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Lifelong "sovok": why Russian emigrants in America did not become a political force
27 August 2020, 11:15
Lifelong "sovok": why Russian emigrants in America did not become a political force
All Russian emigrants in America are united by the fact that nothing, in a political sense, unites them

Sergei Dovlatov, whose death recently turned 30 years old, in his notes on life in America was surprised at the paradox: why many Russian emigrants in New York, living on welfare (social benefits from the US government) voted for Republican Reagan, who tried to remove welfare ... And they did it actively and with conviction. Sociologist Konstantin Sonin tried to explain this paradox using modern material, since it is no secret that today's Russian Americans have voted with all their hands and are ready to vote again for Republican Trump:

“Among the interesting things about American politics in 2020 is the depth and breadth of support for President Trump in the Russian diaspora. This is the majority among all groups of the population - from the most prosperous stratum, the financiers-doctors-programmers, to the most economically unsuccessful. This is the majority in the most intellectual, academic environment and in the most non-intellectual. The reasons can be called different - in the academic environment they are afraid of BLM, among socially unprotected emigrants - of immigration. Almost everyone is happy about the war on political correctness, including those who do not face it in any way.

The only structural exception to the general “Russians for Trump” is age. Among the “under 20” in Russian-speaking families, support for Trump is as low as among young people in general. (The attitude towards Trump among young people is much worse than in the country as a whole: in the category of voters 18-29, Biden's advantage is 60% to 30%, while among all 51% - 42%. But young people vote little.) Among Our friends can see not only this generational gap - we can see how the desire to maintain a common language with their teenagers forces the older generation to take "intermediate" positions, to be more frank in conversations with peers than in the family.

In some cases, the reasons lie on the surface. For example, the fact that financiers-doctors-programmers-professors of economics vote for the Republicans. What's so strange about that? With an annual income of 300 thousand dollars, the result of tax cuts (each republican administration carries out tax cuts) is a check for 10-15 thousand dollars annually. Here, people who are irritated by many things in the Trump administration will vote. And at the same time, my socio-economic cross-section is wide - and it is clearly visible that support for Trump among "Russians in America" is higher among those who do not benefit from his economic activities.

Trump's support among Russian Americans is unlike that of his voters. Trump's nuclear constituency is white males with no college degrees in rural areas. (The American countryside is 25% of the voters.) Here, of course, there is a lack of a full-fledged sociology on the Russian diaspora, but it seems to me that the intersection of the “Trump core” with the diaspora is small. Moreover, it is small with a different cut of support for Trump - Protestants of different denominations. That is, support for Trump among Russians is not support for American conservative values. Of course, the Russian diaspora is conservative, just not in an American way - and, by the way, not in a Russian way.

So where does this support for Trump come from, which I see in conversations with friends, acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances and - even more - in the texts and comments of Russian Americans? It seems to me that the main explanation is the lack of experience and the skill of participating in political life, misunderstanding - despite the long experience of emigration, successful settlement, career and professional successes - how political life is integrated into the daily life of American society, a sense of lack of representation and inability to speak. Trump's support is a response to this lack of integration.

... Once I was drinking coffee with a wonderful political analyst on Russia, former assistant to President Obama for Russia and Iran, and then - the ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul. We discussed the experience of Russian lobbying in the US Congress - this is when Russian oligarchs made large donations to Carnegie and Brookings, trying to get a channel of influence. Mike explained to me why Russians (Moscow Russians - government and businessmen) find it difficult to lobby for interests in Washington. The Russians (diaspora) have no congressmen dependent on them. Israel has congressmen, in whose districts local Jewish organizations play an important role, the Poles have Polish, the Ukrainians have Ukrainian, and the Swedes have Swedish.

There is a paradox in this - there are much more Russians in the United States than representatives of other ethnic groups. But an emigrant from the Russian Empire in 1900 became a Pole, a Ukrainian, a Lithuanian in America - in the sense which diaspora he joined. An emigrant from the USSR in the 1970s-1980s became a Jew in New York, even if he did not know any language other than Russian - that was enough for Brighton Beach and was not interested in Jewry. Of course, the “third wave” was forced by the “Jewish” - for emigration from the USSR, at least nominal Jewry was often required, and support for emigrants who arrived penniless and suitable skills was provided by Jewish organizations. But no Russian diaspora was formed during the emigration of the 1990s, when no Jewry was required anymore. And during the 2000s, when new emigrants often traveled immediately with work visas and high salaries ...

What all Russian emigrants in America have in common is that nothing, in a political sense, unites them. In Israel, the Russian emigration has not only united into some kind of institutionalized structures. She has played an important role in politics for many years. And in America there was not even the most minimal "Russians for Dole" or something like that. Now, of course, there are no such organizations for a long time, "Poles for Kennedy" - in the last century a candidate needed to get the support of dozens of Polish newspapers in order to win Illinois. But also at the informal level, networks, etc. - there are no networks uniting Russian Americans for politics.

However, it is wrong to reduce the problem of the non-participation of the Russian diaspora in American politics to the inability to unite. This unwillingness and non-participation - it happens on an individual level. A deeper sociologist would see here a reproduction of Levada-Gudkov's model of “just a Soviet man” in its export version. For example, dozens of my friends and acquaintances - sometimes lowering their voices so that teenagers would not hear them - talked about the radical socialism of Alexandra Okazio-Cortez or the anti-Semitic overtones of Ilhan Omar, two young stars of the "left flank" - but only one of these acquaintances, as far as I know , transferred money to the election campaign of their opponents. Meanwhile - this is the most standard and natural expression of the voters' own feelings. Does some politician seem dangerous? Send $ 100 to his opponent. Continues to seem dangerous? Persuade ten friends to send $ 100 each ...

