How U.S. rightwingers learned to love Putin


Millions of Republicans either support or don’t give a damn about Russian interference in the midterm elections this year.

According to a Yahoo Finance/SurveyMonkey poll of 2,509 Americans conducted July 25-27, 11 percent of people who identify as Republican or lean Republican say it’s “appropriate” for Russia to help the GOP retain control of Congress in the November elections. Another 29 percent say it’s “not appropriate, but wouldn’t be a big deal” for the Russians to help. Gallup reports that the number of Republicans who characterized Russia as a friend or ally has gone up sharply from 18 percent in 2014 to 40 percent today. Democrats’ views of the relationship are about the same, with 25 percent today versus 28 percent in 2014 defining it positively.

Why has this happened? There are indications that an increasing number of American rightwingers have concluded that they have more in common ideologically with Vladimir Putin than with their domestic opponents.

This head-snapping shift is crucial. Back during the 2012 presidential campaign, the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, said Russia was America’s main foe and that President Obama was too friendly toward Moscow. Obama responded that he was more concerned about terrorism and pointed out that Russia was no longer a superpower but “a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength but weakness.”

Meanwhile, many rightwingers in the U.S. and Europe were learning to love Vladimir Putin. In 2013, Putin gave a prominent speech denouncing the decadent West:

“We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan. This is the path to degradation.”

That year, the January-February newsletter from the Christian right group called the World Congress of Families (WCF) in Rockford, Illinois, listed the “10 best trends” in the world. The first one was “Russia Emerges as Pro-Family Leader.” The WCF is a creation of a U.S. far-right evangelical and two sociology professors in Russia.

The Kremlin banned homosexual “propaganda,” abortion advertising and sacrilegious insults to religious believers. Abortion restrictions were passed and domestic violence was decriminalized.

In 2014, Pat Buchanan authored a column entitled “Whose Side is God on Now?” The senior adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan suggested God might be on the side of Putin. Buchanan is the self-proclaimed leader of authoritarian traditionalist “paleoconservatism.” Like Trump, he had been a presidential candidate who stirred up racial animosity.

“In the culture war for the future of mankind, “Buchanan argued, “Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.”

Richard Spencer, the coiner of the term “alt-right,” says Russia is both the “sole” and “most powerful white power in the world.” Matthew Heimbach, head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Worker Party believes Putin is the “leader of the free world,” who has turned Russia into an “axis for nationalists.” The neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville last year chanted, “Russia is our friend!”

Putin’s regime is the most conspicuous and powerful member of a growing coalition of far-right regimes and movements. As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne recently put it:

“If the old Soviet Union was the linchpin of the Communist International, Putin’s Russia is creating a new Reactionary International built around nationalism, a critique of modernity and a disdain for liberal democracy. Its central mission includes wrecking the Western alliance and the European Union by undermining a shared commitment to democratic values.”

However, Dionne notes, “Putin is, first and foremost, an opportunist, so he is also happy to lend support to forces on the left when doing so advances his purposes in specific circumstances. But the dominant thrust of Putinism is toward the far right.”

In 2017, Right Wing Watch, a project of the liberal “People for the American Way,” published a report by Casey Michel entitled “The Rise of the ‘Traditionalist International’: How the American Right Learned to Love Moscow in the Era of Trump.”

Michel said Trump’s election helped boost the fortunes of two American movements that enthusiastically supported him: “the white nationalists and the Religious Right.” These labels are politically correct euphemisms which disguise anti-democratic extremism. Michel notes that white nationalists “profess co-equal respect for whites and non-whites alike.” Actually they promote bogus biological racism. They “would like to return white supremacy to both state and federal law — or, barring that, break off part of the U.S. to form a white ethno-state wholesale.”

“The Religious Right” claims that Christians are being persecuted in the U.S. and that they are only advocating “religious freedom.” Actually Michel notes that they “would allow Christian fundamentalism to become the U.S.’s de jure national religion, with attendant legislation targeting LGBT and minority religious communities alike.”

Michel says the white nationalists and many within the Religious Right don’t look to Trump as their primary leader. For them, “there is only one country, and one leader, worth emulating.” That would be Russia and Putin.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.