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Stephen Colbert’s parody of Russian TV (Cyrillic letters spell the English word “Bestie”).

When Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin claimed “the west’s ‘cancel culture’” victimizes “an entire thousand-year-old country, our people” on March 25, American pundit Robert Reich of Cal-Berkeley noted it “was the third time in recent months Putin has blasted the so-called ‘cancel culture’.” Reich said he’s heard it before.

“Which,” he added, “is exactly what Trump, Tucker Carlson, and the Republican party have blasted for several years.”

Reich, who served as President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor in the 1990s, has a way of finding corporate greed at the root of all evils. “Putin’s lies, and the lies coming from America’s extreme right, are mutually supporting,” said Reich, or a subeditor who wrote the headline for the Guardian. “There’s a reason for that.”

The reason, Reich says in the body of his column, is that both Putin and the American right front for an oligarchy:

Remember, Putin was put into power by a Russian oligarchy made fabulously rich by siphoning off the wealth of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Trump and the radical right in America have been bankrolled by an American oligarchy – Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch, Rebekah Mercer (daughter of hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer), Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman, and other billionaires.

Reich can be kind of a Johnny one-note on the subject, although, in all fairness, he’s a Johnny one-note who can document his claims in considerable detail. What stands out to me in today’s Guardian piece is the way he connects the dots between the economic interest of the oligarchs, in both countries, and such matters as ethnicity and religious intolerance:

What do these two sets of oligarchs get in return? Strongmen who divert the public’s attention away from the oligarchs’ hijacking of their economies toward cultural fears of being overwhelmed by the “other.” Putin’s MO has been to fuel Russian ethnic pride and nationalism. The Trump-Carlson-radical right’s MO has been to fuel white American nationalism.

In both cases, strongmen and their allies have mythologized a “superior” culture (replete with creation stories of blood ties, motherlands, and religion) supposedly endangered by decadent forces intent on attacking and overwhelming it.

To Putin, the decadent force is the west. As he put it Friday, “domestic culture at all times protected the identity of Russia”, which “accepted all the best and creative, but rejected the deceitful and fleeting, that which destroyed continuity of our spiritual values, moral principles and historical memory”. Hence, a mythic justification for taking Ukraine back from a seductive but inferior western culture that threatens to overwhelm it and Russia.

The Trump-Carlson-white nationalist narrative is similar: America’s dominant white Christian culture is endangered by Black people, immigrants and coastal elites who threaten to overwhelm it.

The culture wars now being orchestrated by the Republican party against transgender people, gay people, poor women seeking abortions, and schools that teach about sex and America’s history of racism, emerge from the same narrative as Putin’s culture war against a “decadent” West filled with “sociocultural disturbances.” As does the right’s claim that “secularists” have, in the words of former Trump attorney general William Barr, mounted “an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values”.

***

Cite: Robert Reich, “Why do Putin, Trump, Tucker Carlson and the Republican party sound so alike?” Guardian, March 29, 2022 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/mar/29/putin-trump-tucker-carlson-republican-party.

[Published March 29, 2022]

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