I want to share a thoughtful take on yesterdays news, from Albatrossity.
We are witnessing, in real time, how Putin uses wedge issues to divide us and stoke anger. His opportunity arose when, last February, his government detained a high-profile black lesbian athlete when she arrived in Moscow to go to her winter job playing basketball in Ekaterinburg. She was busted, tried in a very public trial, and sentenced to 9 years in the gulag.
Now that the Biden administration has secured her release, the Russian propaganda machine has roared into action. MAGA world is howling because 1) Biden 2) is bringing home a black lesbian athlete rather than 3) a white male. Furthermore, some folks who should know better are joining in the criticism, saying things like “she should have known better than to go to Russia”, “she put herself in harm’s way”, or “she committed a crime”, etc. Let’s talk about those for just a minute.
Firstly, she was going to Russia to play basketball because female basketball players don’t get paid what they are worth in this country. Her salary at the best team in a very competitive overseas league was quite good for a female player, more than she gets paid in the WNBA, and yet it was about 25% of the AVERAGE NBA salary. She is arguably the best female basketball player in the world; she is not average. And NBA players only play in one league, female players almost always play the WNBA season and then head overseas for a second season. So, like all professionals who are at the top of their game, she wanted to be paid a salary at the top of the game. Nobody chastises a male for doing that, but god forbid that a woman take the same path. It’s pure hindsight to say that she should have known better.
Secondly, she has been paying in Russia for several years. In February, when she was busted at the airport, Putin needed cover for his Ukraine invasion, a hostage to use in future negotiations involving US involvement in Ukraine, and she was the unlucky target. As far as she was concerned, she was heading to work. As far as he was concerned, she was the ideal hostage. Not just for her fame, and the press coverage, but because he knew that he could stoke a firestorm when he negotiated for her release. She was, after all, female, black, and lesbian as well as a highly paid (read “pampered”) athlete.
Thirdly, was it a crime? Honestly, we don’t know. It is possible that she did have drugs for personal use. It is not likely that the amount of drugs warranted 9 years in the gulag, and it is impossible that she was planning to deal those to innocent Russians. But given that we are talking about a regime that routinely gaslights and lies about, well, everything, we should at least entertain the possibility that she was framed. It happens in the USA too, you know.
Fast forward to today.
The Biden administration negotiated the release of an American, and the Russians made sure that we all know that other Americans, including a white male Marine, were not part of the deal. The Wingnut Wurlitzer hits maximum volume. Russian trolls and bots relentlessly tell Americans, of all political persuasions, that this is a miscarriage of justice, engage in victim-blaming, tell us that there are lots more Americans who would be a better choice for release, etc. Just like in 2016, some of their targets for this propaganda are on the left and in the media as well. All of them, wittingly or unwittingly, amplify the divisive message of Putin and his very effective propaganda machine.
So here’s the bottom line. Putin took a hostage who had a very high value for his propaganda efforts, which are ultimately aimed at dividing this country along ideological and cultural fracture lines. If he could have worked guns and the Second Amendment in there somehow, he would have hit a grand slam. He had no intention, ever, of releasing a white male Marine, and any notion that this was a possibility is simply wishful thinking. He is playing MAGA world like the useful idiots that he knows they are.
The rest of us don’t have to follow him. An American who was treated unjustly by a fascist autocrat is back with her family tonight. That is really all we should care about. Other Americans still are in his gulag, and that is wrong on many levels. I trust that the administration is working hard to get them released, and I hope that they can. But we also cannot let a master propagandist win by making us focus on the negative, the wedge issues, and the what-ifs. We must stop doing his work for him. We’ve seen this movie before, and it didn’t end well.