Timothy Snyder paints a clear picture of Vladimir Putin and his intentions in his book The Road to Unfreedom. The view of governance thar Putin propagates is that of a layered hierarchy with a powerful leader unimpeded by rules of law. He would adopt for himself the fascist role of the “redeemer” who was destined by religious and historical forces to return Russia to its proper place in the world. Putin would also develop the concept of “Eurasia.” From his perspective, the geographic center of the world is Russia. As such, it also deserved to be the civilizational center. He promotes the notion that it was only the repeated attacks by its enemies that kept it from attaining its deserved place in the world. The threats to Russia would come from states who use their principles of democratic succession of power and rule of law to entice other nations to follow their example. The US and EU would then be enemies to overcome. The danger they presented was not military, it was cultural. Putin would resurrect traditional antisemitism with its notions of world Jewish domination plus a peculiar new thrust. Putin would claim the world’s democracies were intentionally trying to corrupt Russian society with their sexual deviance. The AIDS epidemic then became a Western plot, and the belief that homosexuality was acceptable behavior was aimed at corrupting and weakening the Russian people. Russia’s response must be to weaken the Western democracies to the point that they were so dysfunctional that they no longer presented an example of better governance than his rule in Russia.
Putin’s continual focus on “deviant” sexual behavior is peculiar as a political strategy. It led his internal critics to wonder about his own sexuality.
“The attempt to place heterosexuality within Russia and homosexuality beyond was factually ludicrous, but the facts were beside the point. The purpose of the anti-gay campaign was to transform demands for democracy into a nebulous threat to Russian innocence: voting = West = sodomy. Russia had to be innocent, and all problems had to be the responsibility of others.”
Putin often poses for photoshoots that make him appear to be an unmasculine person posing as a very masculine one.
“Putin divorced his wife just as his anti-gay campaign began, leaving the champion of family values without a traditional family. The question of gender identity clung to the Russian president. In 2016, Putin asserted that he was not a woman who has bad days. In 2017, he denied that he was Donald Trump’s groom. That year it became a criminal offense to portray Putin as a gay clown. An attentive female scholar summarized his position: ‘Putin’s public kisses are reserved for children and animals’.”
So, was the insertion of deviant sexuality into geopolitics driven by some internal sexual conflict or did Putin have some other tactical motivation? One possible explanation is suggested by the research of Katherine Stewart in her book The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. The nationalists she describes are promoters of a distinct form of Christianity that has become a political movement aimed at converting democracies to ones governed according to “biblical values.”
The origins of this faith system date back to the era of slavery when religious justification for the practice had to be provided. It would be in the Old Testament that God’s permission for slavery (and other horrible stuff) would be found. Slavery and the support of extreme property rights go together, leading to religious beliefs that support capitalism and its accompanying economic inequality: taxation is a form of theft, therefore it is evil; social welfare policies are not found in the Old Testament, therefore they are evil also; environmental regulations are against God’s will; women are to be sexually, socially, economically, and politically submissive to men; nonbelievers are enemies who can and should be punished; democracy is heresy; physical punishment is the best way to obtain obedience from children, even infants; sexual deviance is absolutely forbidden; and so on. Many of the participants in this political movement are Evangelicals, but not all Evangelicals support it. In fact, many correctly note that this movement cannot even be considered Christian.
Stewart provides this perspective.
“Anyone who cares about what is happening in American politics today needs to know about this movement and its people. Their issues—the overwhelming preoccupation with the sexual order, the determination to unite the nation around a single religious identity, the conviction that they are fighting for salvation against the forces of darkness—have come to define the effort that has transformed the political landscape and shaken the foundations upon which lay our democratic norms and institutions, This is the movement responsible for the election of the forty-fifth president of the United States, and it now defines the future of the Republican Party.”
