I could launch into a fiery diatribe at many traits which mark your commentary, but throwing red meat out to an audience who have dispensed with National Review long ago would be pointless. Fun, but pointless. Instead, I want to try to help you understand just why you are losing your audience, something you yourself acknowledge, referring to your brand of ‘conservatism’ as being in the “rear-view mirror”1.
You lamented in that article that the gulf between the European right and the American so-called right was closing, punctuated by the appearance of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen at CPAC. I don’t really want to address this broad topic because your post suggests you do understand what is driving this move. However, inserted into that article, like a petulant little spit on the page, you write, as its own paragraph, “Another man she shares values with is Putin, her financial patron.”
If we look at your other recent contribution to the magazine, which claims that the United States is “under attack”2, we find this same tired outrage at Russia and its president. This article can only be described as exceptionally silly and joins the thousands of other accusatory articles which present no actual evidence, just quotes from people who say they have seen evidence, and have every self-interested reason to claim they’ve seen evidence. Even if we went by what we are told now, a sober assessment would say that at worst, Russia spent some minuscule amount of money on fizzled protests and badly targeted social media campaigns. Truly nefarious for sure! I’m going to assume your sentiment is more than bitter never-Trumpism, and that you genuinely think Russia is some hostile bogeyman. That’s fine, but as I think you know, people on the right in the United States are increasingly wary of this anti-Russian hysteria. Let’s examine some facts.
Firstly, the United States and Russia have not always been adversarial. During the era of the Russian Empire, the royal family made some pretty disastrous geopolitical mistakes which were, in fact, beneficial to your country, including refusing requests by the British to help crush the American Revolution, opening expansive trade ties with the young country, and even cordially selling Alaska on the cheap. So long as America remained a respectful power in its own region, concerned with its own domestic affairs and the protection of South American states (its natural sphere of influence) from European revanchism, there really was no inherent hostility between the two nations3.
During the Cold War, things, of course, changed dramatically, and the two were locked in both an ideological fight to the death, and a game of geostrategic tic-tac-toe. Throughout this period, the American government essentially indoctrinated its citizens to utterly loathe everything Russian (and vice versa of course), and I have no doubt considering your age that you were subjected to this. There were strong, and largely truthful propaganda points about the Soviet Union to kindle such a fierce loathing and fear. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state which murdered scores of individuals in pursuit of an ideal, professed a godless and mechanical world where the secret police and their web of informants reigned supreme. Doubtlessly your idea of how bad this actually was in the post-Stalin era is probably exaggerated, but nevertheless one can see why the vast majority of Americans, regardless of their politics, agreed that the Soviets were bad guys.
That was a different age.
When the Russian Federation was born, a whole new campaign of ‘othering’ was launched against this new state by people such as yourself, a campaign you have continued right up to the present day, with the sole aim of preventing any rapprochement between the two sides. For the uneducated, the Soviet terror can continue, as is seen when Republican politicians accidentally refer to “the Soviets” doing such and such somewhere4. For everyone else, you must construct a new idea of what “they” are, and what “they” are up to, with Putin being a useful figurehead to point to and blame for virtually everything, most recently the collapse of your stale political discourse which was doing nobody any favours.So why is your message failing? Why has Republican sentiment on Russia seen a dramatic turnaround5 despite your pleas?
Firstly, most conservatives in America are Christians. Demonizing men who literally drowned priests in the Volga River is pretty easy. Demonizing men who get baptized in it isn’t. Vladimir Putin speaks about the faith in a far more authentic way than any recent Republican leaders (least of all Trump) have done6. I’m sure you assume he’s faking it, but the evidence speaks for itself, from the sheer number of churches built and restored under his leadership7, to the increasing space for religion in public education, to laws against the propagation of homosexuality and blasphemy8. Yes, yes, I know it’s convenient for you to laud degenerates like Pussy Riot, but honestly Jay, if a group of punk rockers in balaclavas began desecrating a church in America, you probably wouldn’t hold them up as heroes of “free speech” (whatever that means in the land of “Bake the damn cake!”). You could then I suppose invent all kinds of calumnies against the Russian Orthodox Church, how it is corrupt and a tool of government control. Firstly, for every corrupt priest there may be in Russia, there is a Joel Osteen in America huckstering his latest self-help nonsense, and secondly, the conservative position (even the classical American variety) essentially endorses religion as a means of government control. A Republican congressman recently claimed that the solution to school shootings was to reintroduce prayer in school9, and considering what this means when reduced to its raw elements, it indicates that religion can share some burden in reducing crime which the state would otherwise have to deal with. Whether you think the congressman was right or not, he is maintaining a pretty standard conservative doxy, that religion cannot be separated from society, and should serve in areas where the government alone may be insufficient. Christianity has held this to be true since… I don’t know… its inception? Whether they admit it or not, conservatives in the United States admire what Vladimir Putin has done socially in his country. Why? Because the things he has done are essentially conservative. There is no way to spin them as anything else.
