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Home/Rod Dreher/Cold War And Culture War

Cold War And Culture War

Iconic image from Stephen Colbert's show explains much about why US liberal elites hate Russia (Late Show screengrab)

Here’s a very, very good analysis of the US-Russia standoff over Ukraine, by Richard Hanania. Hanania says that the anti-LGBT media law in Russia is what made the American elites think of Russia as the Great Satan (that they believed Russia engineered Trump’s presidential victory only sealed the deal). People who do not deal professionally with American elites often find it hard to understand why homosexuality and transgenderism mean so much to members of that class. Hanania writes:

I think most people are going to be inherently skeptical of the idea that LGBT and identity politics more generally play such a large role in international affairs. Yet people have less trouble accepting the fact that largely symbolic culture war issues related to race, gender, and sexual orientation drive domestic politics. Foreign policy elites are from the same class that gave us the Great Awokening, and if your model of members of this class involves them being illogical and destructive fanatics on matters of identity (the correct model), you should assume that they take their attitudes with them when thinking about international affairs. Their assumptions, deepest convictions, and construction of reality shape the ways in which we discuss geopolitical issues, which most Americans have no firsthand experience with.

One may ask why Pussy Riot and the Russian gay propaganda law made such a big impression in the United States when other countries like Saudi Arabia have much worse records on human rights. There are some 71 countries right now that ban homosexual relations. Russia didn’t even do that, and there is apparently a gay scene in Moscow that looks a lot like it does anywhere else in Europe.

Russian opposition to LGBT triggers American elites more than anti-gay laws and practices elsewhere because Russia is a white nation that justifies its policies based on an appeal to Christian values. Unlike a country like Hungary, it actually matters for international politics. Remember, we’re talking about the same elite that can only get excited about random attacks on Asians if they can pretend it’s white people who are doing it, and can’t be bothered to care about black people shooting each other every day but will make excuses for those who burn cities down in response to a police officer shooting a criminal in the course of an arrest. Homophobic Muslims or Africans will never inspire all that much righteous fury in these people. The template of “white conservative Christians bad” is fundamental to their worldview, and this leads to not only hostility towards Putin, but also nations like Hungary and Poland, even if the latter are uneasily accepted as friends because they were grandfathered into NATO, the alliance that is of course aimed at Russia.

While populists like Tucker Carlson and Sohrab Ahmari are uninterested in antagonizing Russia, most Republicans in Congress and in the most influential think tanks are still stuck in the 1980s. Democrats will sometimes advocate for a less aggressive stance towards Iran and China, but it has become impossible for them to do so towards Russia, the homophobic white nation that gave us Trump and destroyed our democracy.

If you pay attention, and certainly if you have been reading this blog, you know that the American elites think Hungary is second only to Russia as the Source Of All Evil. But as Hanania points out, Hungary has a much higher rating on the Freedom House democracy scale (69) than does Ukraine (60), whose sovereignty the Blob tells us we must all be prepared to go to the mat to defend against the Satanic Russians.

More Hanania:

Once you understand that American politics is motivated by some combination of interest group lobbying and culture war resentments, the hostility towards Russia begins to make more sense. It really is about the “rules based international order,” but that doesn’t actually mean following the fundamentals of international law like “don’t invade other countries or interfere in their domestic politics.”

If that’s what it was about, one might effectively respond that the US has in recent decades tried to overthrow more countries than everyone else in the world put together. Foreign policy elites ignore anti-interventionists who point out this fact, just as how members of their class ignore those who point out that Hungary arrests fewer people for speech than France does, or that if you really care about “black lives” you should be more concerned about the recent historically unprecedented increase in murder than police shootings, which are statistically rare.

Read it all.

Hanania is right: the culture war is the key to all of this. Yesterday I was interviewed by a couple of journalists who are trying to understand why more and more of us American conservatives are interested in, and sympathetic to, Hungary. The basic reason, I told them, is that Viktor Orban is strongly anti-woke, and unlike our own American politicians of the Right, actually cares about fighting it (and is good at it, too). The reason Tucker Carlson’s week in Budapest was so important last year is that for once American viewers were presented with an alternative view of Hungary, as opposed to the monotonous liberal — both left-liberal and right-liberal — take. In fact, I am certain that most Americans, if they ever visited Hungary, would wonder why the foreign policy and media elites hate the country so much. It’s a normal place that happens to be governed by a right-wing party that views globalism and the European Union with skepticism. And though it is not a religiously observant nation, Hungary remains, for now, culturally conservative relative to western Europe, especially on matters related to homosexuality.

