Earlier this week at Current I wrote about the conservative nationalists who love Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and (to a lesser extent to be sure) Russian president Vladimir Putin. These critics of American liberalism are in a tough spot these days. Some of them want to condemn the Putin invasion without condemning his Christian nationalism.
In his recent Substack post, Sullivan has some thoughts on all of this. Here is a taste:
Putin’s Russia, like Orban’s Hungary, appealed to many post-liberal conservatives in the West for obvious reasons. Part of it was the shamelessness of the strongmen’s ethnically-homogeneous nationalism, compared with what was seen as the simpering, multicultural globalism of EU types; part was hatred of Obama, who was always deemed weak in contrast with, er, anyone; and part was a more amorphous but nonetheless profound view of Putin and Orban as cultural traditionalists, standing up to Western decadence, as it staggers into its Drag Queen Story Hour hellscape. For besieged social conservatives and Christianists in America, Putin loomed like some phantasm of strange hope.
Steve Bannon summed it up: “Putin ain’t woke. He’s anti-woke.” Congressman Madison Cawthorn took it further: “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt, and it is incredibly evil, and it has been pushing woke ideologies.” That plucky little Zelensky, speaking live to the British House of Commons as bombs rained down on his country’s cities? An “incredibly evil” “thug.” Our old friend Dinesh D’Souza, in his usual temperate style, sees the Democrats as posing “a far greater threat to our freedom and safety than Putin.” And Bannon is still urging his minions to give “zero dollars to Ukraine,” even as the corpses of children lie on the streets. There’s an alt-right edginess to this moral perversity.
And over the years, this drumbeat of love for the Russian dictator shifted the views of many grassroots Republicans. In the wake of Trump’s personal infatuation with Putin, the murderer’s favorability among Republicans jumped from 10 percent in 2014 to 37 percent by December 2016. Until as recently as January this year, “62 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents considered Vladimir Putin a stronger leader than Joe Biden.” That’s the primrose path down which the GOP led its supporters — seeing Putin as a more legitimate president than Biden.
The last two weeks, to put it mildly, have pummeled this narrative. It’s happened in a couple of ways. The first is that there really is no legitimate defense — even at CPAC, the fetid armpit of the Trump right — of sending troops and tanks into a neighboring country to teach it a lesson in submission to Mother Russia. Putin didn’t even use his “little green men” to deny accountability this time. If you’re Bannon, you can still try and wing it, but the sheer sight of bombed hospitals, murdered children, homeless seniors, and mortar explosions in residential neighborhoods tends to shape public opinion overnight.
Not even Tucker Carlson has been able to muster up enough shrill bullshit on that one — which is why his show this week has been a hathos-filled, must-watch spectacle, trying recently to advance Russian propaganda about alleged US-funded “bioweapons” in Ukraine. Was Fauci behind it all? Stay tuned! Yes, you can still make a credible and legitimate argument that the West mishandled Russia in the recent past, and bears some responsibility for the mess. Listen to Mearsheimer for that case. But all of that is now simply blasted away by the facts and visuals of a sudden, brutal, unprovoked invasion, justified by a deranged rant about Russian imperial destiny.
Secondly, and perhaps most important, Putin is failing. He looks weak. The visual of a vast, stalled, vulnerable convoy of trucks on its way — or not — to Kyiv is now a metaphor for Putin’s presidency. The world is currently mocking the decrepitude and amateurishness of the Russian military. We look set for a long bloody struggle to gain some kind of control over Ukraine, followed by an even longer and bloodier insurgency. This “canny” and “savvy” mastermind appears to have sent an unprepared, ill-equipped, misinformed, over-extended army into a massive country it cannot even begin to control let alone occupy. Not exactly “genius.”
Read the entire piece here.
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