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.