What would it look like? Maybe something like this:
LOS ANGELES — California, they say, is the Golden State. The place where the American dream is born. Southern California, in particular, is a land of palm trees and movie stars, perpetual sunshine and a very American idea of freedom. It’s where Hollywood’s dream factories manufacture images of this land and its people that have captivated the world for nearly a century.
California also gave America its president: a second-rate movie star named Ronald Reagan, who has beguiled the nation he leads with sentimental fantasies of days gone by. Reagan’s America was time of John Wayne-style virility and Beaver-Cleaver wholesomeness, a Neverland that he seems to believe will come back if only Americans only believe strongly enough in what he, a former pitchman, is selling.
When President Reagan opens the Olympic Games here next week, the feel-good nationalist pageantry that has worked its narcotic magic on this troubled land over the past four years will be on gaudy display. The doddering Cold War cowboy has holstered his nuclear-tipped six shooters (he doesn’t need them; the Soviets are staying home) as if to reassure the world that he isn’t as scary as they think. You might say Reagan is using these Games, which should be an occasion for global goodwill, not patriotic preening, to send a message to the world: It’s morning in America again.
But beyond the Hollywood’s Potemkin façades, L.A.’s shameless materialism, and the cheap tourist-brochure glamour promoted by Peter Ueberroth, the well-connected travel industry tycoon installed as the city’s Olympics chief, there lies another Los Angeles. It’s a city where the honeyed sunbeams of the so-called Reagan renaissance never pierce the perpetual shadows.
In South Central L.A., the gritty, impoverished black ghetto where visitors to the Games are unlikely to stray, Police Chief Daryl Gates is rounding up young black men as if they were stray dogs. The top cop’s concern for civil liberties is scarcely improved in Hispanic East L.A., which is likewise suffering under the LAPD jackboot. It is undeniable that the city’s poor, long victims of structural racism and, more recently, a post-recession economy that has left them behind, are now being silenced and hidden from view.
“Welcome to Reagan’s America,” sighs Flotilla DeBarge, a drag queen who glumly nurses a warm beer inside a seedy bar off one of South Central’s boulevards of broken dreams. DeBarge, 25, dropped out of beauty school as a result of Reagan’s student loan cutbacks. Her only means of support: boyfriend Juan, a Nicaraguan refugee and yard man who migrated to L.A. when the U.S.-backed contras burned down the barns at his hemp collective farm.
“I would love to marry him and make him a citizen,” says DeBarge. “But a man can’t marry another man in America. They say it’s a free country. Where’s my freedom, Mr. Reagan?”
You get the point. More seriously, Julia Ioffe says ordinary Russians are getting fed up with the Putinfreude from the Western media:
There’s a fine line between fair criticism and schadenfreude, and the Western press has been largely well on the side of the latter. I’d also argue that there’s something chauvinistic, even Russophobic in it. The Europeans may not be ready for their Olympics, but, okay, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and hope for the best. The Chinese prepare for theirs ruthlessly, but we don’t understand them so whatever. We railed on Romney for daring to criticize the preparedness of our British friends, and we wrote in muted tones about Athens not being ready in time for their Olympics, but with the Russians, we gloat: Look at these stupid savages, they can’t do anything right.
Within hours of arriving in Moscow yesterday, Russian friends, even the Westernized ones, those who are openly, viciously critical of the Kremlin, have expressed their hurt at the Western blooper coverage of Sochi. A whole lot of their tax money has been spent on something they may not have wanted and in ways they find criminally wasteful, and, yes, their government has not done much to endear itself to the West of late, but they’re puzzled by why the Americans and the British are so very happy that the details are a little screwy, the way they generally are in Russia.
The word they use is zloradstvo, literally: evil-reveling.
They’re right. If only Putin were a gay rights supporter, he would be hailed by the Western media as the man who was turning Russia around. Princeton professor Michael Reynolds warns that Americans who are rooting for Russia to fail at these games for the sake of embarrassing Putin are being short-sighted:
In the U.S., conversations about the Sochi Olympics have been dominated by discussion of Russia’s decision last June to outlaw “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to children. Despite the fact that the upper and lower houses of Russia’s parliament passed the ban with votes of 137 to 0 and 436 to 0 respectively, critics of Putin have been all too happy to make him, and his Olympics, the focus of their outrage. Pundits have mooted threats of boycott and protests. For his part, President Obama announced he will avoid Sochi and demonstratively appointed openly gay athletes to the U.S. delegation to the games. Among those appointed is sports legend and lesbian icon, Billie Jean King. King aspires to be Obama’s “big gay middle finger” to Putin.
The zeal of King and other Americans to use the Sochi Olympics to stick it to Putin may be understandable, but as the suicide bombings of the train station and trolleybus in the city of Volgograd should remind us, Putin’s image is not the sole matter at stake in Sochi. And what is his loss or embarrassment is not necessarily America’s gain. Russia faces a terror problem that is real, chronic, and complex, and that consists of international and global dimensions that touch American interests outside even the vast territory of post-Soviet Eurasia.
Americans, however, would do well to keep in mind two things. One is that not everything that is bad in Russia is Putin’s doing, and this applies to the perennial jihadist insurgency in the North Caucasus. The other is that not all of Russia’s problems are Russia’s alone.
Where did the Boston Marathon bombers come from? Think about it. A writer for the Boston Globe has been. He blames Putin for that too, apparently:
Remember, this is the country that sent us the Tsarnaevs. Never forget. Never.
— Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD) February 8, 2014
Nope, no Russophobia here. Not in our media.