The GOP Russian Problem
The focus is on Ukraine, but Russia and Putin have systematically corrupted political systems around the world. Including America's.
Details are still emerging, but the strange venture launched by Rudy Giuliani and two Soviet immigrants to funnel illegal campaign donations to Republican politicians and Right Wing super PACs has taken a strange, albeit predictable, turn. Andrey Muraviev, a Russian marijuana investor, has now been linked to the efforts of the shockingly named “Fraud Guarantee” operation that broke Federal Election Commission laws by injecting illegal funds into the campaigns of GOP figures like Ron DeSantis. What has been made abundantly clear, in case it wasn’t already, is that the Republican Party is absolutely swimming in Russian blood money and influence.
Now, as the war in Ukraine burns on, the administration of President Donald Trump seems like an odd, distant memory, but it serves us to remember not only what we endured but what it represented. Many have tried to paint the rampant corruption, selling off of the government to the wealthy, and general embrace of dictators like Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin as a brief sojourn into madness, however, those years, no matter how much people would like to forget them or pretend they never happened, were merely a manifestation of something that had been festering for a long, long while.
As I’ve documented, the Putinization of America’s Right Wing has been an ongoing project. There is a transnational authoritarian movement growing by the day that is obsessed with rolling back progress in order to destroy liberal democracy and institute a new, illiberal, patriarchal, evangelical regime run by wealthy, white men who constitute a select elite. In pursuit of that goal, these forces, spearheaded by those who have been made exorbitantly rich and powerful by neoliberal hypercapitalism, nearly all checks and balances and regulatory bodies or laws have been rolled back or dismantled entirely, creating a system of vast inequality and exploitation that, naturally, breeds corruption on a scale that boggles the mind.
The strange, strange cause of Fraud Guarantee is but one of many. And now, as we reckon with how to aid Ukraine is defeating Putin’s dictatorial aspirations, we have to consider more than simply how to chip in with the war effort. We must reckon with the infection here at home.
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The relationship between the National Rifle Association and Russian interests was so thorough that a 2019 investigation by the Senate found it should have technically been a declared “foreign asset.” Ties were so extensive that convicted agent Maria Butina (who is back in Russia and actively engaging in pro-Putin propaganda, including sporting the neofascistic “Z” symbol) was given access to scores of prominent Republicans, as facilitated by the NRA, and worked to bring members of the organization to Russia in order to strengthen ties.
There’s little surprise the NRA engaged in this activity. The group has regularly, for its own political and financial benefit, stifled even the most common-sense regulation and reform, ensuring that scores of Americans, including children, remain in constant danger of being senselessly murdered in one of our many, many mass shootings. To partner with a foreign adversary who peddles the same conspiracy theories and weaponized paranoia is hardly shocking, all things considering.
Like the NRA, the GOP faces a similar political reality. Their extreme stances, escalating nonsense and absurd positions, are increasingly unpopular and relegate them to a notable and toxic fringe segment of society. Rather than reevaluate their positions or compromise, both the NRA and GOP have instead allied themselves with this transnational, antidemocratic movement and taken full advantage of the corrupting tools hidden within our government to benefit a powerful and wealthy minority.
This now takes the shape of exploiting lobbying in the form of unvarnished and celebrated corruption and the many systems installed by the Founders who were obsessed with maintaining overwhelming control by white, wealthy men of the ruling class. Everything from the Electoral College to the makeup of the Senate were designed explicitly to thwart the will of the people, and it’s not surprising that the GOP, as their popularity dwindles, find solace by returning to those instruments.
Russia’s continued dalliances with the Right Wing, whether by pumping stolen money into their coffers, welcoming their politicians and figures to meetings and conferences in Moscow and elsewhere, or tipping the scales on their behalf in elections (or, in Trump’s case, literally saving his failing businesses), is a matter of offering the support necessary to keep this sinking ship afloat and working on behalf of the transnational movement that continues to threaten liberal democracy itself.
On Wednesday morning, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Congress, asking once more for a no-fly zone over his country and additional military aid. There was a standing ovation when he finished, a kind gesture offered by even Republicans who had stood by Trump’s side years earlier when the then-President of the United States was impeached for attempting to extort Zelensky with military aid in order to attack his political rival Joe Biden.
As I have said before, America has an incredibly hard time with context. Our history is shrunk, boiled-down, repositioned and recalculated to weed out any embarrassing or troubling components and leave us as the world’s supposed champion of democracy and freedom. Trump’s presidency is an incredible example of this as so many people now go out of their way to even avoid using his name. In coverage of the war in Ukraine, he is rarely brought up at all, which is incredible considering his first impeachment revolved around the precursors to the war itself.
Many have called Trump a lackey of Vladimir Putin, and this isn’t inaccurate. It might be more on point to call him a pupil. Putin’s ability to use corruption and ideological measures, including white supremacist paranoia and a growing desire to destroy liberal democracy by Republicans, has been a masterstroke and, by transcending boundaries, has brought the GOP within his sphere of influence. Trump’s presidency, in aiding American oligarchs in dismantling the public sphere, spreading corruption, and moving the United States closer in line with dictatorships around the globe, was carried out as if the U.S. was another client state hovering around Russia’s borders and working to fulfill Putin’s every wish and desire.
What Trump was doing was facilitating a Putinist state within America. People have often compared him to Benito Mussolini, and Trump certainly has fascistic impulses, but it would probably be more accurate to frame him within the kleptocratic, oligarchical context of Putin. The exorbitantly wealthy used Trump to further cement their control over politics and society. Reality was constantly shifted and attacked until it largely broke altogether. Attacks on laws, regulations, and the very rights of the American people went mostly unchallenged, creating a state in which a veneer of “liberal democracy” hid an ugly, disturbing, and twisted regime.
Let us make this very clear.
The war isn’t just in Ukraine. It’s here.
It’s in every Western power that has been corrupted by Putin’s blood money, illiberalism, and these ideological currents that are attempting to turn the world into something resembling what Putin has done in Russia or Viktor Orbán in Hungary. Trump was yet another authoritarian in an emerging generation of authoritarians. The poison is still here, coursing through our societal veins.
Standing ovations are hollow. So is waving the Ukrainian flag.
We are watching our limbs grow more gangrenous by the day, and even Putin’s aggression is repelled, even if the institutionalists claim the system held, the threat remains and is growing by the day.