And it is all for the better since he made some excellent points in his latest piece on soft power. Those points make my job easier. Such as this:
Popular culture, competence, justice and values and the dream of betterment may have been the pillars on which the USA’s soft power was based, but the ground upon which those stood was success. Success made the others attractive; success is the most powerful attraction. The West is losing its aura of success – endless wars, divisive politics, COVID failure, financial crises, debt. And ever more desperate attempts to hold power against ever bolder dissent. It’s just beginning. And not just the USA, the West doesn’t present well any more: protests in Amsterdam, London, Berlin; a year of gillets jaunes in France. The world is watching. Not efficient, not attractive, not law-based. Not successful.
My latest book delves into this issue too and I agree with Armstrong that success was a huge, albeit not the only, part of the West in general and American in particular soft power which played a key role in a demise of the Soviet Union and dominant ideology which was a bizarre mix of vulgar Marxism and growing individualism. Despite some of the most stunning achievements in developing a human capital, the Soviet Union of 1970s and early 1980s was an increasingly grey country. Environment matters, from smells, to visuals, to sounds to the emotional background which, together with purely economic tangibles, defines both progress and the coming up of a new generation. It is in human nature and even the diet of grade A New-York steaks will get boring, stale and, eventually, revolting, such as was the case with Pavel Vereschagin, one of the main characters of the immortal Soviet Eastern White Sun of the Desert, who could not eat black caviar of the Caspian sturgeon any more after a steady diet of it, and was dreaming about... bread. Yes, that's us, humans and nothing can change it. If that was the other way around, we would still be driving 1986 Ford Tauruses and wear bell-bottom pants. But we don't. And the combined West was simply better in this respect than Soviet Union by providing both material and cultural stimuli, period.
Yes, Leningrad was still stunning even in 1950s or in 1980s, but the treasures of Hermitage were good only so far as one could go and find an inexpensive clean and delicious place to eat, while being surrounded by people well-dressed and experiencing a good level of service, from hailing the cab to being able to go to the nearest grocery store and buy what you needed. Or, what was even more important--what one wanted. Soviet Union could defeat NATO, it could launch man into space, it could provide excellent education and... here was a problem, educated people, inevitably, have a higher standard of consumption from material to immaterial things, especially in the age of TV, radio etc. Apart from inherent, fundamental problems of the Soviet Union, which doomed it, from nationalism of fringes to mismanagement of economy, USSR could hardly compete with the West in terms of soft power, which in the age of electronic mass media came with a higher standard of living, and broke into the grey Soviet existence with some of the top notch cinematography and music of Beatles and Deep Purple. Seeing and comparing western made cars with what Soviet auto-industry could provide in 1960s through 1980s was also an experience which made many things in Soviet Union look and feel as failures. Some of them, actually, were. Huge lines in Soviet department stores for Austrian and Italian made shoes, French and German made dresses, jackets and overcoats, and an enormous black market for the US-sown denim, from Wrangler to Levi's are just but a few indicators of Soviet inability to counter Western soft power, which also came with glamour fashion magazines and consumer goods catalogs, which themselves were in demand on the black market.
Khruschev openly lied during his famous Kitchen Debate with Nixon that Soviet housewives too, as did American housewives, had the access to automatic dishwashers. They didn't. In 1959 the country was barely beginning to live relatively well and the scars of the devastating war were still present everywhere. The last thing Soviet housewife was dreaming about was an automatic dishwasher, which USSR didn't produce to start with. Getting two-three room apartment was the limit of the dreams for the average Soviet housewife. I write a lot about this in my latest book. Today things changed, dramatically. In fact in the most astonishing way.
You go to Russia and you can use Uber, you can order practically any delivery, you are offered an astonishing array of foods, Russian grocery and department stores look like cathedrals of consumerism and yes, modern Moscow or St. Petersburg make NYC or Paris look like a backwater. In fact, for Western tourist getting today to modern Russia, the sense of astonishment is one of the primary senses he or she experiences, and then, there is a wow-factor of a sense of real freedom in Russia. Russia looks and feels today exactly like Russians perceived West looked and felt in 1970s or 80s, when it was still not completely screwed, as it is today. Rock legends and giants are not anymore queasy or are forbidden to tour Russia--they gather arenas, alright. From such legends as Scorpions or Deep Purple who tour Russia constantly, to Aerosmith or Rammstein, to Iron Maiden, Sir Paul and you name it making sure they play in biggest Russian cities. Suddenly, the factor of inferiority which Soviet people definitely had and were influenced by in post-WW II years is gone. Completely.
Nobody goes to the "West" for shopping reasons anymore--you can buy all that and more in Russia or on-line, Russia is highly computerized country--people go to Malta, Italy or Spain for culture, warmth and beaches, not to gaze enviously at once desirable windows of Western department stores. You can get into H&M in any Russian city. Truth is, you can dress yourself better and more affordably in Russia than in Macy's. Each-time I fly back home to the US from Russia I carry 3-4 pairs of Russian-made shoes. Who would have thought about this 30 years ago. Most importantly, Russia's has preserved what then, 30-40 years ago, was considered one of the major strengths of the West, one of the foundation of its freedom--proper sensuality and sexuality, as well as feminine beauty and femininity, which is being completely removed from the West in favor of ugly pornography with plain freaks of both genders, or in favor of third wave feminism proclaiming ugliness a norm. Here is a train of thought by wonderfully feminine and smart Brittany Sellner on the war against feminine beauty, and femininity, I may add, and that may explain partially the loss of the West's soft power and the growth of it on Russia's side.
To Be Continued...