Pro-Putin Republicans Evoke A Sinister Parallel In America's History
More aid to Ukraine is coming. That’s a very good thing. Most recently, the Biden administration announced that the latest package will consist of “Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, surface to air missiles, ammunition, and other items to support Ukraine as it bravely defends its people, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity.” However, it has been reported that the deal cut by new House Squeaker Kevin McCarthy and the right-wing extremists who opposed him getting the speaker job commits him to severely restricting future aid to Ukraine. House Republicans aim to impose a radical shift on U.S. policy.
In fact, McCarthy had announced last October that his party would block any additional aid for Ukraine when they took over the lower chamber of Congress. In public at least, he's since tried to walk a fine line about what he actually meant, but he can’t unsay what he said. As fellow Republican former Rep. Adam Kinzinger rightly pointed out regarding McCarthy’s statement, “what he did … you’re giving aid and comfort to the enemy, intentionally or unintentionally.” Personally, I’m not sure the intent even matters.
As Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who wields more power in the new Congress than ever before, stated, “you’ve heard Leader McCarthy say publicly that he doesn’t see very good odds for much funding for Ukraine going forward in a Republican-controlled conference.” She has clearly expressed her own viewpoint on the matter.
\u201cGreene: Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine..\u201d— Acyn (@Acyn) 1667512289
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky summed it up in a December 21 address, wearing his trademark military green to provide a visual reminder of what is at stake. He told a joint session of Congress that “your money is not charity,” but instead “an investment in … global security and democracy.” It’s worth noting that Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who oppose more support for Ukraine, disdainfully eschewed applauding the visiting president as he walked into the House chamber to a thunderous ovation from most members of Congress.
The petulant pair also refused to go through a Capitol security screening before entering, showing a clear lack of respect for the risk Zelensky had taken to travel outside his country while at war. Before the speech, Greene attacked Zelensky as well.
Beyond the national security implications, the significant outright support in the Trumpist right wing for Putin’s absolutely unconscionable invasion of Russia’s neighbor (although at least Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back against the notion of withdrawing support for Ukraine, as have some Republicans in the House, such as Rep. Michael McCaul) reveals something deeper and, in its own way, more sinister. As Markos Moulitsas noted in Daily Kos, “There’s a reason MAGA Republicans are so enchanted by Putin.”
As for Trump himself, he’s long been Putin’s puppet, as Hillary Clinton so aptly put it in 2016 and helpfully reiterated in 2019 when even more damaging information broke about the relationship between the two men.
As for why that is, we don’t really know, although it seems likely that the absurd obeisance the twice-impeached former guy pays to Vlad is transactional in some way—he’s got something on Trump. With Greene and the other Trumpers, they suck up to Russia’s current dictator at least in part because they do as Trump does. But there’s also an ideological component to their behavior.
Trump himself may have no coherent ideology separate from whatever serves his own personal gain in the moment, and he certainly seems to admire anyone—ranging from Putin to Hungarian far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Chinese President Xi Jinping—he feels is controversial and rules in a way that benefits them. But these extremists in government and outside it (Carlson has oozed praise for the Putin regime to the point where clips of him appear on Russian state media) do seem to sincerely believe in the supremacy of white Christian “values,” if one can use such a word to describe what basically amounts to straight-up hate.
These white Christian nationalists see a kindred spirit in the Russian president. Putin has repeatedly emphasized—both in terms of rhetoric and policy—a brand of conservative Christianity that his American supporters can only fantasize about seeing from our government. Last year, Russia amended its constitution specifically to outlaw same-sex marriage. On Dec. 5, Putin signed into law new legislation that makes it realistically impossible for LGBTQ people to express any aspect of their sexual orientation or gender identity in public. This is on top of already existing restrictions on doing so. Technically, being gay is not illegal, not yet at least. You just can’t talk about it to anyone else.
