Does anyone in the media read Alexis de Tocqueville? Many will have gone to college, and some have encountered a reading list that includes Democracy in America. It is the best book ever written on America, and because of its time the best that ever will be written. Tocqueville makes this astonishing forecast:
There are today two great peoples on the earth who, setting off from different points of departure, seem to be advancing towards the same goal: they are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans . . . Each of them seems to be summoned by a secret plan of Providence one day to hold in its hands the destinies of half the world.
Might it not seem a good idea for American leadership to build a decent working relationship with Russia? But President Trump’s invitation to Putin to visit the White House has met a chorus of dissent from the thwarted moralists in the media. The Book of Lamentations includes some heart-breaking plaints from White House staffers: “He didn't consult me first.”
Well, tough. Let me look on the positive side. America will put on a great show in the fall for the visiting Tsar. He will be impressed, as will the countless millions of Russians watching on TV. They will have got what they crave, full recognition as an equal State. A return invitation to Moscow will come, and Trump will be treated to a dazzling display of Borodino-uniformed soldiers. They do these things well, and if you’ve seen that film epic Waterloo you’ll know that the French army consisted of the Soviet army. Both Russians and Americans will be left feeling that there is something to be said for the other side.
As they should. Russia’s contribution to the arts is massive. In music, it is without equal for a century. In literature the names of Tolstoy and Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak tower above all others. It might be an idea for one of Trump's family to visit, when the time comes, Melikhovo, the estate that Chekhov bought during his early success. When he sold up and moved to Yalta for his health he did not think he was leaving Russia. Nobody did. The “annexation”—or reclaiming—of the Crimea would have seemed odd to him, as to everyone else. What passes for contemporary history today—often called “narrative”—will have to be re-written.
Russia is inexpugnable and the possessor of five time-zones of land. As the world-population grows, that will be an increasingly precious holding. Bismarck got it right, in his advice to his countrymen: “Make a good treaty with Russia.”
Ralph Berry writes from England.