Back in 2019, before the dark times, I watched the HBO special on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former USSR. I had a somewhat guilty pleasure watching a dysfunctional nation with a corrupt & out-of-touch government, playing on the patriotism of the masses to downplay, to deceive, and eventually to recruit hundreds of thousands to dig them out of the greatest environmental disaster in world history.
As the year 2020 descends from bad to awful to terrible, the U.S.A. is going through a Chernobyl of it’s own. The disaster began in November of 2016, and the toxic spillage has poisoned the land and will continue to do so for what feels like the next thousand years.
I learned that the stumbling, then middling, and finally desperate efforts to contain the Chernobyl disaster were not unlike Trump’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic. “It will go away” was his first response, “We’re doing a great job” was the response as things began to unravel, and finally, “stop thinking about it” became the mantra, now that the USA is the runaway #1 in cases, in lies, and in deaths.
What struck me about those sad Soviets, is that they lived their lives incapable of changing their government, helpless to affect structural change even before the 1986 toxic explosion rendered uninhabitable a region of central Russia, hundreds of square miles wide, and which had threatened to render uninhabitable massive swaths of the Asian supercontinent.
But as the cascade of horrors unfolded in that “cold war” enemy, what eventually was revealed was that the ongoing disaster destroyed the stability of the nation. After witnessing the death, the lies and destruction of the radioactive plume and middling response, the Soviet masses were shocked into recognition that their government will let them die rather than take care of them. It wiped out the unquestioned patriotism of millions of proud Soviets. It destroyed the global ‘prestige’ of the Communist country, and led directly to the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics within five years.
Despite all of the political and economic factors, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has stated plainly that the Chernobyl explosion was “perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.” With the policy of perestroika (“the opening”) which provided for greater voices of dissent established by Gorbachev, the snowball of outrage and protest grew into something no engineering team could put a lid on.
I remember thinking, even before the disaster took shape, what a flock of sheep those Soviet peasants were, just plodding along with their lives, knowing their government had nothing to offer them except decrees inducing more misery. But within that submission was an echo of a larger commitment to nationhood, to discipline, to Country, however abstract, that kept such disparate people together, from the borders of Poland to the Pacific Ocean.
As Mark Joseph Stern writes: “Before the explosion, most Soviets … believed in the Soviet system, forgave its flaws, and hoped for a better future within its confines. But after Chernobyl, the system seemed potentially unredeemable—and actively dangerous.”
The results of this wholesale turning against the government by the people of the “former soviet union” led to a series of uprisings, of coups, of secessions and a final decree to dissolve the USSR in December of 1991. Barely five years after the explosion that fractured the relationship of the people to their government, that government was over.
The media narrative of the West told us that Ronald Reagan and his ballooning defense budget bankrupted the USSR. However it was in fact this internal disaster that ruined it. The internal implosion of the Soviet Union was not brought about because of US military might, but an infrastructure unable to function with humanity toward its humanity.
As much as Trumpers tout their heroes’ glorious leadership, everything points to a country so fractured that its destiny may not be different from the USSR. Trump did not so much as “drain the swamp” as he in fact poisoned it. The attacks on respected institutions, the press, science, diplomacy and decorum, were ravaged by a series of fiercely corrupt anti-press, anti-truth, anti-science trolls such as Kelyanne Conway, William Barr and Betsy DeVos. Then the ransacking of the Departments of Housing, Justice, Education, Transportation, Health, and most tragically Centers for Disease Control, all were poisoned by an aggressively politicized viciousness that no one else was prepared to engage in. This type of political pollution – common in shit-hole countries – had never been attempted so brazenly in this US of A.
Nothing reflects this more than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s abuse of the judicial process to introduce three right-wing Supreme Court Justices under Trumps term. History may reveal to us that these unproven, inexperienced, ideologues will do little more than seek their guidance from literal readings the Bible and the sage wisdom of extreme ideologue Clarence Thomas. Unfit for generations to come, this SCOTUS portends a poisonous path that will subsist throughout our lifetimes.