Putin’s own words have been even more hateful. He has hammered the idea of a “battle for cultural supremacy” between Russia—the champion of Christianity and “traditional” values—and a supposedly godless West besotten with gender fluidity, acceptance of aberrant sexual orientations, and hatred of God. Here’s more foulness straight from the (shirtless guy on the) horse’s mouth earlier this fall:
"If Western elites believe that they can inculcate in the minds of their people, in their societies, some strange but trendy tendencies, such as dozens of gay pride parades, then so be it. Let them do whatever they want, but they certainly have no right to demand that others follow the same."
The Russian president has sought to directly exploit ideological divisions within American society and align with the right wing, saying recently: “In the U.S., there’s a very strong part of the public who maintain traditional values, and they’re with us." Putin has even based tactical military decisions in Ukraine—specifically the timing of Russia’s withdrawal from the key city of Kherson—on his desire to support Republicans over President Joe Biden in the recent midterms. And that’s all in addition to years spent trying to influence American voters through disinformation and other underhanded tactics in order to benefit the Party of Trump.
Rev. Pamela Cooper-White, who teaches psychology and religion at Union Theological Seminary, is the author of the book The Psychology of Christian Nationalism. She analyzed the phenomenon of white Christian nationalists loving Putin in a recent article for the Chicago Tribune. Cooper-White cited as an example a statement by a Republican U.S. Senate candidate made at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC): “Russia is a Christian nationalist nation. … I identify more with Russians’, with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden’s.” She also noted that when white Christian nationalist, antisemite, and Trump dinner partner Nick Fuentes asked for the audience at the right-wing America First Political Action Conference to applaud for Putin earlier this year, they happily obliged. More recently, Fuentes proclaimed in an appearance on lying scumbag Alex Jones’ Infowars that he is “very pro-Putin” and “very pro-Russia.”
These extreme views don’t exist in a vacuum. They are indicative of the swath of Americans who identify as Christian nationalists—many of whom have quietly held their pro-Putin views for decades. They admire Putin because they see him as promoting their own conservative views on cultural issues, like attacking LGBTQ+ rights. More insidiously, they also admire Putin because they see him as a macho white Christian man who is willing to use deadly force against his enemies—something, alarmingly, that they’d like to see in the United States as well.
Putin might seem like a strange bedfellow for conservative Americans, much less for Christian nationalists. But the Christian nationalist agenda is more nationalist and right-wing than Christian. In contrast to patriotism, which is love of country, nationalism aims to grant political preeminence to a particular ethnic group as the true inheritors of their country’s character. In short, white nationalists use Christianity as a cover for a more dangerous core agenda: white supremacy.
The Christian Right’s love for Putin goes back many years, and goes far beyond Trump. Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis sociologist Andrew Whitehead, author of Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States, spoke to Slate about this. Whitehead summarized how these right-wing extremists feel toward Vlad: “If we can have a strongman protect our cultural heritage and values, that’s what we want” because “we want a fighter.”
One might think that what McCarthy, Greene, Carlson, and their ilk are doing on behalf of a foreign government is unprecedented. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We have experienced this brand of our own public figures selling out American interests on ideological grounds before—an episode in our history that has largely been forgotten, much to our detriment.
Charles Lindbergh was many things. At one point, he was almost certainly the most famous man in America. Lindbergh was the most accomplished aviator of his time, having made the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1927 in his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis. Five years after this incredible achievement, his family suffered a horrific tragedy. The Lindberghs’ newborn baby was kidnapped and, two months later, found murdered. Lindbergh had virtually every American’s respect and deep sympathy.
But the story didn’t end there. Over the next few years, Lindbergh revealed that he was also a white supremacist and a virulent antisemite, which was all too common at that time, but—and this was not acceptable—he was an open Nazi sympathizer as well. He admired Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler specifically because he shared their genocidal worldview. In a 1941 speech urging the U.S. to stay out of World War II, he spouted his hateful beliefs to millions of Americans in a way that left no doubt.