Because it allows for same-sex civil unions, Hungary today is more liberal than most of the US was fifteen years ago — but the transatlantic baizuo class prefers to characterize Hungary as some sort of troglodytic outlier because its parliament passed a law regulating the presentation of LGBT material to minors. This was such a crime against humanity that the Dutch prime minister demanded that Hungary be thrown out of the EU. Now, think about this: Hungary has been a European nation for a thousand years, after King Stephen united the country and received a Catholic baptism. Hungarians have enriched European culture immeasurably over the centuries. But now, national leaders in western Europe want to excommunicate Hungary from the community of European nations because its democratically elected leaders — who are accountable to Hungarian voters — prefer that Hungarian children not be propagandized about sexual desires they consider to be aberrant.

As we know, sexual liberty is the summum bonum of Western liberalism, the absolute telos. Once you grasp that, so much about the judgment of liberals becomes clear. For example, in Ontario, a school board refuses to allow critical discussion about the sexualization of children via school books, on grounds that doing so is “transphobic”. They cannot understand any opposition as rational (even if mistaken); for liberals, it’s always about HATE. The problem with this is it badly skews their judgment of the motives of their opponents. This is a very human fault; many MAGAnauts believe that any criticism of Trump can only ever be made in bad faith, the result of irrational hatred. This emotivist stance keeps them from reading the complexity of the world around them, and understanding their opposition in ways that could allow them to grapple with it (the opposition), and perhaps defeat it. The foolish sexual and racial emotivism of the leadership class of Democrats has taken the party far to the Left of most Americans (even nonwhite ones), and is setting the party up for an election disaster this fall.  Because the media are of the same class, and make the same assumptions, they too have the same blind spots.

For example, you have probably aware from the media coverage that the GOP is trying to shut down voting rights for blacks and other minorities, via supporting laws that require one to show legal identification when one shows up to vote. Do you know how many nonwhite US voters support voter ID requirements? Christopher Caldwell writes:

Minorities do not seem to like the Democrats’ racialized approach any more than whites do. The political scientist Ruy Teixeira, who has written extensively about Hispanic abandonment of Democrats, notes that 84 percent of nonwhites support the photo-ID requirements for voting that the Democrats’ voting-rights reforms would ban.

It should be noted here that the inability of GOP elites to recognize how much Republican voters had come to despise them opened the door for Donald Trump. Note well that those same neocon GOP elites — the ones who helped lead the charge into the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles — are now damning people on the Right who think it’s a bad idea for America to risk military conflict with Russia over Ukraine. As Glenn Greenwald, a man of the Left, writes, the neocons are back to their tried-and-true tactic of denouncing as traitors those who are opposed to the US going to war. Excerpt:

This rhetorical tactic — impugning the patriotism and loyalty of one’s opponents — is now the dominant theme in American liberalism precisely because liberals are now led by neocons. Under this rubric, anyone (on the right or the left) who opposed Hillary Clinton and then Joe Biden during the Trump years was deemed not just wrong but treasonous: a Kremlin agent. That included Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, WikiLeaks, leftist critics of Democrats, right-wing critics of Democrats, and in general anyone who echoed President Obama’s long-standing view that Russia did not pose a serious threat to the U.S. I cannot count the number of times I have been accused of being a Kremlin agent or asset not by random social media trolls but by prominent Democratic Party and liberal media and political figures for expressing those views.

That is now, by far, the favorite attack against anyone who believes that Ukrainian borders are not important enough to U.S. interests to involve the U.S. in a war. The most vocal media opponent of U.S. involvement in Ukraine has been Fox News’ Tucker Carlson (though, as usual these days, war skepticism is also found on many Fox shows, including Laura Ingraham’s, where I recently appeared to make that case, but almost never on CNN or MSNBC). Carlson, on an almost nightly basis, has posed the question few others in corporate media are willing to ask: why is Ukraine a sufficiently vital interest to the U.S. to risk lives, resources and potentially war with Russia in defense of it?

