28 March 2019

Russian avos' and American politics, part two

Greg Sargent comments on Donald Trump's new attack on the Affordable Care Act -- italics mine:
[Acting chief of staff Mick] Mulvaney likely played on Trump’s ignorance about the complexities of health care, and his unshakable confidence that he can simply make things come true if he says so, to persuade him that he’ll be able to conjure one up. And sure enough, Trump has been suggesting this will happen, blithely asserting: “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care.”
This brought back to my mind a blog post I wrote two and a half years ago, in the full heat of the Clinton-Trump election campaign: Russian avos' and American politics. Avos' is a Russian word that is translated, variously, as "seat-of-the-pants," "on the off-chance," "come what may," "hoping for the best." I drew from Natalia Gogolitsyna's Untranslatable Russian Words for these two commentaries on avos'.
... the concept of "Russian avos". What is it? In fact it is the habit of living in conditions of limited information. Living and surviving. Valery Milyayev

... a Russian can't work like an Englishman; even now we do everything on the off chance. Andrei Konchalovsky
Well ... maybe that second example (Konchalovsky) is a comparison that has been weakened by recent Brexit developments -- but "conditions of limited information" seems very pat to our condition in the era of Trump. Not only are we assaulted by fabulous (literally!) streams of misinformation, but the nation's Chief Executive seems to regard information as totally optional. As Natalia Antonova said in the essay I quoted on my original post, "Facts are boring."

The most benevolent interpretation I can make of his latest tossing of the ACA dice is this: Trump calculates that if his party's legislators are facing a health care apocalypse, whose timing is solely based on his own sense of political urgency, they'll simply have to produce a plan. If the New York Times's reporting on the genesis of this kill-the-ACA decision is correct, Trump's calculation, and his promise that "the Republican party will soon be known as the party of health care," is not rooted in reality. The physical and financial well-being of tens of millions of his fellow citizens is being entrusted, not to trustworthy policy and legislative processes, or careful planning of any kind, but to avos'.

Similarly: with border-control funding priorities distorted by anti-immigrant venom apparently angled to please the Trump base, border officials are overwhelmed by the numbers of would-be refugees legally presenting themselves for processing. Once again, we have limited information about family members -- the kind of information that would be needed to reunite children and parents. I won't argue about the percentages of actual refugees to pretenders, because nobody seems to be in a position to offer trustworthy statistics. I am simply amazed at the failure to ensure elementary intake and dispatch records for human beings!

Que será, será.

Thinking about the president's limited-information and toss-the-dice approach to governance, I also remembered this August 2016 conversation with my colleagues in Elektrostal, Russia, quoted in that first avos' post:
One of my colleagues asked, "If it's not a secret, what do you think of your presidential candidates?" I mentioned my doubts about Trump, and she replied, "If Clinton wins, we already know how she feels about Russia -- she's not exactly our friend. In any case, we more or less know what she will do. Don't you think it would be a lot more interesting, even fun [veselo] if Trump became president? After all, he'll have advisors, a cabinet; people will make sure that he can't do too much harm. And life will not be boring!"
A classic expression of avos'!! If we're in a mood for alternative histories, we can imagine how the Hillary Clinton administration would be plodding along now, with boring old procedures, boring old congressional debates, and boring old G8, G20, and NATO meetings, all carefully gamed out in advance by experts and covered by C-SPAN. All administration policies would be centrist, with deviations within a fairly narrow range, from mildly reformist to Wall-Street-protectionist. There would be scandals, both real and artificial ("Benghazi! Those e-mails!!") but I could imagine a tight leash on the presidential spouse....

We would never know what it would look like to throw out every concept of normalcy in presidential  governance.

Back to our fun [vesyolaya] reality. Trump's fruit-basked upset has hit on every level -- policy, personnel, regulations, norms and ethics, presidential etiquette, race relations, religious cohesion -- without apparently threatening his core support, the people who who see his chaos as fulfilling his Make American Great Again vision despite every effort of the Deep State to thwart him.

I don't want to exaggerate the menace of these supporters; they're just as worthy of love as the rest of us, and no doubt each has a personal narrative that led to their availability to be groomed by Trump's limited-information, maximum-bombast approach. They're not to be mocked or maligned. Instead, let's keep  resisting the constant entertainment value of avos' in favor of clear, honest, persistent communication of its real-life risks and costs, including the degradation of values we cherish, and the very vision of a shared fate as a nation.

