“When you know your audience,” sniffed Jane Coaston of the clip below, which is obviously aimed at rallying western conservatives to Russia’s side. As poorly as Putin has done on the battlefield against Ukraine, he’s done that much more poorly in the information war against Zelensky. Members of Donald Trump’s party are more likely to say the U.S. isn’t doing enough to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than members of Joe Biden’s party are, in fact.
Putin is desperate for western allies. So here he is trying to woo American right-wingers by imposing a familiar culture-war template on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. If the people leading the charge against Russia are the same people who hate J.K. Rowling for believing that women and trans women are different, doesn’t that tell you whom you should be rooting for in this war?
By which he means “the side that’s bombing Ukrainian children around the clock.”
One trait common to all strongmen, it seems, is an inexhaustible well of grievances, personal and national. This clip begins with Putin grumbling about Hollywood having never given the Red Army its due in war movies about defeating Nazism before segueing into complaints about “Joanne Rowling” being canceled for her views on gender. It’s Tucker-bait, essentially, material for nationalists in the U.S. and Europe who are trying to convince the right in their respective countries that they shouldn’t reflexively ally with liberal democracies like Ukraine against more culturally simpatico authoritarian states like Russia.
"It's impossible to imagine such a thing in our country"
President Vladimir Putin uses J K Rowling as an example of Western cynicism and "cancel culture", which he says is currently being aimed at Russia.
Latest on Ukraine: https://t.co/XTFXr6HmAe
📺 Sky 501 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/TyH9lddC5k
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 25, 2022
It’s true that some in the west have sought to “cancel” Russia, sometimes in embarrassing and obnoxious ways. But not all cancellations are equal, as Rowling herself noted this afternoon following Putin’s speech:
Critiques of Western cancel culture are possibly not best made by those currently slaughtering civilians for the crime of resistance, or who jail and poison their critics. #IStandWithUkraine https://t.co/aNItgc5aiW
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 25, 2022
An update on the work of my children's charity @lumos in #Ukraine. Children trapped in orphanages and other institutions are exceptionally vulnerable right now. Thank you so, so much to everyone who has already donated to Lumos's Ukraine appeal 🇺🇦 https://t.co/q2KVBABLxB
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 25, 2022
If you don’t believe that the Kremlin promotes propaganda for the specific purpose of having it picked up by sympathetic western media, here’s an example from the past 24 hours. Yesterday morning, Russian media analyst Julia Davis flagged a story about Hunter Biden being involved with Ukrainian biolabs as “handcrafted for Fox News”:
If you thought Russian propaganda was ever “sophisticated,” I hate to break it to you: it was always quite stupid. Still is. Here is their latest gem: Hunter Biden funded bio-labs in Ukraine. Handcrafted for Fox News. pic.twitter.com/rZBnGj8W81
— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) March 24, 2022
Later that evening:
Tucker Carlson cites reporting by The National Pulse saying that a private equity firm run by Hunter Biden funded some of the research in Ukrainian biolabs. pic.twitter.com/gvYiPqSUyl
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) March 25, 2022
I thought we were past the “Ukrainian biolabs” news cycle since Russia is currently in the process of reducing Ukraine’s cities to rubble and the dreaded bioweapons still haven’t been deployed. But I suppose anything goes propaganda-wise at this stage of Russia’s fiasco to try to break Ukraine’s stranglehold on western public opinion. Throw it at the wall, see what sticks.
Yesterday at Bari Weiss’s site, Antonio Garcia Martinez wondered, “Why does Tucker Carlson sound like a Berkeley leftist?” When did America First become Blame America First?
One fascinating aspect of this New Right is that it shares a worldview with, of all things, the old hippie left. Two core tenets of New Right ideology are now:
1. The United States is incapable of doing good in the world, and historically has been a force for evil worldwide.
2. Everything that happens in the world is the direct result or responsibility of the United States…
This schizophrenia of the New Right is a strange mix of oikophobia—that is, hatred for one’s own country—and self-absorption. The term oikophobia was coined by cultural conservative Roger Scruton to skewer the British left. Nowadays, the right is just as infected with a withering opinion of the U.S. influence on the world as those with fading Che posters on their walls. It’s a recurring motif across all political discourse in America and the West more broadly, and it’s eating the Ukraine conversation.
Noah Smith answered Martinez’s question a few days ago, before he asked it. “Both the liberal center-Left and the conservative center-Right are basically committed to upholding the global liberal order. Putin, by invading and attempting to conquer a sovereign state, challenges that order,” he wrote. “If Putin succeeds, even modestly, it represents a failure for the U.S. establishment figures who tried to stop him. And establishment failures equal insurgent opportunities.” That’s the so-called “horseshoe theory” in a nutshell. The progressive left and New Right are tribalists of different sorts who believe America’s individualist tradition is decadent and needs radical reform. The first step towards that reform is convincing voters, as Martinez says, that the modern United States is both corrupt and a corrupting force abroad. That’s how Putin ended up with fans on the nationalist right and the tankie left, as little as those two fringes otherwise have in common. No major world leader embodies antagonism to America’s prevailing order quite the way he does. No wonder the fringes are suckers for him.
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