudes of Clinton and the establishment.”

And that was just the start. On day two, state media was afire with claims that America was on the brink of civil war, with dramatic footage of people burning the American flag and marching towards the White House.

“Do you think they’ll even let Trump become president? I think it’s unclear,” said my grandma, completely taken with the whole spectacle.

“Everyone expected that Republicans would be burning flags the day after the election, but it turned out to be the Democrats,” the news anchor commented. Read: “The news producer had planned to show this footage of a polarized America after a Democratic win, but we’ll work with what we got.”

On day three, the news producers recovered a little and found a way to fill the propaganda vacuum after the initial “rigged election” story fell through. The news latched onto the awful Republicans who surround Trump, and while he himself is, of course, brilliant and friendly and means well, he may not be able to push through his sound Russia policies because the “institutions” and “the party” would be sure to block him. Russia had to remain cautious of the evil elites that surround a benign Trump.

Beyond their initial surprise and curiosity, Russians latched onto the election as a spectacle. Students compared it to the popular Netflix show “House of Cards,” with its portrayal of American politics as full of debauchery and betrayal. As the British political scientist Sam Greene pointed out in the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, the Trump phenomenon is symptomatic of a transition toward “politics as circus.” No one believes that politics is about society anymore.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Russia’s election fever is that racism, sexism, sexual assault and inequality suddenly entered everyday discussions. Most people still don’t use these words in Russia. Talking about Trump and the controversies surrounding him, many conceded that he seems to be a “mean guy.”

Some students expressed solidarity with “women and Muslims in America,” or became upset about what the election results would mean for women in America and around the world. Some of my family members were concerned that mostly white Americans had voted for Trump and consequences this may have. Americans elected a president known for anti-immigrant, sexist, racist attitudes and, as a result Russians, are finally starting to debate these topics seriously.

Deprived of a meaningful electoral process at home, Russians claimed a stake in America’s decision. Indeed, many in the country seem to believe that American voters have more control over what happens to them than they do.

Olga Zeveleva is a PhD student in sociology at the University of Cambridge.


Olga Zeveleva  

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