Those who see the rise of anti-democratic and Christian national forces in the Republican Party as a move toward fascism need look no farther for a parallel than Russia. Much of what Republicans find attractive about religious nationalism joined at the hip with “traditional family values” is old news in Russia, and it has hideous consequences for which Putin’s Russia is a terrifying cautionary tale.
More than a decade ago, in a cynical manipulation to consolidate his power with the religious right in Russia, Putin began to embrace their rightwing religious conservatism more and more publicly. This is the reason for his promotion of traditional male and female roles and his virulent anti-gay stance. Whether or not Putin believes his own propaganda isn’t relevant, though he almost certainly does. Fascists by definition are conservative, or at least strive to appear so, and in the left–right political spectrum no one is more far to the right than fascists. That is why many of the most extreme rightwing Republicans are Nazis, or at least Nazi sympathisers. In any case, Putin uses conservatism as policy to appease the large contingent of the Russian Orthodox Church.
This is generally bad news for women, as is so often the case with totalitarian regimes, which inevitably are run by men. One almost invariable step in that tawdry direction was Putin’s decision to decriminalise domestic violence. In Putin’s Russia a husband may abuse his wife without consequence so long as she doesn’t wind up in hospital. Needless to say this creates untold misery in households overseen by male monsters who alone get to decide if and when their wives require hospitalisation after a beating. You can well imagine what the verdict typically is.
It is estimated that only about 10% of abused Russian women ever bother reporting their abuse to the police. Thus, Russian men have virtually been given a license to abuse their wives in the name of “religion and family values.”
Putin has also weaponised family values, and by extension the issue of domestic violence, to create a rift between Russia and the rest of the world. For example, he refused to ratify the 2014 Istanbul Convention, a major international protocol condemning violence against women. His pretext was that he found the convention to be inconsistent with “the principal approaches of the Russian Federation to the protection and promotion of traditional moral and family values.”
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Putin receives reports of Ukrainian women being raped by Russian soldiers with indifference. Few leaders on earth are more loathsome, more misogynistic scum than Vladimir Putin. And Putin’s misogyny is always attended by a bodyguard of disquieting religious piety.
For Putin, the “us versus them” mentality, so familiar a theme to those of us who have observed the Republican Party for the last thirty years, is more a feature than a bug. It has created a divide that he can exploit. That is probably why Putin is so drawn to conflict. Conflict is the grease that keeps the machinery of totalitarianism rolling merrily along.
So if you’ve been baffled as to why Republicans are so ornery and divisive, be baffled no more. It’s part of how they keep their power base happy, whether some of them realise it or not. Again, for most Republicans today it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. 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.