One full year after Vladimir Putin’s cowardly rape of Ukraine, his MAGA idolators remain steadfastly in his camp. On its face their love for the Russian dictator understandably looks like a perversion, a betrayal of old-style conservative values. After all, wasn’t the Republican Party once the proverbial vanguard of anti-Soviet rhetoric? And isn’t Vladimir Putin a modern champion of Stalin-era ethos? Indeed, isn’t Vlad himself the ultimate embodiment of the anti-American trope?
It isn’t a good look, but it’s one that many Republicans unabashedly — even comfortably — wear these days. But why do Republicans insist on a stance that makes them look like comic book villains siding with evil dictators against noble Ukrainian warriors defending their homeland? Is their bizarre, truly unpatriotic affinity for a man so utterly foreign to traditional Americans values nothing more than the ultimate destination of the hypocrisy of evil? Perhaps, but I think there’s something more lurking behind their disturbed (and disturbing) behaviour.
Consider the twofold reality of Donald Trump’s bizarre fascination with Putin (and other wicked tyrants) and the unquestionable fascination many MAGA Republicans have for Hitler and Nazi symbolism. Republican love for Putin really began with Trump’s love of Putin. It wasn’t that long ago when all Republicans hated the Russian dictator. That hatred evaporated once they realised their Dear Leader Trump was an unapologetic Putin admirer.
Moreover, how often do we see Trump flags side by side with Confederate flags and Nazi flags? Put another way, I don’t know any Democrats who admire Hitler. I know plenty of Republicans who do.
But in order to fully comprehend the extremity of this Republican volte-face, you must also understand where everybody falls on the political spectrum. People such as Nazis or Mussolini’s Fascists fall on the extreme right. Soviet-era communism is on the far left. Both were and remain evil, of course, but in the often strange human phenomenon of the political spectrum that’s where they lie.
In order for Republicans to suddenly love Putin they had to make what looks on the surface like a huge leap from the far right to the far left. But if you think of the political continuum more as a circle than a line then you’ll see that the leap was more of a sidestep. After all, Hitler and Stalin were both cruel and merciless tyrants who got things done, by God, and what could be more appealing to a MAGA Republican than that these days?
But Trump’s open admiration for Putin, and his shocking betrayal of his oath of office in Helsinki in 2017, when Trump openly sided with Putin against every American institution from the FBI to the NSA to Homeland Security, cemented forever in the Republican mind permission to openly love Putin. For a gang composed of closet Hitler worshippers that was liberating indeed.
But where does Trump’s admiration for Putin come from? To discover that one need look no farther than to one who knew Donald Trump best, Michael Cohen. In his book “Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” Cohen notes that Putin has everything Trump ever wanted: unlimited money, unlimited power and, perhaps most important of all, an almost unlimited ability to murder anyone who ever insulted or spoke out against him.
Make no mistake about it, Donald Trump would murder you, me, or anybody who remotely dislikes him — if he could. We know this because of his open unwillingness to give aid, money or comfort to “blue states” in times of crisis, such as destructive weather or during the Covid pandemic.
So Republican adoration of Putin isn’t all that unexpected, but it remains disgusting all the same. To understand all is not to forgive all, and seldom has that adage found a more obvious subject. As New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman puts it, “Men who pose as tough guys are actually losers.” And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.