Symbolism and The Big Game
If a German soccer team showed up for an international match today wearing uniforms from the Nazi era, complete with swastikas and “Third Reich” emblazoned across the front, would anyone regard this as quaint, or mere nostalgia for German sport’s good old days?
So what are we to think of the Russian hockey team playing against Canada and Finland this week, in a legitimate international tournament, wearing the old USSR (“CCCP”) team jerseys?
If you believe in symbols as much as dictatorships do, the Russian hockey team playing in “USSR” uniforms this week was not just trolling. The USSR was a brutal totalitarian state, reviving it even for nostalgia is disgusting. https://t.co/hxUpZ3Krgu
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) December 18, 2021
More interestingly, what are the Russian players being forced to wear those jerseys supposed to think? What are the Russian people, sitting at home watching this game on television, supposed to think?
And even more importantly than that, I wonder what they did think? Were the players proud to wear those uniforms celebrating the communist dictatorship that destroyed the country of their fathers and forefathers? Did any of them refuse to suit up for the game, rather than submit to such an emasculating moment of symbolism on behalf of their KGB dictator “president”? Did the Russian television audience enjoy seeing those nice old red and white jerseys again, or did they feel nauseous at the blunt reminder that their president-for-life is reviving the expansionist and totalitarian dreams of his earlier career.
I know one thing for sure. Tucker Carlson will be trying to figure out how to dismiss it as good clean fun. Robert Spencer at PJ Media will be trying to bury this ugly propagandistic reminiscence under obfuscations about how Putin can teach Western leaders some good lessons about the value of real-world experience.
As for what I do not know for sure, I nevertheless feel quite comfortable offering the following conjecture.
America sees China’s ascendancy either with indifference as long as the dollars keep rolling in (the conservative view), or with admiration and a desire to function well as an obedient underling to great leader Xi Jinping (the progressive view). Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, clearly sees the need to assert himself at this moment, to establish his seriousness as a rival to anyone. His current challenge to the West is in earnest, and will be pushed as far as necessary without wavering, in part because it is also a symbolic message to China. Both Putin and Xi have been playing on the edges of all-out aggression for years. Both are firmly established in power now, and getting older. There is only so much time to do what one hopes to do with one’s absolute power. And no one seeks absolute power without some kind of broad agenda for its use. Putin is trying not to be outdone in brazenness by the upstart challenger to the east. Meanwhile, the West, milquetoast, morally fatigued, and largely purposeless in its trajectory, is looking more and more like the frontrunner in a long distance race. The two runners who have been trailing him at a safe distance for some time are now beginning to pick up their respective paces, increasingly eyeing each other, knowing they are the true contenders here, while the frontrunner, increasingly exhausted and feeling the first twinges of resignation, tries to convince his ego that the other two are still primarily concerned about him. He is fooling himself. The other two are merely using him as a reference point or psychological stand-in for their intensifying focus on one another.