Then, of course, you have the fall back of calling Russia things like “a mafia state”, and complaining that its elite are financial criminals engaged in all kinds of nepotism and underhandedness, all the way up to murder! Nobody can doubt Vladimir Putin has become a rich man through politics. Unfortunately, you can’t name a single president or politician in the United States (perhaps save Jimmy Carter who was likely just too clueless to enrich himself) who has not entered politics a mere salesman and left it a multi-millionaire. We could get into the Clinton Foundation10, Bush’s lucrative connections with big oil and defense contractors11, the USPS windfall for the Feinstein family12, the revolving door of lobbyists13, and on and on. If states, where the officials get rich, are ‘mafia states’ then America is the biggest mafia state of all time. But then, of course, one has this idea that the Russian government randomly murders its enemies. Firstly, within Russia the people who think this is the case are the equivalent of those Americans who think the CIA bumped off Kennedy and that Seth Rich was probably assassinated by the Clinton campaign. Note I’m not saying that any of these claims are untrue, but you cannot accept the conspiracy theories of one country and reject your own. Russia is a dangerous place. Often the actual mafia kills people who get involved with it, or the irate Chechens send someone to deal with a vocal critic. You could relate such killings to the government of course, but then you could also relate Lee Harvey Oswald to the US government as well. Maybe we should climb down from the ivory towers in fantasy-land and just admit it; states kill people, inside and outside their borders. This has happened since the dawn of civilization, and your country is no exception. The CIA has undoubtedly killed American citizens, just as MI5 have undoubtedly killed British citizens, and yes, the FSB has most certainly killed Russian citizens. Conservatives inherently know this is true because unlike liberals they don’t have fantasies about what immaculate things governments are. Hence, when you say Putin had some guy whacked… well, whoop de doo. I’m not going to list the countries around the world allied to America who are more than open about their own ‘whacking’ industry.
I observe you also tried to gin up American sympathy for opposition figures in Russia last year, declaring “Are they less Russian than Putin?”14. Let me ask, is Richard Spencer (equivalently fringe in America) any less American than you? While you’re chewing that one over, just admit that you know well enough all the people you listed are not popular inside Russia, that Putin is not ‘rigging’ those polls that give him such astronomical approval15, that Ksenia Sobchak who wants to enshrine gay marriage is probably not Russia’s Aung San Suu Kyii. Let’s be real.
Then we come to the global stage. Russia is, of course, the bad guy because it is an expansionist power! They’re taking over America’s former stomping grounds in Syria and enabling the use of chemical weapons! They invaded Georgia! They annexed Crimea in brutal Hitlerific fashion! IT’S HAPPENING AGAIN!
Calm down, Jay. Syria was never your stomping ground16, and conservatives know this, therefore they know that Russia is not diminishing American influence in a place where it never existed. Conservatives also know that America happily used chemical weapons on Vietnam17 and that notwithstanding, its intelligence agencies have a track record of lying and fabricating evidence about other countries regarding weapons of mass destruction18. Also, do you remember that weird episode where your government trained the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter to lie to Congress about the Iraqi army savagely throwing babies out of incubators?19 Yeah, conservatives maybe also reminisce about that when your politicians are grotesquely recounting the horrors supposedly perpetrated by a giraffe-looking ophthalmologist who celebrates Christmas. Not for nothing, but they are also probably aware that the other side in Syria has genocidal intentions20, and that the country’s Christians overwhelmingly back their president21. I know, I know, you can’t report on those Christians too much because it would mess up the narrative, but conservatives know about them.
