Wednesday, March 30, 2022

On the origins of Putin Republicans.

by Rod Williams, March 13, 2022 - I am appalled at the admiration on the part of some Republicans for Vladimir Putin and the way some Republicans justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The most influential American supporter of Putin is no doubt Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, but he is not the only one.

Moscow Carlson after briefly seeming to side with the democratic countries of the world and calling Russia’s invasion a tragedy and blaming Vladimir Putin for the war in Ukraine has reverted to arguing that the U.S. provoked the  Russian attack. Maybe for a moment, Tucker Carlson was offended by the Russian bombing of a kindergarten. The moment didn't last long.

Here is basically Carlson's position. It was summarized in a Vanity Fair piece.

You may not like the source Vanity Fair, but that is an accurate summation of the Carlson position as far as I can tell.  I only watch Tucker Carlson occasionally but that is my perception of his position. If you doubt it, follow the above links in the Vanity Fair piece and if still not convinced, do your own YouTube deep dive. I did. It is clear Tucker Carlson justifies Putin's aggression against Ukraine. 

Unfortunately, Carlson has influence. He is the most popular commentator in America and he is much more popular with Republicans than Democrats.  While pro-Putin Republicans are a small minority of all Republicans, there do exist.  In addition to Moscow Carlson, there are other conservative voices supporting Putin. There are a lot of small but influential bloggers spreading the same message as Carlson and those voices get amplified on social media. 

In the last week, I received two pro-Putin communications from people active in the local conservative community. I am refraining from naming them but if you are active in the Nashville conservative political community, you would know them.  One sends out a regular e-mail newsletter and the other has been active in various conservative organizations for many years. Since most people are not active, it doesn't take much activism to have an influence.  If it is happening in Nashville, then it is happening across the country.

I am appalled.  During the cold war, I got accustomed to Democrats supporting our enemies and would not be surprised if it were Democrats excusing an authoritarian government's aggression.  During the Vietnam conflict, many anti-war activists not only wanted us to abandon the effort to stop a Communist take over of Vietnam, but they also wanted a Communist victory. Anti-war protesters sometimes carried Viet Cong flags and chanted, "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh."  Not only were many Democrats opposed to winning the war in Vietnam, but they were also opposed to American efforts to resist Communism anywhere.  Remember Nicaragua? Remember Granada? Remember our support for the mujahadeen who defeated Russia in Afghanistan and the Democrat opposition? 

Many Democrats also supported policies that would weaken America's ability to counter the Communist threat anywhere, would have guaranteed our eventual subjugation by Russia, and would have given Russian advantages in the cold war. They opposed policies that eventually led to American victory in the cold war.  They wanted co-existence, not roll-back or victory.  Remember Democrat opposition to American superiority in the arms race and what was derided as "Star Wars?" Remember organizations like SANE that advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament? Remember Democrats being appalled by Reagan's call to "tear down this wall?"A sizeable portion of Democrats always opposed American's opposition to tyranny or policies to combat it and keep America safe and many actually sided with our enemies. 

So, I would not be shocked if there were pro-Putin Democrats.  I kind of accept that many, not most certainly, but a significant minority of Democrats do not value western values or believe the American way of life is worth defending.  They think America is so evil that we have no moral authority to see evil anywhere else. They think democracy has not delivered a perfect world and is not worth defending. They reason, that we are just as guilty of a violation of human rights as our enemy. They view, what they perceive as, denial of a women's right to choose, failure to fully normalize gender dysphoria and deviance, economic and racial inequality, and failure to rid the world of carbon fuels and save the planet as equally evil as genocide in some far off country. They can't be bothered with concern for evil elsewhere when we have failed to make the world perfect. 

I would not be shocked by liberals making the arguments that Moscow Carlson and other Putin Republicans make. I am shocked that conservatives are making these arguments. Where is this coming from?  I think I can identify some of the origins of thought that lead a conservative to become pro-Putin.

One source of the appeal of Putin for Putin Republicans is the attractiveness of strength and vitality. Putin has that macho image. Many people think that American and western nations and especially American and western men have become effeminate and lost all vigor.  The fit and handsome Putin seems like a "real man."  While Donald Trump is kind of pudgy and is not handsome necessarily, he has the persona of a winner. Many people like swagger, strength, and winners. They also like "genius" and "savvy." While, for the most part, people say they do not like bullies, bullies almost always have fans and followers.  Putin has sex appeal and charisma. That may be shallow, but I think there have always been shallow people who are ready to follow a strong man. This is true of the right and the left.  In this instance, since there are other reasons some Republicans can find Putin attractive, they do not inhibit their admiration for a man on horseback,

Another source of support for Putin among some Republicans is the traditional view that fortress America should stay out of foreign affairs. The term "entangling alliances" was coined by President Thomas Jefferson and used in his first inaugural address in 1801, calling for a cautious, isolationist foreign policy. 

Despite the world being much more connected now than it was in 1801, many still think that it is in America's best interest to just mind our own business and ignore the rest of the world.  I find this view terribly naive. It is, however, a view that circulates in Republican circles and from time to time gains traction with a sizeable segment of Republicans.  This is the view of most people who call themselves "libertarians,' and while small in number libertarians are sometimes Libertarians and sometimes Republicans. When they are Republicans their views spread to other Republicans.