“Most Americans continue to see it as a cultural movement centered on a set of social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, preoccupied with symbolic conflicts over monuments and prayers. But the religious right has become more focused and powerful even as it is arguably less representative. It is not a social or cultural movement. It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a ‘biblical worldview’ that also happens to serve the interests of its political funders and allied political leaders. The movement is unlikely to realize its most extreme visions, but it has already succeeded in degrading our politics and dividing the nation with religious animus. This is not a ‘culture war.’ It is a political war over the future of democracy.”
Ties to the religious nationalist efforts was long ago recognized by the wealthy as an alliance worth supporting in order to counter any “anti-capitalist” political trends. This movement is well funded by the oligarchs of the world. In fact, it has become firmly established as an international movement.
“Under President Trump, the United States has become a flashing red beacon of hope for a new global, religious, right-wing populist movement. It calls itself a ‘global conservative movement’ and claims that it seeks to ‘defend the natural family.’ But it is really about taking down modern democracy and replacing it with authoritarian, faith-based ethno-states. You could call it a global holy war”
“Europe’s current spate of conservative activism and legislation, which appears to reverse the trend toward universal human rights, is not the result of spontaneous uprisings from ordinary citizens fed up with ‘the gays.’ In fact, this activism reflects an ongoing, well-funded, highly coordinated effort by multiple groups across states and even continents to roll back these rights in the EU and beyond.”
Stewart tells us that US religious nationalists approached Russia as a potential ally in its anti-democratic movement as soon as the fall of the Soviet Union. Within this context, Putin’s sexual focus could also be interpreted as an accommodation to the religious nationalists in order to use them, as the capitalists had, to further his own attack on democracy.
“Russian leaders’ evident interest in manipulating America’s Christian nationalists for their own purposes did little to discourage those nationalists from clamoring for still more Russian involvement in American affairs. In the run-up to the 2016 election, the passion for Russian family values among America’s religious extremists grew still more ardent. In 2013, Bryan Fischer, then a spokesman for the American Family Association, called Mr. Putin a ‘lion of Christianity.’ In 2014, Franklin Graham defended Mr. Putin for his efforts ‘to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda’ even as he lamented that Americans have ‘abdicated our moral leadership.’ In December 2015, Mr. Graham met privately with Mr. Putin for forty-five minutes. And in March 2019, with the apparent blessing of Mike Pence—or so Graham says—Graham travelled to Russia to meet with a number of Russian religious and political leaders…According to the social media account of one Russian official, the tête-á-tête was for the purposes of strengthening relationships between the U.S. Congress and the Duma.”
“The Cristian nationalists’ affection for Mr. Putin and all things Russian goes much deeper than a tactical alliance aimed at saving souls and defeating ‘homosexuals’ and ‘gender ideology.’ At the core of the attraction lies a shared political vision. America’s Christian activists have not overlooked Putin’s authoritarian style of government; they have embraced it as an ideal. During the 2016 presidential campaign Mike Pence hailed Mr. Putin as ‘a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.’ The Christian Nationalists haven’t shied away from the fusion of church and state that characterizes Putin’s regime. On the contrary, it appears they want to emulate it. They love Russia, it seems, because they hate America with its form of secular, constitutional democracy.”
Religiously driven voters clearly own the Republican Party and they are poised to take advantage of that fact. This moves Stewart to finish her work with this conclusion.
“It seems sadly fitting that so many of the self-appointed patriots of America’s Christian nationalist movement should have found themselves working with foreign powers intent on undermining our national security, our social fabric, the integrity of our elections, and the future of American democracy. This is a movement that never accepted the promise of America. It never believed that a republic could be founded on the universal ideal of equality, not on a particular creed, or that it might seek out reasoned answers to humanity’s challenges rather than enforce old dogmas. It never subscribed to the nation’s original unofficial motto, E Pluribus Unum, that out of many, we could become one. From the beginning, its aim was to redeem the nation by crushing the pluralistic heart of our country. The day when it will have the power to do so is fast approaching.”
You can learn a little about a lot of things or you can learn a lot about a very few things. Guess which is the most fun.
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