Is Russia's Government Hostile?

Author: us-russia
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Is Russia
Published 17-07-2017, 18:51

David R. Henderson

David R. Henderson co-edits EconLog along with Bryan Caplan. For more information, see his bio as Features Editor for the Library of Economics and Liberty.

One of the things that I think affects people's view about the Trump administration vis a vis Russia is their view of Russia. In a recent article, my friend Steve Chapman, columnist at the Chicago Tribune, writes:

If this was not collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, it was a conscious attempt at collusion with a hostile government on the part of the candidate's son. No wonder Donald Jr. lied about it until his emails were exposed.

So Steve sees the Russian government as hostile. Hostile to whom? He doesn't say, but it seems from context that he means that it's hostile to Americans. Interestingly, he didn't provide even a lick of evidence for that claim.

Usually the term is used to refer to a government that is at war with, or has threatened war with, the United States. The Russian government has done no such thing and, in fact, President Trump and Vladimir Putin have discussed working together to settle things in Syria. That's not what we would normally think of governments doing when they're hostile to each other. (I don't defend their actions. I would have Trump--and Putin--stay the heck out of the Middle East altogether.)

What about spying? Certainly, the Russian government has many spies here. Does one government spying on another mean the spying government is hostile? If so, then one would have to refer to Israel's government as one that is hostile to the United States. I think that misuses language.

Of course the Russian government is hostile to its own citizens in many ways, and the U.S. government is hostile to its own citizens in many ways. Have you been in a TSA line lately? No, this is not "equivalence." It's a simple statement of fact. Would I rather face the U.S. government's hostility to me as a U.S. citizen than the Russian government's hostility to me if I were a Russian citizen? Of course. Which has nothing to do with my point.

Two people I admired greatly, George Orwell and Thomas Szasz, emphasized that words matter. We should use our words carefully. Calling Russia hostile without providing strong evidence does not advance any rational discussion.

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