And it's not just about money. Russian America is as stingy with political words as with political donations. Can you imagine how many people want to speak out on the topic of which US president is better for Israel? Intellectuals exchange books, articles, columns on this topic. There are few speeches on the topic of which US president is better for our (American Poles) Poland or for our (American Ukrainians) Ukraine, but I have heard. But something on the topic - why it is better for Russians in America to vote for this or that politician - no, I have not heard.

And in America you can't do without politics. In kindergarten, they vote on which apple variety will be a symbol of their office and which book to read aloud (and no, educators are not trying to impose their choice on four-year-old children). In elementary school, they go from class to class, persuading each other to vote for something. Parents choose who looks after the school principal. They choose sheriffs, judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, deans, colleagues - and anyone else. Being a full-fledged American means voting for something all the time, periodically trying to persuade someone how to vote and being actively persuaded every day. Well, hell for an unfamiliar person.

Hell, of course, for someone who was not born in America. And for the generation of emigrant children, this is all familiar. They voted for an apple in kindergarten, and in the sixth grade they themselves ran for president of the school. Political ads filled their lives from day one (even if their parents threw away their mail without reading it and did not turn on C-SPAN) - and hinder them as much as advertising toothpaste. It does not interfere, but helps to make a choice. They do not feel themselves unrepresented, unlike their parents.

So why Trump? Trump, among other things, is the voice of the unrepresented, an expression of resentment, a complaint of not squeezing into the elite. The voice of the one who does not know how to vote herself, but feels that she is being bred by everyone who persuades. It doesn't matter that Donald Trump himself has nothing to do with the "non-elite" - he ideally found the tone and words to express a complaint about his own lack of representation. Vote for Trump is a way of saying that change is needed, even if you don't know which one. A way to tell when there is no other way ... "


This post caused a lot of different responses, which is not surprising, because the US elections are not far off.

As political scientist Sergei Medvedev noted in his commentary on this post:

You can take an emigrant out of a scoop, but you can't take a scoop out of an emigrant. It seems to me that the point is deeply rooted in all Russians, here and in emigration, patriarchal resentment. There was practically no anti-patriarchal education, public discussion, or postcolonial discourse either in the USSR, or even more so in modern Russia. Therefore, it is not a matter of a person's income and social status, but of a cultural matrix that does not accept Greta / ecology / BLM / tolerance / metoo and that's all, it doesn't matter if they live in Voronezh or Atlanta ... "

Economist Dmitry Novikov explains this phenomenon in his own way:

It is quite logical that the voice of reason calls for voting for the Republicans: Democrats are bogged down in leftism and SJW - people with the right views do not accept the spread of spread of white heterosexual men and worship of minorities - since the right is for true liberal equality, and not for the transfer of privileges to minorities that used to be possessed WASPs. We are sickened by the nightly plundering of shops by blacks after the peaceful daytime protests of white, unreasonable left-wing youth. And I myself, a few years ago, supported the leftists, leftist ideas will look very beautiful, fair and attractive, but the ways to achieve them destroy all their good intentions. All attempts to implement leftist ideas ended with a guillotine, the Gulag, Pol Pot, and Chavez, who managed at least without blood. The left ideology looks beautiful except in the river Lennons, and pragmatists and realists, horrified by the prospects of leftists coming to power (and some remembering the realities of life under the left government), vote for the Republicans and for Trump, no matter how ambiguous they treat him as a person ... A parte, but I can't help but note: there is, of course, a stunning chasm in development between Russia and the United States - in Russia I support liberals, and in the States - conservatives ... "

Blogger Yegor Kotkin also sees the reason in the fear of leftist ideology:

In my opinion, the support of Trump by the post-Soviet Russians is explained by the same thing as the support of the Republicans by the Cuban emigrants - the post-socialist trauma. Trump's program is a response to a set of fears either associated with a return to socialism (high taxes, economic regulation, welfare state), or fears that arose after the collapse of socialism - the fear of migrants in the first place. That is, "trumpism" is a way of political adaptation of people for whom the experience of the socialist past is traumatic and definitely negative. And this is precisely what is generational - just as millennials and buzzers in the United States cannot be frightened by the socialism of AOC and Bernie Sanders, so the fears on which Trump's program rests no longer affect Russian youth ... "

And Nikolai Belikov is sure that this is happening for purely psychological reasons:

I had to talk here on Facebook with such quite successful migrants from the USSR. Everyone, as one, when you ask them the question "Are you for dictatorship?", They answer no. When you draw their attention to Trump's dictatorial manifestations, they really begin to refer to his tax breaks, which affect them, ignoring everything else. I call it for myself - the "sausage" effect. This effect is expressed in four points:

  1. People fleeing from lack of freedom in the USSR fled, first of all, not for "freedom", but for "sausage"
  2. These people grew up in the regime of totalitarian propaganda. Therefore, her language used by Trump (conspiracy theories, populism) is simple and understandable for them.
  3. These people grew up in a regime of violence, they have formed a craving for paternalism and the "strong hand" of a strong and caring "father". Despite their success, they operate within the framework of a social pattern that has been forming in the USSR for decades right from the moment of the coup d'état in 1917. This is a kind of Stockholm syndrome, expressed in an unconscious craving for dictatorships and a distribution system.
  4. The internal social necessity of dividing people into "friends" and "aliens" as a result of the same propaganda (everyone remembers the KGB manuals about "in a ring of enemies", "Zionist conspiracy", "bourgeois military clique" ...?). These people cannot realize and accept that the United States is a country created and achieved success thanks to emigrants. They think they are the right emigrants and the Indian and Mexican immigrants are wrong. America is not perceived as a single country of mutual respect and coexistence. And Trump plays very well on this .... "