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To Russia With Love?

As Russia barrels toward a deeper and bloodier invasion of Ukraine, leading lights of the American “right” – such as it is – are insisting [1] America [2] should give [3] Putin what [4] he wants [5]. Most of them hide their position behind things like commonality of language and regionalism – the very excuses the Nazi regime used on several neighbors in the 1930s and the British used on Ireland for nearly all of the second millennium.

A few go straight to the old isolationist arguments about how it’s “not worth it” for Americans. All ignore or oppose the myriad of options between Ukrainian surrender and World War III, thus making the former seem so much more “reasonable.” Assuming none of them would have given Mikhail Gorbachev’s Kremlin the latitude Putin’s gets – and I say that as a compliment to them; Gorbachev deserved no latitude after the bleeding of Vilnius [6] – something else is going on here.

A clue comes in the other recent obsession on the right – “critical race theory.” Outside just slapping the label on every cultural discussion they don’t like [7], the main problem these folks seem to have with CRT is its assertion that institutional racism is still a serious problem in America. These folks insist that any racist policies are so long ago – and authored by Democrats [8] – that their political vehicle (the Republican Party) is racially innocent.

The trouble comes with the dog that doesn’t bark [9].

FDR made racial segregation the law of the land. Ta-Nehisi Coates [10] provides the hideous details.

In 1934, Congress created the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured private mortgages, causing a drop in interest rates and a decline in the size of the down payment required to buy a house. But an insured mortgage was not a possibility for Clyde Ross. The FHA had adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability. On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro.” These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated “D” and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. They were colored in red. Neither the percentage of black people living there nor their social class mattered. Black people were viewed as a contagion.

“A government offering such bounty to builders and lenders could have required compliance with a nondiscrimination policy,” Charles Abrams, the urban-studies expert who helped create the New York City Housing Authority, wrote in 1955. “Instead, the FHA adopted a racial policy that could well have been culled from the Nuremberg laws.”

In other words, the most successful political Democrat in American history instituted a policy specifically aimed at making it harder for Black Americans to acquire property. If that isn’t institutional racism, then nothing is.

Indeed, the FHA outrage is a reminder of the institutions that create institutional racism – namely, governments. Conservatives as a whole used to understand this. Some still claim to do so. Yet the most obvious, useful, and impactful political weapon they could use against Democrats and against the political left (both of whom unfortunately still venerate FDR) is left unfired. Why?

Answering that question brings the domestic and the international together. These paragons of the 21st century American right aren’t interested in limited government or the fate of democracy anymore. They would rather a foreign tyrant win their culture wars for them.

The Putinism-anti-LGBTQ+ axis is nearly a decade old – and I’m far from the first one [11] to sound an alarm about it. As for white supremacy, Just Security [12] has the most detailed analysis of “the current nexus between Western right-wing extremists and Russian actors at the state and non-state level” (my own effort [13] pales in comparison).

This is not to say that Putin created these problems; he clearly didn’t. But he has made them his opportunities to divide and weaken the democratic world – so much so that one cannot truly confront them without confronting him (and vice versa). Thanks to Putin, these forces are no longer independent problems. He has connected them into a multi-faceted effort to bring down democracy and bring up dictatorships.

Sadly, far too many in the American right are more than happy to let the Kremlin run roughshod over the democratic world because Russia is whiter or Putin is more homophobic/transphobic than America is. Of course, for the pictured leader of the GOP, it’s clearly both.

It should surprise no one that Trump was the main conduit for the right’s love for Putin, though he neither is nor was the only one. Trump’s own racism and fondness for Putin made him the perfect vehicle for the capture of the conservative movement.

The Mueller report [14] details the ties between the Trump campaign and Russian intel (to the point of sharing polling data on swing states and ideas for getting Yanukovich back into Ukraine). In 2020, Russian assets in Ukraine were more than happy to feed disinformation [15] for Trump’s re-election to “US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, including some close to former President Trump and his administration.”

What we’re seeing now is the sad fact that Putin-love has spread beyond Donald Trump on the American right – and is all but certain to outlast him.

How many Republicans — I wonder — are truly prepared to cheer on Russian conquests (here and abroad) to validate their racism or their ability to mock marriage equality? How many of them even know which freedoms they hope to keep for themselves as the enablers of a foreign tyrant?

The Russian tyrant is betting on an answer. Given that state of the GOP and Conservatism Inc., he might be right.