Before rambling my way through my view of the world, I wanted to take a few paragraphs to share my latest preferred method of staying awake. It’s supplanted Starbucks venti mochas and energy drinks (both too costly) and, for the moment, yerba mate (I’m running into short supply). This new coffee drink seems to work quite well for me, even as the temperatures go up here in southwestern Poland.
To make what I’m calling my “Instant Coffee Mexicano” drink, you pretty much need only the usual supply of powdered ingredients that you’d find if you have kids in the house that love cocoa. Well, maybe you’ll also need to love adding hot pepper powder to food as well, and I guess cinnamon isn’t really that common in Polish dishes, if you are also in this area of the world. But with a well-stocked Biedronka (or Safeway) store nearby, you can easily come up with everything you need:
2 teaspoons of instant coffee
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon of cocoa
1 largish dash of hot red pepper (preferably Cayenne)
1 smallish pinch of cinnamon
About a quarter to a fifth cup of milk (depending on preference)
First, mix in all the powders as you heat your water in your instant kettle, then when that comes to a boil, pour in the water up to the 3-quarter or 4-fifths mark (again, depending on preference), and then get out your plastic bottle of milk, and fill to the top. Stir into a homogenous mix, and then wait for it to cool down enough to where you don’t burn your tongue (they say these days that you need to avoid swallowing liquids above 60 degrees Celsius in order to avoid an increased chance of mouth or throat cancer).
I have to admit that to this point in the Trump administration, I’ve tried to avoid writing about current political topics. But as someone whose sympathies are clearly progressive, much of what I’ve seen has been nightmarish, and it’s difficult to avoid thinking about it all. I tend to believe that most of America’s forefathers, at least those relative progressives who fought the Revolution, would have been aghast at what we’ve done to ourselves as a nation.
I remember discussing at one time with a pro-Putin Russian friend in Minsk (as someone who values Ukrainian independence, I don’t have too many of these, but I do try to keep an open mind) the topic of what was happening in Ukraine. This was while protestors were still camped out on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the capital city. In particular, I remember the words he used to describe what was happening – this was a “struggle between civilizations”.
What did that mean? At the time, the protests didn’t seem to me like they were that important. It was late fall 2013. To me, it appeared that what was happening was merely another large-scale protest that would eventually fade in the Ukrainian capital. Even the Orange Revolution of 2004, with all its promise of a better world, had been reversed over the course of a decade. Russia held the better hand. All it had to do was just wait out the momentum. Certainly, it was clear that most Ukrainians were greatly disappointed with President Victor Yanukovych’s decision to drop closer ties with the European Union in favor of joining Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Community. However, it seemed inevitable that Ukraine under the Party of the Regions, and with its perpetually suffering people seeking any relief, would begrudgingly give in after enough time.
That changed radically when the pro-Putin side, apparently impatient, tried to force an end to the protests while the world seemed momentarily distracted by the Sochi Olympics. Observing the massacre of 100 brave protestors, whose compatriots nonetheless held Independence Square through a night of onslaught by government police, the entire country literally turned against Russia. One miscalculation by Moscow had changed the entire formula within hours, and Ukraine became a surrogate of the West. Suddenly, the protests became something much more significant, a real “struggle between civilizations”.
For Putin, facing a very bad reversal in his goal of resurrecting the Soviet Union, this crisis required immediate action. If he was going to survive, he needed to take drastic steps. So Russia annexed Crimea and started an insurrection in the Ukrainian industrial heartland of the Donbas. Moscow used its abilities to project military power to render more horrible a refugee-generating conflict in Syria, provoking more people to flee across the Mediterranean and help fracture the rival European Union. And Putin masterfully applied everything he had ever learned about disinformation, at first at home, and then eventually even in the United States, to reach toward his political goals.
The results, if to rate them on effectiveness, could be described as passable. Putin is still in power and reasonably popular with his base of support, while relatively progressive causes in the West have suffered severe setbacks. In the Great Game within the former Soviet countries, the ability of the West to overthrow Putin has mostly dissipated for the moment. Indeed, with Trump in power, it is progressive causes around the world that appear threatened in the “struggle between civilizations”.
However, the election of Trump to the US presidency has been a two-edged sword for Putin. Even as the orange-haired Twitter tweeter-in-chief has helped disable the West’s counter-offensive capabilities, his gross imperfections as a leader have muddled what should have been a major victory for Russia. With his unapologetic excesses, much of the United States is successfully being rallied against “interference in the elections”, to the point that a McCarthy-like posture is slowly coalescing. This may not be completely helpful, as not every Russian is pro-Putin, and the posture’s effect on US-Russian relations could set back the cause of world peace and collaboration for decades, no matter if Putin is in power or not. But it’s becoming reality.
In the meantime, Trump’s grab for power and his creation of a pro-oligarch cabinet has been telling in so many ways. As a purported outsider who quickly sold out to the increasingly powerful wealthy class, Trump has managed to expose not only the lengths to which Republicans will go to support the interests of those who brought them to power, but also the utter disinterest of the Democratic establishment to defend the common American, much less the progressive cause. Trump’s election has shown that there is a clearly common tie to all interests that depend on the wealthy for campaign funds. It also has raised the possibility of oligarchs around the world teaming up against all progressive causes, possibly to the point where not only democracy itself is in peril, but perhaps also the lives of billions of “have-not” people who have been walled out from the seemingly safe and secure world of the “haves”. (Look up what scientists have postulated will happen to the phytoplankton population, and our oxygen supply, when global temperatures jump another 6 degrees Celsius.)
What this boils down to is sobering. I mean, this is the choice that our species is approaching: we either expand the horizon of humanity to where more minds are brought in to better marshal what we have, or we contract our horizons into a hierarchical system where only the greediest survive. For Americans, this means a choice between supporting politicians who forego the contributions of wealthy donors, or supporting those who will eventually take that choice away from us completely.
In less than a month, according to the latest news, Trump is supposed to come to Wroclaw. From my family’s home within the landing pattern of the airport, we’ll likely watch Air Force One with our hearts’ sinking at the same rate as the altimeter on the aircraft. As the country’s “honored” guest, Trump will meet representatives of Poland’s anti-progressive government and probably do something that further embarrasses those of us who still believe in the cause of America’s forefathers. Or maybe he will already be arrested and it will be Mike Pence who will speak on behalf of my country’s uncompassionate conservatives. In either case, it is my belief that we need to be sure that this will be the low-water mark. Either we Americans fix things in the next election, or come to grips with the eventuality of a world that few of us would ever want to leave to our children.
Back to coffee. As you get to the end of your drink, you’ll want to stir vigorously with your teaspoon so that all the residue powder gets picked up into what you’ll be swallowing. In that way, you don’t waste any ingredients, you get that special last kick from your coffee that you’ll need to keep on doing whatever it is you are doing, and you won’t have to put any special effort into washing up.
I’m sure there is an applicable metaphor about the state of the world somewhere here. Perhaps another cup will help shed light on exactly what it is.