America’s Post-Imperial Presidency

President Trump waving to the crowds along the parade route. CreditJosh Haner/The New York Times



MOSCOW — Watching a solemn civic ceremony, rich in religious and historical symbolism, as a Russian feels strange. A supposedly old and Byzantine Russia is, in fact, a young body politic that is still unsure of its true “civic religion.” We are still arguing about our nation’s emblems.

An inauguration sequence, replicated regularly since 1789 and complete with an oath that mentions an obligation to relinquish office, not just to serve well, sounds other-worldly to a Russian every time it is repeated. Russian czars, Soviet general secretaries, even Russian presidents have never come or left on a schedule. The history of peaceful and predictable transitions of power is America’s awe-inspiring tradition.

One thing my countrymen are constantly arguing over is our nation’s basic objective: Is it to be a superpower feared by its neighbors or a country focused on its domestic prosperity and well-being? These two things do not necessarily contradict each other, but at certain historical conjunctures, they may start to be perceived as mutually exclusive. This happened to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. A similar process has been under way in the United States for a while now.

Of course, the United States and the Soviet Union were more different than they were similar. But comparing the two is inevitable for someone who lived through the end of the U.S.S.R.

Donald J. Trump’s first presidential speech emphasized a break with the past. But what past? Someone who, like myself, was born in a proud world power cannot help sensing the parallelism. Indeed, Communist internationalism and idealistic Wilsonianism, an opposition to isolationism and a belief in the spread of democracy, are roughly the same age, both born about a century ago.

When something this old and this significant is over, that is bigger than just one presidency.

Maxim Trudolyubov, an editor at large for the business newspaper Vedomosti, writes The Russia File blog for the Kennan Institute and is a contributing opinion writer.


About Uy Do

Banking System Analyst, former NTT data Global Marketing Dept Senior Analyst, Banking System Risk Specialist, HR Specialist
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