In 1855, an Illinois railroad lawyer named Abraham Lincoln wrote to his longtime friend, Joshua Speed, who had moved back to their native Kentucky. Lincoln focused on the slavery question, already tearing the country apart.
“As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.'" the future president wrote. "We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Russia, "where despotism can be taken pure." Long before the Communist revolution roiled Russia, that nation was notorious for its repression, its medieval cruelty, the misery of its serfs, and its backward ways. In Lincoln's time, the thinking was: Americans might hold slaves, but Russians are slaves.
That scorn hardened over the 20th century into fear of deep intensity, as Russia's repressive nature became married to the philosophy of communism. Yes, there were periods of reduced tension. While supporting the Russian Revolution was enough to get an American deported in 1919, by the 1930s romanticizing Stalin was a common fault of the liberal left — turning a blind eye to Russian menace certainly wasn't invented by Donald Trump. We were allies for a few awkward years, after Stalin's pal Adolf Hitler turned against him.
But by 1947 the Iron Curtain was drawn across Europe and half a century of Cold War had set in. Kind words for Russia would cost you your career in the 1950s, and by the 1960s, we feared the Commies would kill us all. The notion of our government being in collusion with them was the stuff of John Birch paranoid delusions and Hollywood thrillers.
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