However, for years prior to that point, Lindbergh and his fellow isolationists at the America First Committee (yes, that’s the same phrase Trump has used to label his foreign policy beliefs) had tried to block President Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to provide military and other assistance to those countries at war with Hitler. This included the Lend-Lease Act, which Biden has revived as part of our effort to assist Ukraine’s defense. Beyond Lindbergh, antisemitism pervaded the America First Committee, as Williams College historian of FDR Susan Dunn explained:
Seeking to brand itself as a mainstream organization, America First struggled with the problem of the anti-Semitism of some of its leaders and many of its members. It had to remove from its executive committee not only the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford but also Avery Brundage, the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who had prevented two Jewish runners from the American track team in Berlin in 1936 from running in the finals of the 4x100 relay.
There exist strong parallels between today's pro-Putin, right-wing neo-isolationists and the isolationist movement championed by Lindbergh and America First in the days and months leading up to Pearl Harbor. In both cases, the isolationists not only wanted to stop our government from supporting those being attacked by murderous aggressors, but many of them did so at least in part because they shared the hateful ideas and policies put forth by those aggressors.
In other words, then and now we have powerful elements that sublimate America’s national security interests in favor of supporting a regime with an ideology they agree with, and which they care about more than they do our country.
Returning to the present, the pro-Putin radicals have had a major impact on public opinion, at least on the right. Back in March, only 6% of Republicans said that the U.S. was offering too much assistance to Ukraine. What’s the number how? Try 48%, according to a Wall Street Journalpoll. A series of polls from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found a similar drop in support among Republicans for our government providing aid to Ukraine. A CBS News/YouGov poll done in January likewise found that 52% of Republican respondents—and 64% of self-identified "MAGA Republicans"—wanted their representative in Congress to oppose more aid to Ukraine. Polling overall shows a clear partisan divide on support for Ukraine aid. Apparently, a whole lot of people in the GQP listen to Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Rep. "Jewish Space Laser "herself introduced a resolution to “audit” U.S. assistance to Ukraine. Such an audit would—wait for it—give Greene and her colleagues access to communications from within the Biden White House on anything they deem Ukraine-related. The chances of such access not resulting ultimately in bullshit-laden partisan hearings are about the same as that of The Man Who Lost an Election and Tried To Steal It making it through a waking hour without lying—or whining that he’s a “victim,” for that matter. Given what we’ve seen from audits pushed by Trumpers in support of the 2020 Big Lie, we know exactly what the goal here would be: Mislead the public and undermine support for Ukraine.
In the end, the lame duck session of Congress did approve enough additional aid so that Ukraine can continue to both fight at a high level and maintain the basic needs of its people in the face of Putin’s brutal invasion. Comments from Senate Republicans demonstrate their understanding of what a McCarthy/Greene-led House would do on this issue of vital importance.
“I think what some people are concerned about is the change in the House,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told The Hill on Wednesday.
“I think there’s some questions as to what the House is going to do once a change is over,” [Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security] added. “We’ll just have to see how that falls out. I can’t make a prediction there.”
Given that Republicans generally abide by Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment and refrain from criticizing their fellow travelers, such statements translate roughly as “those are some absolute, utter nincompoops in the House, and we don’t trust them any farther than we can throw Trump.”
So yes, this round of aid was authorized and will be delivered, pushing the total from the U.S. to about $100 billion—a good bit more than all the European countries (EU plus U.K.) combined. But who knows what will happen if, or more likely when, more aid for Ukraine proves necessary? More broadly, the pro-Putin sentiments embraced by Greene and her compatriots—echoed by the new speaker of the House, no less—exemplify the moral rot and downright anti-Americanism that has saturated the Trumpist right wing.
That right wing and Vladimir Putin are both, in short, white Christian nationalists. Spewing that kind of bile may not be a crime in strictly legal terms (although anyone who actually has read Jesus’ teachings knows that, as we learned from The Shawshank Redemption, his judgment cometh, and that right soon).
The travesty is that these fools have chosen to put their ideological commitment above their supposed commitment to what is best for America. Gaining power within the U.S. government is merely a means to the end of advancing white Christian nationalism, even if doing so stands in opposition to what is best for our country. Their actions on Ukraine may not exactly be treason, but they sure as hell ain’t patriotism.
Ian Reifowitz is the author of The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (foreword by Markos Moulitsas).
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.
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