Praise for Putin points to troubling attitudes

Ronald Reagan is rolling in his grave as his Republican Party has become so soft on Russian aggression that E.J. Dionne dared ask the question, “Will the GOP become the Pro-Putin Party?”

That may be taking it too far, but there is cause for concern. While Democrats have toughened up their stance on Russian aggression, the GOP — except for Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham — has been softening up on Russia and its autocratic leader.

In 2014, Republicans attacked President Barack Obama for placing sanctions on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. Reagan would not have appreciated such a response from his party.

Nick Bayer wrote in the Huffington Post in December that “Vladimir Putin’s popularity is skyrocketing among Republicans.” He pointed out that since 2014, Democrats’ attitudes have become more negative toward Russia, while polls show a 56 percent increase in Republican favorable views toward Russia. In fact, in 2014 one poll indicated 51 percent of Republicans viewed Vladimir Putin “very favorably.”

This January, another poll revealed 75 percent of Republicans view Trump’s approach to Putin favorably. Fox News analyst Ralph Peters proclaimed that Russia “has a real leader,” and Rudy Giuliani likes the autocrat because “Putin decides what he wants to do and does it in half a day … that’s what you call a real leader.” Giuliani forgets that Russia lacks the democratic checks and balances that make it difficult to be an autocrat who cares not about others’ rights.

Trump is unabashedly displaying an un-Reagan-like bromance with Putin, but he is not alone among conservative Republicans. Ultra-right Pat Buchanan praised Putin as early as 2013, saying Russia is “in important ways more conscious of its Christian history and character than the United States.”

He and far-right evangelicals see in the former KGB leader a closet Christian. Their assessment, however, is based on little more than Putin’s disdain for and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

It is as if the conservative base of the GOP has declared the kind of leader they prefer: one who is part Dick Cheney and part Mike Huckabee; someone who prefers military aggression while denying non-heterosexuals their rights as human beings. This is the portion of the population that a pro-Kremlin think tank referred to in a 2013 paper that observed that sizable segments of the West “despise feminism and gay rights, and, more generally, the progressive direction nations have taken.”

The paper went on to say this gives Putin the opportunity to become, in their words, “the new world leader of conservatism.” Putin followed up on the thesis, saying the West was succumbing to secularism.

Does anyone else see the irony and humor in the former leader of the KGB making such statements against secularism? As a KGB leader, he viciously enforced Soviet secularism. Putin’s form of conservatism should make Reagan Republicans vomit.

There are some who believe Trump’s defense of and admiration for Putin comes from his long desire to create a business empire in Russia. I suspect it goes well beyond Trump’s personal economic interests.

It appears Trump views autocrats and demagogues favorably. He praised Saddam Hussein. He heaped praise upon Chinese leaders for their forceful approach to protesters in Tiananmen Square.

When Putin’s popularity dipped in Russia after changing the constitution to allow a third term, he used the anxieties of his people for his political gain. Trump has used this technique as well.

These are the anxieties “from which dictators arise,” wrote Franklin Foer in the February edition of The Atlantic. Foer added that “admiring strongmen from a distance is the window-shopping that can end in the purchase of authoritarianism.”

Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfield