Monday, April 3, 2017

The Evil Empire Is Wearing New Clothes

Not too long ago Ronald Reagan decided that it was politically expedient to defend America against the "Evil Empire" otherwise known as Russia.  His America was the bastion of capitalism and Russia represented the threat of socialism.  In other words, the political right was defined by free market capitalism and the left wing represented socialism.  Reagan's "Evil Empire" has changed the political landscape dramatically in the last few years.  It has successfully transformed itself into a leadership in the right wing movement that has transformed politics in the US and in Europe.  Putin has turned Russia into a conservative direction that has much in common with the far right.  He has restored the relationship of his state with the Russian Orthodox church that played a central role in the Russian empire before the communist revolution.  His opposition to gay rights, and his views on abortion are similar to those held by most of the far right organizations in the US and elsewhere.  Putin has done a remarkable job of leading the far right movements in the rest of the world.  Donald Trump has praised his leadership and he has become more popular with his supporters than President Obama.  They have only a 9% favorable opinion of Obama compared to a 35% favorability rating of Putin.  Not surprisingly,  Putin's favorability rating among registered Republicans has increased from 12% to 32%.  Liberalism has replaced communism as the "Evil Empire" among many far right conservatives.

The financial crisis in the US led to an economic downturn in the US and in Europe which contributed to the far right political movement.  Economic and political elites were blamed for conspiring against the working class while globalization was moving manufacturing jobs to low wage paying nations.  Not surprisingly, the far right moved quickly to create new enemies to replace the "Evil Empire".  Economic and national integration became the enemy.  A new kind of nationalism developed to assure those who worried about immigration, terrorism and a perceived loss of cultural identity.  Donald Trump exploited those concerns, and like Putin in Russia,  he asserted himself as the powerful leader that was required to restore greatness to their nations.  Nationalism has been reborn as defense against economic insecurity and cultural dislocations. 

The cold war has also been replaced by new weapons.  Authoritarianism is incompatible with free access to information.  Donald Trump's attack on the free press should not be surprising.  The social media have been used by Putin and by Trump to misinform the public.  Fake news sites are the only source of unbiased news according to Trump.  Responsible journalism, which depends upon evidence in support of opinion,  is regarded as "the opposition" by Trump's top strategist Steven Bannon.  Trump refers to any news source that does not share his views as the real fake news.  It should not also be surprising that Putin has been deploying information technology to support politicians who do not threaten his regime.  Right wing political movements that have much in common with his outlook are his best defense against military threat from NATO and the ideological threat of liberal democracy.

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