Conservatives also might know that Georgia only ever owned Abkhazia and South Ossetia on paper, and that in 2008, the bouncing munchkin then-president who I’m now not sure if he is a Georgian, a Ukrainian, or a Martian, decided to start killing peacekeepers who had been there since the 90s, only to get his ass handed to him22. Oh, he then also got his ass handed to him again by his own citizens who threw him out of the country for… wait for it… corruption and murdering political opponents23. He’s now basically a professional troll24.
Conservatives also might know that the Republican Party’s interest in Ukraine is maybe three minutes old, that it’s hard to attack the AltRight as neo-nazis while John McCain is giving speeches with Banderists25, and that the Nuland state department actively overthrew an elected government in a move that has proved disastrous for the country26. When you add to this that Crimea’s population is majority Russian27, that nobody disputes the actual result of their independence referendum28, and that if a violent revolution had overthrown Canada’s government on promises of turning Ottawa towards Beijing that American ‘little green men’ would have been all over it, conservatives just might not be as passionate about the Ukrainian cause as I know you are.
The core claims against Putin, that he’s evil, that he’s exceptionally corrupt, that he’s a Hitler in the making, all of these are as unbelievable to American conservatives as the phony ‘Russian hacking’ scandal that your magazine continues to endorse. For a long time, you’ve gotten your way, telling voters that while their values and beliefs are important, the interests of world-police international liberalism inc. come first, which means a mandatory two minute hate every day against the Russian state until it returns to the Yeltsin era. I’m sorry to say it’s wearing thin. American conservatives know Russia is not a threat to them, but in fact an ally at this point, just like the right wing in France, Poland, and Hungary whom you’ve also decried for similar reasons29. Consider the position of Chilean conservatives back when you gave Pinochet a leg-up? Remember those halcyon days, Jay? Back when meddling around the world for the right wing cause was A-OK? And even if we for a moment indulge this dream that it was all Putin, the grand puppet master, who stopped a Hillary presidency with his sinister army of Twitter bots, that he stopped the millions of bloc-voting ethnics and college queers from crowning the living pantsuit queen of the land… would that really make him such a bad guy? The case for the sanctity of American elections is more than a little undermined when your own officials admit on camera that they interfere in other countries’ elections all the time30.
All I’m asking you to do, Jay, is to consider why Putin’s stock might have risen in American right-wing circles, and if there is actually a legitimate argument to be made for ‘Putin: the conservative’. Maybe, just maybe, McCain is a dangerous loon, Navalny and Saakashvili are impious little clowns, Assad is doing what’s ultimately best for Syria, and Christian conservatives are not so far apart from that rascally ‘KGB thug’ giving the liberal world order a headache.
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Nordlinger J. Russian Attacks on American and Other Democracies: An Issue to Confront. Where Is Trump?. Nationalreview.com. 2018. Available at: https://www.nationalreview.com/blog/corner/frankly-the-united-states-is-under-attack/. ↩
Lucakz J. America And Russia, Americans And Russians. American Heritage. 1992. Available at: https://www.americanheritage.com/content/america-and-russia-americans-and-russians. Accessed February 23, 2018. ↩
Shahid A. Why So Some Republicans Keep Calling Russia the 'Soviet Union?'. MSNBC. 2012. Available at: http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/why-do-some-republicans-keep-calling-rus. ↩
Nussbaum M. Poll: Republicans' Confidence in Russia's Putin on the Rise. Politico. 2017. Available at: https://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/16/poll-republicans-putin-russia-confidence-241701. ↩
Woods M. Russian Orthodox Church Revival Under Putin Continues. Christian Today. 2016. Available at: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/russian-orthodox-church-revival-under-putin-continues/78687.htm. ↩
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Meyer T. Lobbyist Revenue Healthy But Down From 'Bonanza' of Early Obama Years. Politico. 2018. Available at: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/24/lobbyist-revenue-down-from-obama-years-367465. ↩
Nordlinger J. The Marine (Le Pen) Corps, &c. Nationalreview.com. 2017. Available at: https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/03/marine-le-pen-corps-c-jay-nordlingers-impromptus-march-13-2017/. ↩
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Antidze M. Georgian Prosecutors Charge Ex-president Saakashvili. Reuters.com. 2014. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-saakashvili-charges/georgian-prosecutors-charge-ex-president-saakashvili-idUSKBN0FX15M20140728. ↩
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