To Vladimir Putin, the decadent force is the west. As he put it on Friday, “domestic culture at all times protected the identity of Russia”, which “accepted all the best and creative, but rejected the deceitful and fleeting, that which destroyed continuity of our spiritual values, moral principles and historical memory”.
Hence, a mythic justification for taking Ukraine back from a seductive but inferior western culture that threatens to overwhelm it and Russia.
The Donald Trump–Tucker Carlson-white nationalist narrative is similar: America’s dominant white Christian culture is endangered by Black people, immigrants and coastal elites who threaten to overwhelm it.
The culture wars now being orchestrated by the Republican party against transgender people, gay people, poor women seeking abortions, and schools that teach about sex and America’s history of racism, emerge from the same narrative as Putin’s culture war against a “decadent” west filled with “sociocultural disturbances.” As does the right’s claim that “secularists” have, in the words of former Trump attorney general William Barr, mounted “an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values”.
These tropes have served to distract attention from the systemic economic looting that oligarchs have been undertaking, leaving most people poor and anxious. Which is why the grievances that Putin, Trump, Carlson, and the Republican party use are unremittingly cultural; they are never economic, never about class, and most assuredly not about the predations of the super-rich.
Reduced to basics, today’s oligarchs and strongmen (along with their mouthpieces and lackeys) are trying to justify their wealth and power by attacking liberal values that have shaped the west, beginning with the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries – the values of tolerance, openness, democracy, self-government, equal rights, and the rule of law. These values are incompatible with a society of oligarchs and strongmen.
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