Most of the world watched in horror this past week as Russian forces invaded Ukraine, with combat troop mobilization that has not been seen in Europe since World War II. Even many of the Russian people have been outraged, protesting against the war in large numbers -despite the steady diet of false, anti-Ukraine propaganda they have been fed. We have seen many photos and heard many stories of Ukrainians of all ages bravely resisting and fighting for their freedom against the aggressive dictator Putin. While a source of horror and outrage, those of us who’ve been paying attention were not surprised -though many people too young to remember the Cold War have been and have been expressing their anxieties about the conflict growing even bigger.
And yet, there is a sizable minority of people in the U.S. who seem cavalier and unconcerned and, in fact, are not only defending Putin but, in some cases, cheering him on. If any criticism against the war comes from these corners, it is to cast blame on President Biden for Putin’s aggression. I have seen a couple of people on the far left do this, perhaps defending Russia out of habit, but the vast majority of such voices are coming from the far right. Republican politicians seem more divided on this issue than any other I have seen in a while, even as Tucker Carlson and his ilk act like they are Putin’s personal cheerleader squad. This is the culmination of a strange slide that began several years ago, when a certain orange president - and, consequently, his most fervent supporters - seemed publicly smitten by the Russian strongman and effusive in their praise for him. Not every Republican I know is supporting Putin now - but quite a few are either vaguely defending him, not talking about it at all, or blaming Biden’s “weakness” and saying Trump would never have stood for such behavior from the dictator. That last assertion is especially ridiculous, as we all watched Trump spend four years playing Renfield to Putin’s Dracula.
This behavior has been puzzling to many Americans. After all, it was the American right who was always the most opposed to Russia during the Cold War and who has crowed about it the most since the Soviet Union collapsed. Why this strange turnaround?
The right, and the Republican Party, have changed a lot in the last 15 years or so… but Russia has changed, too. Last April, I spent a couple of columns explaining the difference between communism and fascism (you can read them at SpartaLive or tnwordsmith.blogspot.com). Allow me to recap the official, historic definition of fascism for you.
Fascism is ultra-nationalism, usually led by a single, charismatic, authoritarian leader who promises to return his country to its former glory, and who blames his country’s present perceived “weakness” on both other nations and “corrupting” groups from within. Fascism is the very far right; communism is the very far left. Either can be authoritarian, though fascism is by its very definition. Have you caught highlights of Putin’s speeches over the last week or two? They have been full of paranoid misinformation about Russian people being persecuted in Ukraine (Hitler used the same excuse, the defense of German-speaking people, to justify his own early invasions) and the West’s alleged eagerness to invade and destroy Russia. He has not only talked about the greatness of Soviet Russia but has gone back a thousand years to the formation of the Russian Empire. He has said the West is trying to weaken Russia by its tolerance of gay people.
Russia has not been communist for 30 years… but, under Putin, they are becoming more and more fascistic. A lot of Americans on the far right supported Hitler in the 1930s because they liked how strong he was. When they realized their mistake, it was too late.
History, friends. Look it up. And don’t repeat it.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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