Chaotic personality-driven leadership that upsets the establishment may be immensely entertaining for a season. To serve a country that actually blesses its citizens and planetary neighbors, we have to go back to boring fundamentals: all actors ("liberals" and "conservatives" and all other categories) publicly committed to the welfare of the nation as a whole, fully empowered to keep each other honest, and conducting our debates and governance with transparency, compassion, careful research and preparation, and mutual honor.

Meanwhile, the jollier approach offers:
  • making Americans uninsured again (pending!)
  • separating families at the border
  • normalization of white nationalism
  • entrusting care of the environment to polluters
  • reducing quality control of judicial nominations
  • allowing Trump-family business priorities to distort national security and international relations
  • utterly trashing the "bully pulpit" value of presidential pronouncements
  • making Christianity repellent to huge audiences
  • calibrating taxation by the immediate interests of the wealthiest, discounting the value of fair taxation to the country as a whole.
Are we having fun yet?

Faith, imagination, and the glory of ordinary life: a conversation with Marilynne Robinson and Rowan Williams.

Sampling Elena Anosova's Out of the Way project, photographing isolated Russian snow-forest communities.

Ivan Ovsyannikov on Russia's new restrictions on media content.

St. Olav's Way: in case you'd like to do your medieval Christian pilgrimage in Norway.

Erin Blakemore reports on NASA's digital archive selections on Soundcloud.

Eddie Taylor, Jr., died earlier this month, at age 46. Rest in peace.


kfsaylor said...

To Johan and President Trump,

Through the direct and immediate experience of immanent Presence inshining upon our conscience and consciousness, we come into a different way of relating to one another which is not of the nature of reflective thought. In this way,
our relationships are not guided and informed by outward characterizations and reflections tagged upon others; but in and through the immanent act of living in the impulse of the inshining Light itself in itself out of reflective thought.

The Early Quaker John Perrot testified to this different way in these words:

"But oh! Surely he that watcheth for evil which ariseth of an evil heart, shall not be excused, but he that watcheth to make an evil of anothers simple just intention, will be condemned. Yet truly I judge no man, for I am not willing to know the good from the evil (speaking of persons) until mens evils are over, that I may receive all as one in God; who onely and alone is good.

I see no evil thing, as evil, of or amongst Gods works, without me, that anything thereof should be detested of me, but all are good as he made them and blessed them, nor do I see so much in an man as I am made to see in my self, and therefore desire to cease from upbraiding any, and apply my self more inward, that my Rest may be found in the Lord.

And I would rather cease preaching the Gospel of Peace from God, and good will to men, and live the life, than preach without the life in me."
Source: "Hidden Things brought to Light..." pg. 20 1678.

kfsaylor said...

Hello Johan,

I have been resting in this piece relative to my initial response. Your reflection that an "avos" (uninformed) approach to administration of people is less preferable than a "procederal, deliberative or contested, conferenced, and expertly played out (informed)" approach has stayed with me for many days.

Over these days, a shadow lifted and it is discovered to me that your assumption that human relationships and interactions are better served through the process of reflective thought contextualized in a procedural, deliberative, and conferenced (institutionalized) framework that is played out by experts is not convincing to me. Such a process, in itself, nurtures and manifests the "avos" you distrust. Both processes are of the nature of reflective thought. Human being, in the context of institutionalized reflective thought will ever seek to free itself from the iconography of the procedural state. It will happen. Likewise, human being will ever seek freedom from the iconography of the "avos" state. It will happen. It is cyclical. At the core, both states are of the nature of reflective thought or are iconographic. The one feeds and nurtures the other. This is the nature of human being in the reflective condition: Human relationships and interactions guided and informed by outwardly reflected thoughts, feelings, desires, sensations, and perceptions.

There are some of us in this world who are come out of the iconographic or reflective process to govern and inform our relations because were are come into eternal immanent presence and this presence has replaced the iconographic nature in relation to other people. Immanent Presence itself in itself has grasped the prerogative away from the process of reflective thought to rule and inform relationships and interactions.

I am thankful for a different way of consciousness in this world that is come out of and replaces the iconographic or reflective process to govern human relationships and interactions.