Putin And The Right

Arwa Mahdawi is a columnist for the Guardian, and she devoted a recent column to a question many of us have been asking–especially since the brutal, unprovoked attack on Ukraine by Russia– to wit: what is it about Putin that has won the hearts and ((to the extent they have them) minds of the American Right?

Yesterday’s post offered one theory; Mahdawi essentially concurs.

She begins by noting Tucker Carlson’s defense of Putin and his assertion that the U.S. has employed propaganda to make our citizens believe Putin is “a baddie.” She also points out that Carlson is” far from the only person on the US right to have a soft spot for old Vlad.”

Trump, of course, famously called Putin’s assault on Ukraine “genius”, “savvy” and “smart”.

For those of us who can’t understand why the American Right is so enamored of the Russian autocrat (and other anti-democratic strongmen around the globe), Mahdawi has an explanation similar to the one offered yesterday.

While I haven’t called up every white nationalist group in the US and Europe for comment, it is fair to say the Russian premier has a fervent fanbase among the far right in the west. Why is this? They love what he has done with Russia. They love the way he has dismantled women’s rights. They love his attacks on gay and transgender people. They love his dismissal of western liberalism. Their values align perfectly.

There is also a whiff of antisemitism in the right’s support for Putin. On Sunday, for example, Wendy Rogers, a Republican state senator in Arizona, tweeted about the Ukrainian president: “[Volodymyr] Zelensky is a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.” “Globalist” and “Soros” are well-established dog whistles, of course. (Zelenskiy is Jewish.)

Rogers’ comments on Zelenskiy came shortly after she attended a white nationalist convention in Florida, where she praised Nick Fuentes, its Holocaust-revisionist organiser, and proposed hanging “traitors” from “a newly built set of gallows”. A very normal thing for a politician to say! Fuentes, meanwhile, urged the crowd to applaud Russia and had them chanting: “Putin! Putin!

Putin’s racism, homophobia and misogyny aren’t the only things that endear him to the Right . They love what I’ll call his “John Wayne masculinity”–his willingness to demonstrate what Mahdawi calls “muscle.”

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll from January found that 62% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents reckon Putin is a “stronger leader” than Joe Biden; that number rises to 71% among those who name Fox News as their primary source of cable news.

Those numbers, and yesterday’s, reinforce an observation I’ve previously shared: a depressingly significant portion of the American population (and media) has yet to grow up. That portion of the population has retained a cartoonish vision of what “strength” and “leadership” look like. A disturbing number of pundits–including many who are working for reputable media outlets– utterly fail to appreciate the skill, savvy and resolve with which Biden and his administration strengthened NATO and the West, and forged an unprecedented alliance to bring Russia to its economic knees–without sending American young people to die.

I fully expect to see those pundits commiserating with Rightwing complaints about gas prices (mask mandates are disappearing, so they will require some other indignity to assign to the administration). Meanwhile, television screens and Internet sites continue to testify to the horrors being rained on innocent Ukrainians by the “strong leader” that Carlson and his audience so admire.

It will be interesting to see how Putin’s fawning Rightwing fans react to the undeniable evidence of his brutality. As a column from the New York Times put it,

For years, a global choir of right-wing politicians have sung the praises of Vladimir V. Putin. They looked up to the Russian strongman as a defender of closed borders, Christian conservatism and bare-chested machismo in an era of liberal identity politics and Western globalization. Fawning over him was a core part of the populist playbook.

But Mr. Putin’s savaging of Ukraine, which many of his right-wing supporters had said he would never do, has recast the Russian president more clearly as a global menace and boogeyman with ambitions of empire who is threatening nuclear war and European instability….The stain of Mr. Putin’s new reputation threatens to taint his fellow travelers, too.

I would like to believe that “taint” will be widespread–that it might even cause those on the Right to reassess their grievances and bigotries– but I doubt it. What they are really fighting–as I indicated yesterday– is maturity, modernity and the necessity of living with complexity and ambiguity and people who don’t look like them.

They won’t give up their tribalism, or their cartoon version of America.


But Reality Is So Complicated…

Paul Krugman devoted a recent column to the conspiracy theories that have emerged to “explain” the coronavirus. My only quibble with the column was its narrow focus; I’ve come to the conclusion that a substantial percentage of Americans find reality so intimidating, messy and/or incomprehensible, the only way they can make sense of it is to assume that someone or some group must be intentionally responsible for the aspects of that reality they most fear.

It can’t be random–“those people” must be engaged in a purposeful effort to harm or mislead them.

We really haven’t come very far from colonial days, when clerics opposed the newfangled smallpox vaccine because smallpox was undoubtedly sent by God, and inoculating people against it would constitute interference with God’s plan. Just substitute “those people”–the Deep State, the bankers, the Jews, the DNC, whoever–for God.

It’s just really hard for some people to accept randomness, and the fact that–as the undignified saying goes–shit happens.

As Krugman writes

We still don’t know how much damage Covid-19 — the coronavirus disease — will do, but it’s reasonable to be very concerned. After all, it appears to be highly transmissible, and it is probably a lot more lethal than ordinary flu.

But not to worry, say right-wing pundits and news organizations: It’s all a hoax, a conspiracy by the liberal media to make Donald Trump look bad. Administration officials and Trump himself have echoed their claims.

These claims are, of course, crazy. Among other things, Covid-19 is a global phenomenon, with major outbreaks ranging from South Korea to Italy. Are the South Korean and Italian media also part of a conspiracy to get Trump?

I agree with Krugman that this particular reaction was predictable to anyone who  follows the right-wings long-running war on facts, especially when facts prove  inconvenient or conflict with the right’s preferred version of reality.