The isolationist or non-interventionist position was prevalent prior to World War I and World War II and throughout the Cold War.  Prior to World War II, the America First view of isolationism was stronger among Republicans than Democrats.  There were of course many prominent Democrats who were also isolationist such as Joseph P. Kennedy, but isolationism was strongest among Republicans. It was primarily Republicans who opposed lend-lease and the occasional expression of admiration for Hitler or Mussolini was more likely to be heard from a Republican than Democrats. Prior to WWII, there was even a small movement of Americans opposing entry into the war who were Nazi fellow travelers. They worked with Nazi strategists and spies and were funded by Nazi money. These Nazi-friendly Americans were mostly Republicans while they never had the same degree of influence that the pro-Communist, Communist fellow travelers, useful idiots, and Marxist intelligentsia had among the Democrats they did exist.  This isolationist view never died out entirely in either party. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, isolationism made a return among Republicans.  In the former Yugoslavia, ethnic tension and rising nationalism led to genocide, war crimes, and a conflict that threatened to destabilize Europe. A reluctant President Bill Clinton who had been a passivist during the Vietnam War, exerted American leadership to bring an end to the conflict.  Those most vocal in opposition to American involvement in ending this conflict were Republicans. 

Republican isolationism was demonstrated in the candidacy of Pat Buchanan for President in the late 1990s. Buchanan had long been an important advocate of conservative values and had worked as a TV commentator, a print political commentator, an author, and had served in the Nixon White House.  In 1992, Buchanan challenged incumbent President George H.W. Bush for President in Republican primaries.  While Buchanan made an issue of Bush's violating his "read my lips," "no new taxes" pledge and while Buchanan ran on the social issue, he also ran a campaign advocating isolationism.  In the primary elections, Buchanan garnered three million total votes or 23% of the vote.  While not carrying the day, that is a significant number of Republicans who vote for someone advocating isolationism.

In 2008 and 2012 Congressman Ron Paul ran for President as a Republican and got respectable numbers and raised a lot of money.  In several early primaries in 2012, he garnered votes in the 18% to 24% of the Republican primary voters  He opposed just about all international treaties and organizations. He advocated pulling the United States out of the United Nations and NATO. He advocated ending almost all foreign aid and abolishing the CIA. Isolationism is not new to Republicans.  As a political belief, it is as old as the Republic and there have always been isolationist Republicans. 

Another source of support for Putin among Republicans is the belief that the west is decadent and Russia is a source of Christain resistance to this decadence. Russia, they believe, will lead a resurgence of the Christian faith. Russia is not in fact a very Christian country and only 7% of Russians attend church or another religious meeting of other faiths as frequently as once a month. 

It is ironic that Putin presents himself and Russia as the defender of the Christian faith. Russia was officially an atheist country for 70 years and Christians were persecuted and Putin was head of the KGB under the Communist regime which persecuted Christians. It seems strange to me that this view as Russia leading a return to godliness can carry any weight in the West, but it does. There has not been a religious revival in Russia. What has happened is that Putin is using the Church to prop up his regime.

For centuries, old regimes used the Church and the Church used the regimes as a source of control. Unity of the social order was important and the faith of the King was most often mandated to be the faith of all of his subjects.  The ruler was viewed as ruler due to a mandate from God. And, we all know about the divine right of kings and all of that.  Instead of trying to stamp out religion and ban it, the Russian state is making the Russian Orthodox Church subject to the authority of the State and making it the defacto State religion. The Russian Orthodox church is supported by the State with public funds and competing faiths are still persecuted. Respect for freedom of religion by secular authorities has declined in Russia since the late 1990s.  

There is a segment of Republicans who would want to make America an officially Chastain county. For them, they don't value freedom of religion, they value a religious country more than they do freedom. And they admire Russia as a Christian nation. At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, held last month, Lauren Witzke, a Republican candidate for the Senate in Delaware, had praise for Putin and "his Christian nationalist nation" and made it clear that she supports Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. “Here’s the deal", she said, "Russia is a Christian nationalist nation. They’re actually Russian Orthodox. ... I identify more with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden." (1While this is a fringe view, it is not so fringe that it is denied a platform at the most important gathering of conservatives in America. 

Another source and the appeal of Putin and justification for his aggression is the same as the liberal justification for totalitarian and authoritarian regimes cited above in this essay. Some conservatives share with liberals the view that America is so evil that we have no business telling the world how to behave.  These conservatives see a completely different list of imperfections but reach the same conclusion. They are so unhappy with their country, they no longer love their country. They view America as an evil nation.  We are so imperfect we have no business meddling in other countries' affairs because we are no better than they are, they reason. 

I want the Republican Party to be a "big-tent," party.  I want to paper over disagreements rather than magnify them.  I like a spirited debate and want to see someone make the case for his vision. After the primary, however, I want the losers to pledge loyalty to what unites us rather than what divides us and I want to see all factions come together to beat the Democrats.  Having said that, however, I have utter contempt for Putin Republicans.  We can disagree about strategy but when you become an apologist for our enemy, that is where my tolerance for different points of view ends.  There are certain Republicans with whom I cannot hold hands and pretend we are on the same team.  There should be no room in the Republican Party for supporters of Vladimir Putin. 

Stumble Upon Toolbar
My Zimbio
Top Stories

No comments:

Post a Comment