Op-Ed: When the Republican Party adopts Russia’s authoritarian playbook
The Republican Party has a clear vision for the future of the United States: one that’s white, Christian and fundamentally opposed to Western ideals of pluralism.
These goals certainly aren’t new. Since President Ronald Reagan tethered the Republican Party to the Christian right, the objectives have been obvious and the barriers to realizing them have slowly eroded. We’re currently standing at a precipice where the GOP, fully consumed by Trumpism, is closer than ever to codifying this vision.
And ironically, while Republicans have sought to alarm voters with ludicrous fears of Democrats wanting to enact “communism,” the America they want is much closer to that of Soviet and Putin’s Russia. In fact, the actions conservatives are embracing and what’s happening in Russia are so similar that comparisons cannot be considered hyperbole.
Ron DeSantis’ retaliation against wokeness isn’t built on principle, just pretext, but corporate America should think twice about participating in the culture wars.
In both the USSR and modern Russia, homophobia is rampant and LGBTQ people are brutally punished for their existence. A common slur for gay men in Russian is the same word as that for “pedophile,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin has perpetuated the vile trope that gay people abuse children.
Sound familiar? The latest homophobic tactic taken by the American right threatens LGBTQ people, teachers and officials for merely talking about sexuality and gender identity and calls them “groomers.” The insinuation, just like Putin’s, is that gay people prey on children. These attacks don’t merely remain in the digital realm, as two gay fathers recently found when they were verbally assaulted when taking a trip on Amtrak with their two foster children and called “pedophiles” by their abuser.
At the same time we’re seeing Russians being encouraged to turn in their neighbors for talking about the war in Ukraine with any sort of facts, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is encouraging Texans to report parents who seek gender-affirming care for their transgender children. It’s worth remembering that snitching on your neighbors was one of the tactics the Soviet regime used to discourage dissent and keep people living in fear.
Moving down the list, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida recently signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, which punishes teachers for discussing sexual orientation with students. Likewise, Putin imposed a draconian “gay propaganda” law in 2013 that punishes the presentation of “nontraditional” sexual orientations to minors. That law has led to an increase in violence against the LBGTQ community in Russia. And it has significantly eroded progress made for more equal rights, which is exactly the outcome the GOP is seeking in states across the nation.
If the similarities aren’t eerie enough, Republican-run school districts across the county are busy banning books that promote accurate history, gender equity and other “liberal” ideals. It’s no wonder that book bans were another favorite tool of Soviet authorities as they feared the power of literature to effect social change. The novel “Doctor Zhivago” was famously banned in the Soviet Union for its depiction of the individual struggle and brutality of the Bolshevik Revolution. Continuing the tradition, mentions of Kyiv and a sovereign Ukrainian state are now being removed from Russian textbooks to support the Putin regime’s barbaric invasion of its neighbor.
These actions both in Russia and in the United States are enabled by a relentless propaganda machine that distorts reality and cripples people’s ability to discern facts from falsehoods.
Op-Ed: To understand how Putin is wielding words, here’s a tip: Not all propaganda aims to persuade
In trying to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin is engaging in “hard propaganda,” which is meant to convey the speaker’s power, not persuade.
In Russia, there’s virtually no independent media left, leaving only state-run TV and print outlets for Russians to receive their “news.” In the U.S., Fox News has been a powerful propaganda arm for the Republican Party, going so far as to coordinate messaging with the Trump White House. Propaganda channels in both Russia and the U.S. frequently align in the values they promote. You can see almost identical derision of feminism in both Fox News and in Russian state-sponsored outlet Russia Beyond. Both entities promote “traditional values,” and worked relentlessly to smear Hillary Clinton while promoting Donald Trump to help him win the 2016 presidential election.
There’s an obvious reason why Russia wants candidates like Trump to win elections: Democracy is the only antidote to authoritarianism. Although Republicans fixate on the notions of freedom and liberty, the policies they’ve already enacted and want to push in the future are a direct path to authoritarianism. They’re already setting terms for what Americans can and cannot do in their bedrooms, in their OB-GYN’s office, and what children are allowed to learn in the classroom.
Anyone wondering how far today’s Republican Party is willing to go to achieve its vision of a monolithic America need only look back at the events of Jan. 6. Just as Russia right now feeds its citizens a daily dose of misinformation about the war it has waged on Ukraine, so have Republicans attempted to whitewash the events of Jan. 6, casting those who ransacked the United States Capitol as “patriots.”
With Russia as a mirror, Americans have the benefit of seeing the worst-case outcome of authoritarianism. The question is whether they are willing to step up and stop the decline of American democracy and the party driving full speed in that direction.
Kurt Bardella is contributing writer to Opinion. He is an advisor to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a former senior advisor for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. @KurtBardella
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