And as Krugman also reminds us, much of their insistence on attributing unwanted outcomes to nefarious evil-doers rests on projection.

In the case of Covid-19 the usual suspects were, in part, engaged in projection. After all, they themselves engaged in a concerted effort to politically weaponize the 2014 Ebola outbreak against Barack Obama, whose response was in reality smart and effective. By the way, in the aftermath of that outbreak the Obama administration put in place measures to deal with future pandemics — all of which Trump scrapped.

Denial, as my grandfather used to say, isn’t just a river in Egypt.

Climate change? As recently as the 2018 midterms, a survey found 73 percent of Republican senators denying that man-made climate change is happening. The success of Obama’s economic measures?  Right-wing politicians and pundits insisted that the numbers were being cooked. (Those evil “deep state” folks, no doubt…) Etc.

But fair is fair: this sort of nonsense is hardly confined to the crazy people on the right, although clearly, the right has a majority of the crazies.

For example, a troubling percentage of his supporters are absolutely convinced that if Bernie isn’t the nominee, it will be due to a plot by “the establishment” to rig the process. Despite the results of Super Tuesday, it is evidently inconceivable to them that a majority of Democratic voters might prefer Biden or someone else–that large numbers of voters might honestly believe that Bernie would be less likely to beat Trump and more likely to doom Democrats’ down-ticket prospects.

As a column from Talking Points Memo put it,

To hear many Sanders surrogates describe it, the establishment and power brokers closed ranks and pushed Biden into the lead. But again, this just pretends like millions of voters don’t exist, or function as pawns of party elites. So you have one theory of political agency for Sanders supporters and another for everyone else. This stands no kind of political scrutiny.

Party workers making anti-Bernie arguments are engaging in typical (small-d) democratic campaigning, not “rigging” an election. Similarly, doctors aren’t conspiring to hide the “dangers” of vaccinations. Scientists aren’t part of an international cabal engaged in falsifying data on climate change. The government isn’t running a secret program entailing the discharge of dangerous airplane “contrails.”

Elvis’ death wasn’t faked, and there really isn’t a monster hiding under the bed.

In fact, there’s no one here but us flawed human beings trying to make sense of the shit that happens in a complicated world.


Michelle Bachmann in Pants

It’s two and a half months until the election.

Anyone who may have been harboring a forlorn hope that Mitt Romney might revert to the persona he wore as Governor of Massachusetts can “fuhgeddaboudit,” as they used to say on Seinfeld. He’s not using that famous Etch-A-Sketch to shake up his newfound Tea Party allegiance; to the contrary, with his choice of Paul Ryan as a running mate, he has signaled his complete capitulation to and identification with the furthest reaches of the Right.

What does Romney’s doubling-down tell us about the choice facing the country—and especially the choice facing those of us who aren’t old white heterosexual males?

Let’s look beyond issues of character and personality. Let’s ignore suspicions that Romney has lacked the savvy to assemble a competent staff. Let’s choke down the bile that we taste when we look at his “team,” composed of George W. Bush’s worst leftovers. Let’s even ignore his proposal to end Medicare.

Let’s just look at the policies that Romney and Ryan (the “Rolls Royce” team) explicitly support.

Perhaps you’ve heard, as I have, that Ryan’s voting record is substantially identical to that of Michelle Bachmann. Allow me to share some of the details of that record.

  • Ryan opposed the DREAM Act–legislation that would have allowed undocumented immigrants brought to the US as young children to remain in the country, and provided them with a path to citizenship. Instead, despite his professed identity as a deficit hawk, he supported spending millions to build a border fence to keep “them” out. (Hint: the fence wasn’t between us and Canada.)
  • In addition to his desire to privatize Social Security and eliminate Medicare, he has proposed to give Medicaid back to the states. This would almost certainly mean an end to the payments that currently keep millions of seniors in nursing homes after they have gone through all their assets and savings.
  • The Ryan budget proposes to gut programs that support neighborhood health clinics, to eliminate most student loans, and to slash funds for elementary and secondary education.
  • Ryan wants to de-fund Planned Parenthood, criminalize abortion, and grant “personhood” to fertilized eggs (a measure that would outlaw most popular forms of birth control). In a particularly egregious vote, he supported a bill allowing hospitals to refuse to perform abortions even when those procedures were necessary to save the life of the mother.
  • Adding insult to injury, Ryan has voted against equal pay for women.
  • On GLBT rights, the story is the same. Ryan opposes same-sex marriage and voted twice for a constitutional amendment prohibiting it. He voted to keep same-sex couples from adopting children in Washington DC. He voted against repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And while the Log Cabin apologists will point out that he once voted for ENDA (the Employee NonDiscrimination Act), he later reneged on his promise to do so again, saying he saw no need for “special” legislation.
  • Mr. “Fiscal Conservative” would abolish taxes on Capital Gains—giving wealthy individuals a windfall—and would recoup the lost revenue by cutting programs that benefit the poor and middle class.
  • Ryan also agrees with Romney that we don’t need to fund Amtrak or PBS (bye-bye, Big Bird…), but we cannot take a penny from the Defense budget, or allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.

That is what the Rolls Royce team has to offer. It is as mean-spirited and radical a set of proposals as we have seen in my lifetime—not to mention thoroughly unworkable and unrealistic. (When Paul Krugman and David Stockman agree that Ryan’s package of proposals are a “fantasy” and wouldn’t begin to balance the budget even if enacted, that’s a pretty good sign that it isn’t a serious effort.)

So we have a choice: “Mitt the Twit” running with Michelle Bachmann in pants, versus Obama and Biden.

I’m hiding under my bed until it’s all over.