COMMENTARY

How white supremacy fuels the Republican love affair with Vladimir Putin

The American right's romance with Putin is no mystery: Trumpers see him as leading a global war for whiteness

By Chauncey DeVega

Published March 2, 2022 6:01AM (EST)

Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Racism is not an opinion. It is a fact.

This is true both in the United States and around the world.

As W.E.B. Du Bois presciently wrote in 1903, the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. That is true in the 21st century as well, even if the context has changed — and that could remain true in the 22nd century as well (assuming humanity survives that long).

Racism and white supremacy continue to structure American society, largely by privileging some groups (those defined as "white") and disadvantaging others (especially those deemed "Black," but other nonwhites as well). These outcomes are the aggregate result of individual, systemic and institutional discrimination and other forms of racial animus. This has been a fixture of American life and society since before the founding of the republic through to the post-civil rights era and now the Age of Trump and a 21st-century form of fascism. In practice, racism and white supremacy are a "changing same," constantly adapting over time to fit American society in support of the maintenance and expansion of white privilege, white power and white control. 

RELATED: Right's cynical attack on "critical race theory": Old racist poison in a new bottle

Racial attitudes and values help to structure how Americans, particularly white Americans, feel about both domestic politics and foreign policy. For example, it is no surprise, and really no mystery — as some members of the mainstream news media and commentariat appear to believe — why many Republicans and other members of the white right defend or even embrace Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine. This is readily explainable: The Russian president is viewed by them as a champion of "conservative values" and the possibility of a return to what they have deluded themselves into believing was a "golden age" of white male Christian dominance over all areas of American (and global) society.


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Putin's politics, values and strategic goals, at least in a general sense, largely align with those of today's Republican-fascist movement and the larger white right. Taken together, they are a global front aimed at undermining or destroying pluralism and multiracial democracy.

Robert Reich summarizes this in a new essay for the Guardian, where he writes: "The Trump-led Republican party does not openly support Putin, but the Republican party's animus toward democracy is expressed in ways familiar to Putin and other autocrats. ... Make no mistake: Putin's authoritarian neo-fascism has rooted itself in America."

Writing at Jewish Currents, David Klion explores this further:

On the right, leading voices like Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and Donald Trump himself have been more likely to offer actual defenses of Putin and Russia. … But there's also a deeper ideological affinity between the Western far right and Putin's Russia, one that emphasizes Russia's Christianness and whiteness, its hostility to LGBTQ minorities, and its potential role as a bulwark against China, which many on the right view as 21st century America's true geopolitical rival.

In an essay last Sunday for the New York Times, Emily Tamkin discusses the right's preoccupation with Putin's supposed "strength":

"Strong" may be the key word here. In this construction, a strong leader is apparently one who cracks down on opposition, cultural and political, and does not concede. This idea then dovetails with right-wing ideas that liberal elites are actively corroding deeply held traditional values — including traditional gender roles. For those who spend a fair amount of airtime worrying about the emasculation of men, the kind of strength portrayed by Mr. Putin — who on Monday convened his top security officials and demanded they publicly stand and support him — is perhaps appealing.

Many of the admirers of the world's strongmen on the American right appear to believe that the countries each of these men lead are beacons of whiteness, Christianity and conservative values. ...

These comments, from the right, aren't exactly advancing a new position. In 2018, the political commentator Pat Buchanan said that Mr. Putin and the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko were "standing up for traditional values against Western cultural elites." …

Russia is neither all white nor all Christian — it is a country that encompasses several regions, religions and ethnicities. Still, it is often perceived as white. … [T]his construction of Mr. Putin as a beacon of far-right values began with the ultra-far-right nationalists in Europe and later spread to the United States.

James Risen is even more direct in a recent essay for the Intercept:

[Putin's] brutal invasion of Ukraine is just the latest move in his long-running strategy to rebuild the Russian empire by any means necessary. But while Putin hasn't strayed from his obsessions of 30-plus years ago, the U.S. Republican Party has been comprehensively altered into something that would have been unrecognizable in 1989. Today, much of the American right is in thrall to Putin and other autocrats, and a segment of the extreme right now harbors a hatred for Western democracy. The new American right somehow sees Putin as a guardian of white nationalism who will stand up to the "woke" left in the West. They don't seem to care that he is a murderous dictator who has launched a war in the middle of Europe. ...

But while other Republicans in Congress denounced Putin's invasion, they refused to criticize Trump or other Putin sympathizers in their party. That follows the usual pattern within the GOP, in which establishment politicians try to ignore Trump — only to be overshadowed and eventually overwhelmed by him. ...

In the United States, meanwhile, perhaps the biggest political question in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine is whether the Trumpist wing of the Republican Party will continue its sympathy for and appeasement of Putin. For now, it seems likely that pro-Putin Republicans will continue to allow their hatred for progressives and adherence to white nationalism to blind them to what Putin really is.

These observations help to highlight three foundational realities about American politics and the color line in the post-civil rights era and the Age of Trump. The first of those is that today's Republican Party is America's and the world's largest white supremacist and white identity organization.

The second is that "conservatism" and racism are now fully one and the same thing here in America.

The third is that on a fundamental level Trumpism and American neofascism are nothing new. Instead, they represent a continuation of evil forces that have long been present in American society — and show few signs of being vanquished. Ever since the invention of "race" as a concept in or around the 15th century, white supremacy and racism have been a global project. In America today, the Republican Party and "conservative" movement are the leading proponents of such anti-human ideas and values -- and are wholly invested in perpetuating and strengthening them far into the future.

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Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Donald Trump Racism Republicans Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin White Supremacy