Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and Republicans’ Identity Crisis

This week, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his long-anticipated, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

No sooner did this happen than Donald Trump–the twice-impeached, authoritarian-leaning, wanna-be autocrat former president of the United States–praised Putin’s “brilliant,” “savvy,andsmart governance, claiming:

“Putin is smart. He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart!” 

This statement came the day after Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Putin is “Very shrewd. Very capable. I have enormous respect for him.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Putin a “thug” and accused President Joe Biden of not being fast enough in imposing severe sanctions.

Even House Minority Leader (and consistent Trump apologist) Kevin McCarthy called the Russian invasion “reckless and evil,” and insisted Putin “must be held accountable for his actions.”

The same right-wing hate media that twisted itself into pretzels since Trump was impeached for the attempt to pressure the Ukrainian government into “investigating Joe Biden” that led to withholding military aid to Ukraine is now damning the Ukrainian government with faint praise.

Faced with the authoritarian takeover of Ukraine by a dictator Trump spent his entire presidency sucking up to, the party that has for the past several years been backsliding into fascism is now faced with an existential dilemma: support an independent Ukraine, thereby repudiating Vladimir Putin; or go all in with Putin, and give up any pretense of democratic ideals.

Some, it seems, have already made their decisions.

It should come as no surprise that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz this week planted his fascist flag squarely in the authoritarian camp at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Fla. when he felt it more important to rail against “cancel culture,” COVID vaccines, masks, and so-called “critical race theory.”

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley at least acknowledged the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but blamed it on “weakness on the part of Joe Biden,” inquiring rhetorically, “Is it any wonder that Vladimir Putin feels emboldened to do whatever the heck it is he wants to do?”

Fox so-called “news” host Tucker Carlson pontificated:

“It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?”

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar spoke at the white nationalist America First Political Action Conference Friday night where attendees cheered Vladimir Putin and extolled Adolf Hitler.

This provoked sane republican, Wy. Rep. Liz Cheney, to urge her party to appeal to its better angels, tweeting:

Are the republican celebrities aligning themselves with dictators the party’s future or merely shiny click bait for media headlines?

Cruz and Hawley are already being talked about as possible 2024 presidential candidates.

So is Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who just voiced his support for the recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill that passed his state’s House of Representatives.

As Kerry Eleveld wrote recently for The Daily Kos:

Which GOP wing actually represents Republican voters? On the one hand, Trump is undoubtedly far more popular with the GOP base (the polling leaves no doubt, with McConnell’s favorable rating among Republicans sitting at an excessively anemic 23%).

“But on an issue like Russia, Trump and his Putin-loving cohort of GOP allies are just wildly out of step with Republican voters, with 67% of them viewing Putin as a ‘foe’ rather than a ‘potential ally.’

“So McConnell is quite literally despised by the GOP base, but Trump is losing altitude with them too, and he doesn’t appear powerful enough to set the agenda with GOP voters the way he did during much of his tenure in the Oval Office.

“Internally, that leaves room for other opportunists to challenge both Trump’s and McConnell’s leadership as Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott of Florida increasingly defy the edicts coming down from on high.

“All of this has left the Republican ship both aimless and rudderless; from a policy standpoint, the party has no real direction and no one person or group of people is actually steering the ship.”

The warnings have been blinking red for years, but no more overtly than today.

We have seen more evidence America is closer to fascism than ever.

Former president Jimmy Carter penned a New York Times guest essay in which he warned:

“One year ago, a violent mob, guided by unscrupulous politicians, stormed the Capitol and almost succeeded in preventing the democratic transfer of power. One year on, promoters of the lie that the election was stolen have taken over one political party and stoked distrust in our electoral system. These forces exert power and influence through relentless disinformation, which continues to turn Americans against Americans.”

Credit: Morning Consult

, writing for The Guardian, stated:

“The contemporary American fascist movement is led by oligarchical interests for whom the public good is an impediment, such as those in the hydrocarbon business, as well as a social, political, and religious movement with roots in the Confederacy. As in all fascist movements, these forces have found a popular leader unconstrained by the rules of democracy, this time in the figure of Donald Trump.”

America has traditionally regarded itself immune to the fissures that condemn weaker democracies.

We hail ourselves as the exemplar of elections, peaceful transitions of power, and civilized political discourse.

We understand intellectually we are imperfect and have done things for which we should not be proud and for which we must atone, like slavery, segregation, and the genocide of Indigenous Americans.

We have supervised elections in other countries to ensure honesty and transparency.

While economic interests and hubris have too frequently been behind our decisions more than good intentions, we want democracy to grow across the globe.

Yet here we are, beginning to look more like Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mauritius, Namibia, Slovenia, and Poland, countries the Global State of Democracy (GSoD Indices) report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance states the United States’ “backsliding” democracy is beginning to resemble.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed creating a taxpayer-funded state paramilitary force answerable only to him.

A week later, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz teamed up with former Trump adviser  Steve Bannon on the idea of forming an “army of patriots” and “shock troops” to be prepared take over the government if former President Donald Trump were to run and win the White House again in 2024.

This wasn’t the first time Bannon proposed something like this.

Back in October, he called for “shock troops” to quickly “deconstruct” the state in a telephone interview on NBC News after meeting with obsequious Trump-loving republicans at which he encouraged them to be prepared to “reconfigure the government”.

As Chauncey DeVega wrote in his Salon piece, “With fascism coming, America responds: LOL who cares? Let’s Netflix and chill“:

Military leaders were seriously concerned that Trump might order the National Guard to intervene on his behalf on or around Jan. 6 by invoking the Insurrection Act. If he had given such an order, the country would have come dangerously closer to an authoritarian takeover and perhaps widespread violence, with elements of the military battling one another. Experts on civil war have warned that the U.S. is well along such a path.

“Domestic terrorism experts have also warned that right-wing extremists and paramilitary groups are organizing on the local and state level to intimidate, harass and target ‘liberals,’ Black and brown people, Muslims, Jews, immigrant communities and others deemed to be their enemies. This is part of a nationwide campaign by Republican fascists and the larger white right to attack American democracy on the local and state level in order to facilitate Trump’s return to power (or the ‘election’ of his designated successor).”

Even Canadians fear the American experiment is on the precipice of ending.

In his new book, The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future, Canadian author Stephen Marche warns:

“The United States is coming to an end. The question is how.”

He isn’t alone.

Cascade Institute executive director Thomas Homer-Dixon begins a Globe & Mail piece titled “The American polity is cracked, and might collapse. Canada must prepare” with a harrowing assertion:

“By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.”

This possible collapse became all the more real when the Senate failed to pass the Freedom to Vote act in October, followed by January’s failure to change the filibuster rule to permit voting rights legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Despite differences in approach, Democrats (except for two) are united in preserving democracy and continuing and strengthening the American experience.

There is no so-called “Democratic civil war.”

The war is within the republican party.

Faced with a choice of embracing naked fascism like that Vladimir Putin enjoys in Russia, Viktor Orbán practices in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro oversees in Brazil, and others, the republican party finds in the Ukraine crisis its own identity crisis.

Image credit: Buckmire.blogspot.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.