First I’ll talk about how and why the Republican Party embraced Vladimir Putin and what it means that so many prominent Republicans are now either hiding from or backpedaling their previous support for Putin.
I. The GOP-Trump-Fox-Russia Love Affair
Here’s a timeline:
2013: Russia enacted anti-homosexual legislation.
2014: Pat Buchanan noted that Putin was “entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly city of today” and stamping out western evil like easy divorce and homosexuality.
This is from Buchanan’s piece:
Paul Manafort, GOP operator and later Trump campaign manager, strategized on behalf of the Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort also worked on “a plan to increase Russian influence in the U.S,” according to Timothy Snyder writing in ”Road to Unfreedom.”
2015: Also from Snyder: “Russian authorities were cooperating with the American gun lobby [NRA].”
Feb. 2016: Again from Snyder: Maria Butina reported to Alexander Torshin from the United States that “Trump [NRA member] is ready for cooperation with Russia.”
March 16, 2016: Sen. John McCain accused Sen. Rand Paul of working for Putin.
May 2016: Torshin met with Donald Trump, Jr., in Kentucky. That same month, the NRA endorsed Donald Trump and eventually gave his campaign $30 million.
June 15, 2016: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was caught on tape saying, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” Paul Ryan immediately stopped the conversation, preventing it from exploring McCarthy’s assertion and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.
After Trump became president, the GOP-Trump-Fox-Russia love affair became more public. In 2018, Tucker Carlson said the U.S. should “rethink America’s alliances.” And remember when Senator Paul went to Moscow to “open lines of communication“? Guiliani attended a pro-Russia conference in 2018. He was about to attend another in 2019 when the Ukraine scandal exploded and he abruptly canceled.
The love goes deep. Katie Hopkins, with Ann Coulter sitting near her, says, “Putin rocks.” She praises Russia as being “untouched by the myth of multiculturalism and deranged diversity.”
Putin’s regime, remember, is built on homophobia and fear of those who are different.
Paul Hasson, the guy who planned to mass murder liberals, talked of “Looking to Russia with hopeful eyes . . .”
For decades now, Russia has been “beckoning” to America’s far right-wing, presenting Russia as the savior of white majority rule. This includes Russians infiltrating the NRA and helping radicalize the NRA to turn the NRA into what Snyder calls an Eastern-European style paramilitary.
Seems the plan all along was for the Trump-Fox-GOP to move the US away from NATO and into a closer alliance with Russia:
Remember when Trump tried to withhold aid to Ukraine unless Volodymyr Zelenskyy did him a “favor”? That was when Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, Rudy Giuliani, and other Trump team members furiously defended Trump’s call with Zelenskyy. They knew they were also defending Russia.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah traveled to Moscow. Lee said his solo talks with Russian government officials would help the U.S. maintain an open dialogue with Russia.
Then, Sen, Ron Johnson parroted Russian disinformation about how Ukraine, not Russia, interfered with the US presidential election in 2020.
The following is from an elected representative in Arizona. She wrote this when Russia was on the third day of its invasion of Ukraine:
Notice the subtle (or not-so-subtle) anti-semitism in “global bankers” and “globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.” “Christians worldwide,” of course, is Putin’s regime. The hardcore GOP base, without which Republicans could not obtain anything near a majority of voters, would rather have Putin-style oligarchy than an expansion of liberal democracy in America.
II. The Trump-Putin Love Affair
The Trump-Putin love affair begins with Semion Mogilevich. Mogilevich got his start as a young man in the Soviet Union scamming his fellow countrymen who wanted to emigrate. He offered to sell their assets and send them the money, but instead, he pocketed their money. His victims had left the country so they couldn’t do anything. By the mid-1980s, he had millions and needed to launder it. (Money laundering just means putting illegally obtained money through a few complicated transactions to hide its origins.)
Mogilevich knew it made no sense for a young man in the Soviet Union to have millions—so in 1986, he sent his operative to buy five luxury condos in Trump Tower. Foreigners, by this time, had discovered that money could easily be laundered through US luxury real estate.
It should have occurred to Trump that a man in the Soviet Union hadn’t come by $6 million in cash legally, but he asked no questions. He permitted anonymous buyers to purchase his condos, so he was a magnet for dirty money. He personally attended the closing of Mogilevich’s condos.
During the Soviet regime, the government owned all resources and industries. When the Soviet Union broke up, the Russian Federation was established as a constitutional republic with a president and parliament chosen by free elections. But democracy never took hold. Before rule of law was in place, there was a wild rush to control the nation’s industries and resources. A few people became billionaires (by stealing what belonged to the people). Leaders were picked by the new billionaires.
Thus Russia went from communism to oligarchy.
One of the new billionaires was Mogilevich, who was soon at the top of the Russian mafia and on the FBI’s Ten Top Most Wanted List (for a scam in Pennsylvania). As the oligarchs’ wealth grew (mostly through scams) they looked for ways to launder the money.
This is my source for the next section:
By the late 1990s, Trump was considered uncreditworthy and bankrupt. He owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks and showed no inclination or capacity to repay the money.
Basically, Trump needed money and the Russian bandits had money they needed to launder. It was a match made in heaven.
Russians, through shell companies, bought his condos and propped him up. In 2002, after Trump went belly up in Atlantic City, he was bailed out by Bayrock, a real estate development company with ties to Mogilevich. Bayrock moved into Trump Tower. Felix Sater, a convicted Russian mobster and money launderer, was senior advisor to the Trump Organization and partnered with Bayrock.
Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a house from Trump, paying $55 million more than Trump paid (a way to pump money to Trump).
In 2006 Russians financed building Trump SoHo and gave Trump 18% of the profits, though he did nothing.
“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” said Trump, Jr.
April 2013: The FBI arrested 29 men for running gambling rings in Trump Tower.
The Russian Agalarov family, who had longstanding ties to Trump, offered to help when Trump decided to run for president and initiated the famous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. (Coincidence? Nah.)
III. The Authoritarian-Putin Love Affair
Political psychologists have defined the authoritarian personality.
Those with this disposition despise the weak and worship those they think are strong. They are averse to complexity (which includes diversity). They prefer sameness and uniformity and have “cognitive limitations.” They’re “simpleminded avoiders of complexity.” (For more, see this article by Karen Stenner and Jon Haight and this article on right-wing authoritarianism.)
Those with an authoritarian disposition have a “bias against different others” (racial and ethnic outgroups, immigrants).
Karen Stenner’s research has led her to conclude that those with authoritarian dispositions make up about 1/3 of the population. This percentage occurs across cultures.
What all of this means is that right-wing authoritarians positively worship someone like Putin, who has positioned himself as a strongman and the savior of the white race and Christianity.
IV. Authoritarianism Is Part of Our History
Lots of people are expressing amazement that anyone would admire Putin. Here’s a Republican:
People (particularly Republicans) who are surprised by the praise for Putin miss an important part of American history: Autocracy is deep in our history. A multiracial democracy didn’t come to America until recently.
Slavery was autocratic. Jim Crow was autocratic. The GOP’s pushback against America transitioning to a true multiracial democracy goes hand-in-hand with supporting a dictator like Putin. It’s perfectly consistent.
Putin stages elections in which the result is known beforehand. Members of the GOP were cool with fair elections when the choice was between two white men. Now . . . not so much.
In these books and elsewhere, Heather Cox Richardson explains that we’ve had two oligarchies and we’re slipping toward a third. The first was slavery when wealthy plantation owners—who were 1% of the population—controlled all three branches of government.
Next came the age of robber barons when industrialists had the power to exploit workers, manipulate markets, fix prices, grab women, and kill Black people who tried to vote. That’s the oligarchy the GOP wants to recreate. That’s what they mean by Make America Great “Again.”
It’s only relatively recently in our history that America has begun moving toward a true multiracial democracy—and the backlash has been fierce. We’re still riding that backlash.
It also explains why so many Republicans praise Putin.
IV. Putin Bombs Ukraine, Republicans Try to Backpedal
At the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Republicans like Tucker Carlson praised Putin. Here is a recap of Carlson’s recent commentary on Putin and Ukraine:
- It’s “not un-American” to support Putin
- Democrats will find you guilty of treason if you don’t hate Putin
- The whole thing is simply a “border dispute”
- “Ukraine is not a democracy”
- Ukraine is a “puppet” of the West
(The above list is from this Vanity Fair article.)
At a Mar-a-Lago event just before the invasion, Trump said, “Putin is smart. He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart.”
Trump’s secretary of state also praised Putin as “strong.”
Then, something happened. The Russians invaded Ukraine but didn’t cruise to a quick and easy victory. Each day that the spunky Ukrainians, led by President Zelenskyy, held out, world opinion hardened against Russia.
Putin’s allies in Eastern Europe, including the most pro-Kremlin leaders, condemned Putin’s actions. Czech President Miloš Zeman and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “didn’t mince words” as they condemned the attack. They might admire Putin and share his authoritarian instincts, but their nations suffered at the hands of the former Soviet Union, and they were obviously not interested in Putin trying to reassemble a Russian empire. It was also obvious that after Ukraine, they’d be next.
The West moved swiftly to impose sanctions.
Zelenskyy emerged as a hero. And . . . Republicans began jumping ship, starting with Sen. Ron Johnson who condemned Putin’s attack on Ukraine.
Carlson did an about-face so fast you’d think he would have gotten whiplash. He said: “It’s a tragedy, because war always is a tragedy, and the closer you get to it, the more horrifying it seems. Vladimir Putin started this war, so whatever the context of the decision that he made, he did it. He fired the first shots. He is to blame for what we’re seeing tonight in Ukraine.”
Don’t let them jump ship. Don’t let anyone forget. Their pro-Putin position should be in political ads and should be the theme for the midterms.
Each and every Republican who enabled Trump and thus enabled Putin must go down with Putin’s ship.
V. The Good News
As of now, it looks like the Ukrainians will not only stand up to Putin, but create a sea change in how the world treats Putin.
More good news: remember the doomsday stories about how, without new voting rights legislation, the Republicans would gerrymander their way to a majority in Congress (even though they are a minority of the population)? Well, that fear came to nothing. As things stand now with the redistricting, Democrats are picking up 12 seats and may do even better.
VI. And Now, the Bad News
I have no words other than this: If the Ukrainians hold out and Putin is defeated but the Republicans gain control of the United States government, authoritarianism will remain entrenched.
It should be obvious that the problem is a political one: Here’s the thing about democracy. At any time, a majority can vote in candidates who promise to (and ultimately manage to) destroy democracy and replace it with something else.
The solution: Each of us becoming a political activist to make sure the party that enabled Trump and Putin does not regain power in November. I’ve been signing up for shifts on a voter protection hotline. Texas held its primary on Tuesday, March 8, and I helped voters sort out their registration. What do you plan to do?
This article originally appeared on Teri Kanfield’s blog.
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