On Aug. 29 Tucker Carlson of Fox News attacked President Biden’s policy on Ukraine, asserting among other things: “By any actual reality-based measure, Vladimir Putin is not losing the war in Ukraine. He is winning the war in Ukraine.” Carlson went on, by the way, to assert that Biden is supporting Ukraine only because he wants to destroy the West.
Carlson’s timing was impeccable. Just a few days later, a large section of the Russian front near Kharkiv was overrun by a Ukrainian attack. It’s important to note that Putin’s forces weren’t just pushed back; they appear to have been routed. As the independent Institute for the Study of War reported, the Russians were driven into a “panicked and disorderly retreat,” leaving behind “large amounts of equipment and supplies that Ukrainian forces can use.”
Krugman’s column went on to analyze/deconstruct the worldview of those who–like Carlson–clearly prefer Putin’s Russia to Zelensky’s Ukraine.
He noted that there’s “a whole school of self-styled ‘realists'” who keep insisting that Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion is futile, and who continue to call on Ukraine to make big concessions in order to end the war. He then proceeds to investigate the worldview that leads so many on the political Right to laud Putin’s brand of leadership–a worldview that, as he writes, mistakes tough-guy swagger for effectiveness.
This worldview has warped the right’s perception not just of the Russian Army but also of how to deal with many other issues. And it’s worth asking where it comes from…
After providing some relevant quotes from Rudy Giuliani and Trump, he says
it’s not hard to see where the MAGA right’s admiration for Putinism comes from. After all, Putin’s Russia is autocratic, brutal and homophobic, with a personality cult built around its ruler. What’s not to like?
Yet admiring a regime’s values needn’t mean having faith in its military prowess. As a center-left advocate of a strong social safety net — or, as Republicans would say, a Marxist (which, of course, I’m not) — I think highly of Nordic welfare states like Denmark. But I have no opinion whatsoever about the effectiveness of Denmark’s army (yes, it has one).
The conflation of Right-wing values with strength can be seen in the Right’s transformation of Jesus into a MAGA Republican–a change so dramatic it now prompts satirical “GOP ads,” like this one.
Back in March, I wrote about a book I’d just finished–Jesus and John Wayne, written by a religion scholar at Calvin College who traced how the Jesus of Evangelical imagination had morphed from the “wimpy, feminine” prophet my Christian friends continue to worship into a “manly, dominant” John-Wayne-like warrior. The book documented the degree to which misogyny and male dominance have become central to the Christian Nationalism that is today’s Evangelical belief system.
For a stunning number of conservative White Evangelicals, the “good news” of the Christian gospel has become a staunch commitment to patriarchal authority, gender difference, and Christian Nationalism, all anchored in white racial grievance.
The background provided by that book helps to explain the disdain of MAGA Republicans like Ted Cruz (who has criticized America’s armed forces for being feminized and “woke”) for Ukraine. That criticism, of course, is quite unlike their admiration for the Russian army which–as Krugman points out– is nothing if not brutal.
It is notable that –among its other “woke” features–women make up more than a fifth of Ukraine’s military.
Krugman points to what should be obvious: despite the Right’s celebration of brute strength, modern wars aren’t won by looking tough.
Courage — which the Ukrainians have shown in almost inconceivable abundance — is essential, but it doesn’t have much to do with bulging biceps. And bravery must go hand in hand with being smart and flexible, qualities the Russian Army evidently lacks.
Jesus and John Wayne added evidence to the arguments in Robert P. Jones’ book The End of White Christian America. Read together, the two books explain the transformation of Evangelical Christianity into the distinctly un-Christian worldview advanced by Tucker Carlson and other MAGA Republicans. Both books–together with a veritable mountain of social science research–document the morphing of a significant number of White Christian Americans into a very un-Christian cult.
The members of that cult frantically resist the inexorable progress of cultural and demographic change; they continue to reside mentally and emotionally in eras long past–in times when brute strength (epitomized by John Wayne) was more important than skill and smarts.
The obsolescence of that worldview is just one of the lessons we’re learning from Russia’s tragic and brutal war on Ukraine.