From my vantage point, Trumps’ threats to protestors, and the willingness to apply federal military forces in crowd control, will now be backed up unconditionally by the final law of the land, the SCOTUS. Trumps’ demands that people go to work during the pandemic despite the health risks, reeks of a totalitarian nation – an utterly undemocratic and inhumane example of extreme and unchecked corporate capitalism—views that to me I’m afraid will be endorsed uncritically by the SCOTUS.
A SCOTUS that will claim “states rights” when it comes to armed “militias” capable of eliminating political opposition, voter suppression and workers rights, and yet swing on a dime when it comes to affirming anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ mandates nationwide.
As we witness a measure of “minority rule” unseen in the West since the era of European Colonialism in the 19th century, we can be reassured that the colonialism playbook will be studied and implemented by operatives of the far-right for generations to come.
The official state program for decommissioning the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has set a timetable for the Nuclear cleanup of Chernobyl – by 2065. Will it take that long for a democracy to recover from the deadly disaster of Trumpism in the U.S.A.?
Then the toxic radiation leaks began, the attacks on the institutions, Housing, Justice, Education, Transportation, Health, Disease Control, all poisoned by an aggressively partisan viciousness that no one was prepared to engage in, as this type of political pollution – common in shit hole countries – had never been attempted so brazenly in his US of A.
Then the daily upheavals from George Floyd, the annual Womens March, the street unrest – commanded…the patriotism of the Russians which was exploited, is imploding on the USA….
Will the USA be able to contain the level of dismay and anger at an “unredeemable” and “actively dangerous” government in complete opposition to the masses?
As much as I was told that Ronald Reagan and his skyrocketing defense budget bankrupted the USSR, it was in fact this internal disaster that ruined it permanently.
Then once the disaster began to unfold, the brisling national pride envoked to will the crack open to hell could be extinquished with pride, sacrifice, and “all the boron in Russia”.
What was really taking place was an environmental scare never before faced, thus an existential fright never before facing an industrialized nation since Nagasaki and Hiroshima were destroyed instantaneously in 1945 by American atomic bombs.
Again, I felt a little smug, as the HBO special layed bare the ingredients, the chronology of a nation’s disintegration at the hands of a human made climate disaster….when Gorbazhev reached out to Ronald Reagan to advance perestroika, the Western press lauded it as a great foreign policy achievement, not as a result of an epic internal catastrophic implosion…
Well the word is out about that preventable tragedy that ended the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, creating an archipelago of landlocked post communist states vying for scraps….
The internal implosion of the Soviet Union was not brought about because of US military might, but an infrastructure unable to function with humanity toward its humanity…
As this year 2020 descended from bad to awful to terrible, the U.S.A. is going through a Chernobyl of its own. The disaster began in November of 2016, but the toxic spillage has poisoned the land and will continue to do so for what feels like thousands of years.
It was an “accidental” corruption, festered by the right wing Senate infrastructure, that was certainly there well ahead of 2016.
An explosion of right wing tyranny in 2016, race-baiting and dividing a population that had already been rendered irrelevant to the power structure.
Bernie Sanders emerged as a noble but classically irrelevant counter force…
What I learned from that HBO sp
The toxic seepage ran into an infrastructure on inhumanity just when humanity was needed the most…
Thus, the country is poised to slowly disintegrate from its out of balance political / cultural
Thirty years after the Chernobyl explosion, Russian engineers managed to slide a massive casing over the entire radioactive crater, effectively “covering” the problem, while the same risky nuclear power production continues unabated in the remaining reactors on the same complex.
Also in the USA, the toxic cleanup my never be completed.
As Mark Joseph Stern writes: Before the explosion, most Soviets … believed in the Soviet system, forgave its flaws, and hoped for a better future within its confines. But after Chernobyl, the system seemed potentially unredeemable—and actively dangerous.
Dr. Rickey Vincent is Associate Professor of Critical Ethnic Studies at California College of The Arts in San Francisco.