It’s bizarre, isn’t it? The only national news and opinion shows questioning the case for war are right-wing ones. The liberal shows are all-in for war, or at least for ramping up hostilities between the US and Russia, and they’re bringing (of all people!) the neocons who led us into the Iraq quagmire to cheerlead for conflict!

That same crowd is now calling American conservatives (like me) who are pro-Hungary fascists. In The Bulwark, the Bill Kristol web magazine, a writer says that the kind of conservatives who back Orban today are the same kind that backed Gen. Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The argument that pro-Franco conservatives back in the day overlooked repressive things about Franco is certainly true, but the author, Joshua Tait, completely overlooks the unhappy fact that the choice facing Spain wasn’t between right-wing nationalist dictatorship (Franco) and liberalism; it was between Franco and Stalin’s lackeys. He also says that Franco was a dictator (which he was), and so is Orban — a judgment so patently ridiculous that it undermines the credibility of his already-shaky argument. You can certainly judge Orban to be a bad man and a bad leader if you like, but the fact is, he has been democratically elected time and time again, and is facing an election this spring that he just might lose. Why is it so difficult for these American critics of Orban to criticize him for what he actually is? As the prominent Orban critic Peter Kreko said at a public appearance I made with him last summer, people outside of Hungary are foolish to describe the Orban government as “fascist.” Kreko has a thousand criticisms of the way Orban and the Fidesz Party run Hungary, but he understands that to characterize them as fascists is simply wrong.

These same neocons, recall, believed that Iraq could be made into a liberal democracy with American help. What makes anybody think their judgment has improved when it comes to Hungary and Russia?

Look, it is possible to think that Russia should not invade Ukraine — that’s my view — while recognizing that Russia is not behaving like some uniquely evil country, and Ukraine is not perfectly innocent (for example, this 2021 report from VICE News showcases a big annual neo-Nazi rock festival in Ukraine). Anatol Lieven, writing in Time, says that Russia has been warning the West on Ukraine for many years. Excerpt:

The point about this history is that the existing crisis with Russia has origins that go far beyond Putin. Russia has a foreign and security blob, just as does the United States, with a set of semi-permanent beliefs about Russian vital interests rooted in national history and culture, which are shared by large parts of the population. These include the exclusion of hostile military alliances from Russia’s neighborhood and the protection of the political position and cultural rights of Russian minorities.

The Yeltsin government protested strongly against the start of NATO expansion in the 1990s and Russia accustomed itself without too much trouble to NATO membership for the former Soviet satellites in Central Europe. But from the very beginning of NATO expansion in the mid-1990s, Russian officials and commentators—including liberal reformists—warned that an offer of NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine would bring confrontation with the West and an acute danger of war. These warnings were echoed by George Kennan, the original architect of the strategy to contain the USSR and the State Department’s greatest ever Russia expert, as well as by Henry Kissinger and other leading American statesmen.

There is nothing mysterious, extreme, or Putinesque about this Russian attitude. In the first place, Western language about NATO expansion establishing a “Europe whole and free” implies the exclusion of Russia from Europe and from a role in Europe—a matter of deep offence to Russians, and Russian liberals in particular, especially since this Western rhetoric was imbued with the assumption (a racist one, by the way) that the word “European” equates to “civilized.” And that Russia isn’t part of that idea.

Of course not. Because, among other things, Russia has not been queered. As we know from the way leading European powers treat Hungary, affirming LGBT is the ne plus ultra of a civilized country. If neither Russia nor Hungary want a 4,000 percent increase in their teenagers and adolescents applying for cross-sex hormones and surgery to make them transgender — as the UK recorded in 2018 — then it is obviously barbaric. That, and the fact that though neither country is especially observant in their religion, they aren’t ashamed of their Christian histories.

To recap: Hanania is right — this cold war with Russia is an extension of the culture war within American society, waged by elites against the American people. Once you understand that, and once you understand which class the American soldiers who would fight this war if it ever went hot come from, you are in a much better position to grasp the pro-war propaganda in our media.

Watch this. This is the thing:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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