There has been much debate and discussion about Russia, Putin and Trump. Some of it borders on delusional conspiracy theory while at other times there seems to be blanket denial of any Russian interference in the 2016 election. It is funny to see how some who are supposedly right-of-center have become the self-proclaimed definers of patriotism and resorted to the ad hominem attacks against those in disagreement with them. That is a classic Leftist debate tactic when you know you have no argument. It is just easier to call someone a “Putinite,” a “Russiaphile,” or suggest they are unpatriotic.
What many fail to understand is that there are those who believe (1) Putin is a bad guy, (2) Russia interfered in the 2016 election BUT (3) there was no conspiracy or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The Trump campaign and Russian interference intersected in that both had the purpose of sowing chaos.
Some seem to have a grudge against Donald Trump that goes deeper than the Russia angle. This writer gets it; my number one, two and three choices all fell by the wayside. But does it serve any purpose to parrot the lines, stories, memes and musings of “the Resistance” other than to assuage the feelings of those whose first choices lost?
There are some on the other side who may have a strange admiration for Putin. I sometimes correspond with people from Central Europe and the former Soviet bloc. These are strange conversations in that there is a palpable distrust and hatred, if you will, towards Russia given the oppression people suffered under Soviet rule.
Yet by the same token, they also lament the fact that their governments and others in the West have betrayed their conservative principles on social and cultural issues. There are many in Europe and here in the United States who view establishment conservatives as closing ranks with the Left when it comes to suppressing traditional values. It is this frustration that drives Putin-worship, and a frustration which Putin is all too aware of and uses to his advantage.
For example, Putin has reached out to anti-LGBT groups in the West. He supports some far Right people in Europe like Marine Le Pen and Victor Orban. Some of the “admiration” for Putin is a side-effect of the end of the Cold War.
During that era, there were three strands of conservatism in the area of foreign policy and they all opposed the tyranny of a Communist Soviet Union, but for different reasons. There were those best exemplified by people such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Buchanan who viewed the struggle as one of Judeo-Christian values versus the atheism of Communism. Second, you had the group (think Elliot Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz) who viewed the struggle in politically ideological terms: the liberty-loving West versus the totalitarian Soviets. Then there was the third group (Henry Kissinger) who saw the conflict in terms of geopolitics and the relative struggle between two “superpowers.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these groups parted ways because there was no longer a common enemy- the totalitarian, atheist, superpower Soviet Union. And neither side ever reconciled because they really did not care about the other’s reasoning for opposing the Soviet Union.
One of the biggest tests of the unity of the three occurred in Yugoslavia. The ideological wing urged NATO to intervene because they saw Russia, Serbia’s ally, as supporting tyranny and ethnic cleansing. The cultural wing- led by Buchanan- openly questioned why the Judeo-Christian West was saber-rattling to defend Muslims against Christians. The third group was silent because Russia was no longer a superpower.
One can almost surmise that the most socially and culturally conservative people probably have a less unfavorable opinion of Putin if they answer truthfully. In fact, we see this in Europe where the most social/cultural conservative governments have the closest ties with Putin. And we see it here in the United States with the religious Right who are more culturally and socially conservative than establishment conservatives. After Putin passed a law against gay propaganda that covered everything from gay pride parades to holding hands in public, it was denounced as undemocratic. Yet the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute spoke admirably of the measure, as did other conservative religious outlets.
The social conservative admiration of Putin precedes the rise of Donald Trump. In fact, it was Pat Buchanan in 2013 who dared ask the question: “Is Putin one of us?” His reasoning led to an affirmative answer. There are certainly many similarities between Putin’s policies and statements and the beliefs of domestic social conservatives: thwarting the LGBT agenda, pride in country, support for organized religion, a balanced budget and low taxes (on the fiscal side), a return to traditional family values, opposition to abortion on demand, etc. And the newest area of agreement and one that nicely overlaps with an underlying theme in the 2016 election is Putin’s battle against globalism.
Oddly, these same people skirt over or ignore Putin’s attacks on American exceptionalism. And they are way too willing to ignore his documented record of human rights abuses in Russia. Still, there is no one in the world who better speaks the language of social conservatives than Putin in the minds of some. Matt Drudge went so far as to declare Putin “the leader of the free world.”
Vladimir Putin is a complicated character, but he is also three things for sure: (1) cynical, (2) opportunistic, and (3) a brutal thug. One has to question the sincerity of his leadership of the “culture war to save mankind.” He has masterfully exploited a schism in American conservatism between the religious/social Right and the establishment Right that became apparent after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Perhaps the best effort to thwart Putin is to heal this schism and bring the two sides closer together through a common enemy, just as the Cold War had its common enemy. And that enemy should be Vladimir Putin- not Russia, not the Russian people, not even the Russian government- but Putin himself.
To deny that Russia with Putin’s blessing interfered in the US election for SOME purpose is ignorance. The reason for that interference is what keeps both sides apart with some all-too-willing to scream “collusion” with every story that comes down the pike. I still fail to understand what Putin stood to gain from a Trump presidency unless you subscribe to the “Manchurian candidate” theory of conspiracy (in which case, you are a fool for the “Steele Dossier”). Trump campaigned on and seems to be carrying through on the two most important things that affect Russia: (1) a stronger US military and (2) increased energy production. With Trump, he gets unpredictability. With Clinton, he would have gotten a known entity and one he easily played like a proverbial fiddle in the past. So it is hard for many to see- despite the kind words exchanged and comments in e-mails from a British music publicist- what Putin stood to gain from a Trump presidency. To the practical/rational thinker, it makes no sense.
The longer we debate this issue, the deeper the schism becomes and before anyone will realize, it will be a hole so deep that no one will be able to escape it. If Putin can cause such a ruckus over a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump’s son, then it proves it doesn’t take much effort to undermine faith in American democracy.
Self-proclaimed patriotic Americans are doing the job for him.