Us and Them: How Soviet-era Thinking Divided Immigrants Over Trump

Pulitzer Center: Anastasia Gliadkovskaya


Belonging to groups is human. Like everyone, former Soviet Union immigrants living in the U.S. look for a common denominator over which to bond, particularly on social media. For many since 2016, it has been and continues to be Donald Trump.


Collectively battered and betrayed by the iron fist of a totalitarian state, hundreds of thousands of Soviets fled to the U.S. throughout the 20th century. Under the USSR, they had endured class reductionism and communal micromanagement, and had been conditioned to view democratic values as government control—as a threat to individualism. Thousands immigrated during the Ronald Reagan presidency, thanks to his push for it, and have only voted Republican since. The majority of Russian-speaking immigrants have voted red in general elections since 2000, according to Sam Kliger, director of Russian and Eurasian affairs at the American Jewish Committee. In 2016, that figure was between 75 and 80 percent, Kliger said.


As president, Trump exploited this fundamental fear of big government, putting out approximately 20,000 Facebook ads using the term “socialist” leading up to the last election, Facebook’s ad library shows. He won Florida using the same scare tactics. It’s a term Soviet immigrants need no reminding of.


“Everything is measured by this Soviet yardstick,” said Maxim Matusevich, a historian and Soviet immigrant. “It’s almost like the Cold War never ended.”


This phenomenon is something Dina Birman, a professor of psychological studies at the University of Miami, calls the partial paradigm acquisition: One adapts to some parts of their new life, but their old ways of thinking creep back. “I would rather blame people’s circumstances than people themselves,” she said. “People are doing things that make sense to them.”




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