As the GOP has steadily radicalized, its ardent base has embraced an alternate reality– a place where, among other things, Donald Trump won the 2020 election, Democrats engage in pedophilia, Jews operate space lasers, and public schools are teaching Critical Race Theory.
The number of Americans who appear to actually believe these things–the number who have adopted some or all of what has been called the “QAnonification” of the GOP– is staggering. The danger this mass psychosis poses for democratic (small-d) government has been obvious for some time; we are now beginning to see how disinformation–lies–shade into something akin to treason.
The Guardian recently reported on the embrace of Putin’s propaganda by the American Right.The article focused on the conspiratorial narratives being pushed by radical American politicians and media figures who have echoed Russian lies about its invasion of Ukraine, and have “bolstered and created synergies with the Kremlin’s legendary disinformation machine, experts on information manipulation say.”
Led by Tucker Carlson at Fox News, a few Republican rightwingers in Congress, and some key conservative activists, a spate of comments that have disparaged Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and echoed other Russian war disinformation have been recycled by Moscow, say experts.
A feedback loop between the Kremlin and parts of the American right has been palpable since the war’s start in February, which Moscow falsely labeled as a “special military operation” aimed at stopping “genocide” of Russians in Ukraine and “denazification” – two patently bogus charges that drew widespread international criticism.
The fact that multiple credible sources have debunked Russian claims hasn’t kept Rightwing influencers like Tucker Carlson from pushing these false narratives to millions of Fox News viewers. The Guardian reports that Fox segments echoing Russian propaganda have been “eagerly embraced and recycled by Moscow and by parts of the American right.
On a separate front, two Republican congressional conservatives, Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene, delighted Moscow last month by condemning Zelenskiy without evidence in conspiracy-ridden terms that sparked some bipartisan criticism. Cawthorn called Zelenskiy a “thug” and his government “incredibly corrupt”, while Greene similarly charged that Zelenskiy was “corrupt”.
Further, the former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, last month attempted to soften and spin Putin’s onerous crackdown on independent media in Russia, where reporters and other citizens now can face prison terms of 15 years for not toeing the Kremlin’s Orwellian war line and spreading what Moscow deems “fake” news about its Ukraine invasion. Gabbard made the wild claim that “what we’re seeing happening here [in America] is not so different from what we’re seeing happening in Russia”.
More recently, Russian state TV lauded Gabbard as “our friend Tulsi”, when it introduced a Carlson interview with her in which Gabbard accused Biden of “lying” about his true motives in Ukraine after Biden said in Warsaw that Putin “cannot remain in power”, which the White House quickly clarified was not a call for regime for change.
The Guardian article explores what it calls the “feedback loop” between Moscow and significant elements of the American right, and notes that when the same narratives are being repeated by influential political figures and pundits on news networks in Russia and the United States with large audiences, those narratives are reaching a lot of people. As one observer noted,
“Given that many within those audiences have been primed to dismiss and distrust the ‘mainstream’ media and expertise writ large, there’s no amount of factchecking and objective reporting that is likely to change attitudes once certain falsehoods become adopted as facts.”
What is most mystifying–at least to me–is that this wholesale embrace of Russian propaganda is occurring primarily among the MAGA crowd, the “America First,” self-proclaimed patriots and believers in America’s Exceptionalism and historical purity. The threat Putin poses to the United States and the West is obvious; you would expect these particular figures to be first to rally around the flag, defend the myth of America’s glorious past, and agitate for an even stronger response.
Evidently, the allure of Putin’s strongman populism outweighs their asserted patriotism. Putin’s war on modernity–his defense of traditional (!) Christianity and efforts to stamp out “deviations” like homosexuality are presumably more appealing to the American Right than defense of that messy thing we call democracy and respect for other countries’ right to self-determination.
In another era, these weren’t the folks you’d expect to see giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies. But then, as I wrote in yesterday’s post, this isn’t your father’s GOP.