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May 31, 2024

The Cult of Bad Personality

In recent years, political discourse in both the United States and Russia has become increasingly fixated on individual personalities, rather than the underlying issues and strategic challenges facing each nation. This unhealthy obsession with figures like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin betrays a lack of deeper thinking and self-reflection among liberals.

American liberals, in particular, have invested an inordinate amount of energy in vilifying Trump, at the expense of understanding why he was able to gain significant support from previously Democratic-leaning constituencies, such as blue-collar workers. The fact that Trump, a billionaire with no prior political experience, was able to present himself as a champion of the working class speaks to a profound failure of messaging and strategy on the part of the Democratic Party.

Rather than grappling with these difficult questions, many liberals have instead chosen to focus on the relatively narrow goal of putting Trump in jail. While holding individuals accountable for their actions is important, this approach fails to address the root causes of Trump's appeal and risks further alienating the very voters that Democrats need to win over.

Similarly, Russian liberals have placed an outsized emphasis on Putin as a person, rather than on building a broad political alliance that could challenge his grip on power. By failing to engage with the country's broad left, Russian liberals have missed an opportunity to create a more united opposition front. In no country can liberals hold power without an alliance with the Left, or Labor, or National  lieration movements, or somone else. Instead, Russian opposition is busy destroying itself over petty differences. 

This cult of personality in reverse is not only strategically myopic but also intellectually lazy. It allows opposition forces to avoid the hard work of introspection and self-criticism, and instead focus their energies on demonizing a single individual. Projecting one's own weaknesses onto an individual arch-enemy is a way to nowhere. 

If liberals in both the United States and Russia hope to effect meaningful change, they must move beyond this obsession with personalities and instead focus on developing a compelling vision for the future that resonates with a broad cross-section of society. This will require a willingness to engage with voters across the political spectrum, to listen to their concerns, and to craft a message that speaks to their hopes and aspirations.