Why US Republicans hate Ukrainian democracy
The Trump-Putin Counter-Enlightenment pact
Trump and Putin in 2017 Jorge Silva/AP
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It would have been better for Ukraine if Kyiv had fallen in February 2022, when Putin first sent his forces in, than for Western perfidy to grant Russia victory now.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have died. (The Ukrainian government does not release figures but reliable estimates of the size of the butcher’s bill range from 30,000 to 80,000.) Then there are the civilian deaths from the bombing, the murders and rapes in occupied Ukraine, and the ecological catastrophe caused by the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam.
All that pain, all that blood, all for nothing,
The betrayal will be the worst of it. The West would have promised to stand by its ally and then broken its word and abandoned its friends.
Historians will spend decades examining the motives of US right-wingers if Donald Trump succeeds in persuading them to cut aid to Ukraine.
They will want to find rational reasons for the betrayal as rational people like to do.
And to be fair, there will be rationally explicable reasons. When US Senators say that their voters don’t want them to send money to Ukraine, and prefer to deal with problems closer to home, they make sense.
Voters always object to spending blood and treasure on foreign causes, and supporters of overseas aid should never assume that their arguments will triumph.
But rational explanations on their own cannot explain the behaviour of the US right. A dark and malignant hatred of democracy drives them, and we should not underestimate its power.
The quote I always reach for when I find myself in danger of not taking malice and madness seriously enough came from the historian Norman Cohn. He looked at the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forged document that inspired Nazism by detailing an imaginary Jewish conspiracy.
You could not understand Europe’s descent into with fascism with purely rational explanations.
Instead, Cohn concluded
“There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people.”
What else is Trumpism but a movement of the crooks and half-educated fanatics that has captured American Conservatism?
Ukraine is its enemy because, when he was president, Trump tried to persuade Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a fake allegation that Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into dropping an inquiry into his son Hunter Biden’s lobbying.
True to his mafia boss character, Trump threatened military aid to Ukraine if Zelensky did not cooperate. There was no evidence that Joe Biden took any action to intentionally benefit his son. To his credit Zelensky refused to agree to set-up Biden, and right-wing America hated him for that.
They hated it too when Democrats tried to impeach Trump for soliciting the help of a foreign country to smear a rival. And I should note in passing here that the supposed isolationists of the Republican party are very keen on foreign entanglements when they provide opportunities for political and financial corruption.
As a result, the pathological fantasies of MAGA world include a hatred of Ukraine, which like so many of the calumnies of the far right (and left) include elements of almost sexual disgust.
Readers who hope for rational explanations should try to explain away Tucker Carlson. Before he flew to Moscow to interview Putin on bended knee, Carlson described Zelensky as being like a “manager of a strip club demanding money”. From what dark closet in his mind, did that strip club come from?
Republicans are punishing Ukraine for refusing to go along with Trump’s schemes against his rival. Their partisan hatreds are so extreme that anyone who does not do down Biden must be their enemy.
But the malice runs deeper than mere partisanship. Vladimir Putin is explicitly in the mental world of the counter-Enlightenment.
He showed it towards the end of Carlson’s interview, when he turned sentimental, and not only out of gratitude for the easy ride his Quisling questioner offered.
Russians were more natural and less alienated from God and nature than soulless materialistic westerners, Putin said.
“It is in the heart,” the dictator explained. “Our culture is so human-oriented. Dostoevsky, who is very well known in the West as the genius of Russian culture, spoke a lot about this, about the Russian soul…Russian people think more about the eternal, about moral values.”
The eternally moral Russian people are now on Putin’s orders engaged in mass murder, rape, and the abduction of Ukrainian children in an illegal invasion of a sovereign democratic state.
The easy thing to say in these circumstances is that Putin is as great a hypocrite as the evangelical Christians who worship Donald Trump, even though he is intimate with all of the seven deadly sins, and would discover the eighth and the ninth if they were there to find.
But sentimentality is often on reverse side of barbarism’s coin. Like a gangster who loves his dear old mother, Russian nationalism has always combined sickly praise for the Russian soul with the utmost brutality.
Putin was endorsing the sentimentality and barbarity of the 19th century Slavophile movement.
It saw Russians as a pure people uncorrupted by modernity. For Dostoyevsky the most vulgar Russian peasant was better than an intellectual because the peasant feared God.
Meanwhile Tolstoy believed that simple Russians were “less intellectually corrupted” than Westerners. They will “understand at last where the means of salvation lie and will be the first to begin to apply it.”
Quoting Tolstoy and Dostoevsky may seem benign. Who does not occasionally think that the honest peasant knows more than the pretentious intellectual?
In Russia’s case the Slavophile myth of the virtuous Russian soul allowed first the Tsars in the 19th century and now Putin to justify the suppression of democracy. Free societies and human rights were corrupt western imports that would only spoil Russians.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the other early fascist conspiracy theories, which Norman Cohn studied, did not come from Nazi Germany but from Tsarist Russia. Their central propaganda message was that Western democracy, rights, liberties and freedoms were shams that hid a conspiracy of the real rulers of the world.
In the case of tsarism and fascism, and today some versions of Islamism and far leftism, it is a conspiracy of Jews.
In the case of Donald Trump and the Republicans it is a conspiracy of Democrats rigging ballot machines.
In the case of Putin, it is a conspiracy of Western deviants.
As Ian Garner and other scholars have emphasised, the Putin regime now uses homophobia as the Nazis used antisemitism.
For instance, speaking in the Kremlin last year Putin began by denying that Ukraine was a democracy. True to fascist form he said that its “real masters” lay in the “dictatorship of the Western elites”.
These elites were engaged in a “complete denial of humanity [and] the overthrow of faith and traditional values.” They wanted nothing less than “outright satanism.” And the satanism of the West manifests itself in its sexual diversity. Putin would not allow “here, in our country, in Russia, instead of 'mum' and 'dad', to have 'parent No. 1', 'parent No. 2', 'No. 3'?
The American right, of course, is keener on fighting the war on the woke than winning the war in Ukraine.
Get down into the subterranean world and an alliance between Republicans and Russian nationalists can now make sense.
Neither believes in democracy.
Both see it as a sham that hides the influence of the puppet masters who rig elections and control society.
And finally, both think they have a God-given right to rule, quite literally so. Trump’s evangelical base is theocratic rather than democratic, while Putin rules with the blessing of Russian Orthodox church.
Who guessed even 10 years ago that these criminals and fanatics from the sewers of politics would control our future?
But control it they do, and it will take a superhuman effort to rid ourselves of them.
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