Go Far Enough Left and You Get Right

I met a Russian refugee at the dog park the other day, a doctor I’ll call Yuri. “This is not the country I came to 25 years ago,” he said. He doesn’t like the way things are going here.

“I lived through Soviet Union, my first half of life,” he said as my dogs played with his mastiff and we strolled around the park. He arrived in 1995, after five years of paperwork he began as he started his medical practice in Russia.

He came in under hazy and confusing U.S. policies toward Russian Jews, after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Whether he entered, technically, as a refugee, or under the Lautenberg Amendment, or some other designation is legal hair-splitting, and not important. What is important is that the United States had a tolerant, one might even say kind attitude toward Russian Jewish immigrants in those years.

Yuri said life for Jews in Kyiv was horrible, before and after the fall of the Soviet Union.

“We don’t wear armbands or funny hats. You can’t tell us to look at us,” he said. “Look at me: I am blue eyes, blond hair.” But hostility, threats and occasional outright violence were omnipresent, he said. It was a horrible place for a Jew to live. 

And it didn’t get better just because the Soviet Union crumbled. It became more complicated, and in some ways worse.

“When I apply to come to United States, I am not Russian anymore; I’m Ukrainian.” And the new Ukrainian government, as is natural for a new government, piled its own bureaucracy on top of the Soviet one it inherited. 

Five years of paperwork. “But now it’s, ‘You’re not Russian; you’re Ukrainian.’ Or the other way. In Soviet Union, if you were Ukrainian, you were Russian.”

The separatism set loose by the fall of a rotten system unleashed violence that had been restrained before. Neighbors became enemies, leading at times to open warfare.

Russia v. Ukraine, Armenia v. Azerbaijan, Georgia-Ossetia, Georgia-Abkhazia, Ossetia-Ingush, Moldova-Transnistria, not to mention the civil conflicts today in Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Hungary, Turkey and Poland. And — dare I say it? — in U.S. “battleground states.”

“This is not the country I came to 25 years ago,” Yuri said again.

I asked him what he hears from his friends in Russia.

“The ones that like Putin like Trump,” he said. “The ones that hate Putin hate Trump.”

Yuri hates Vladimir Putin and Trump. He sees them as the same side of the same false coin.

A good friend of mine recently drove from Atlanta to Chicago to visit her family. When she stopped to tank up she wore a mask at the freeway stops. In Kentucky and Indiana — Republican country — she got glares and open insult as she pumped gas or waited in line to buy a cookie and coffee and go to the bathroom. Once in Illinois the overt hostility ended.

Sounds to me like Yuri in Kyiv.

My friend is not observably different from any other “American.” She doesn’t wear political or religious symbols or funny hats. But her fellow citizens in neighboring states gave her the snake eye — for what? For wearing a yarmulke over her mouth?

Finally: On the way into the off-leash dog park where I met Yuri there are signs: No Fires Permitted. No Fireworks Allowed. It’s wildfire year in the West.

But I have not seen one person — no matter how selfish or mentally deficient — protest that banning campfires is an attack upon his constitutional rights. That barring fireworks in a tinder-dry state park is an affront to freedom. 

And this is trees and grasses we’re talking about — not a plague that has killed a quarter of a million Americans.

So why is it that people agree that setting fires in the woods is a bad idea, and agree not to do it without a peep. But to ask them to wear a face mask in public, for a few weeks, to arrest a worldwide plague, is a socialist attack on freedom.

Go far enough right and you get left. Go far enough left and you get right.

Are we all in the same boat or not?

And were our 250,000 dead of Covid-19 our fellow citizens, or just ballast, for a big sinking boat?

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