I ended my own brief but not very passionate romance with Soviet-styled Communism when I was in college, after realizing that the Young Socialist Alliance leaders were rich-kid ideologues who couldn’t agree on whether Leninists or Maoists were better suited to liberate the proletariat.
But I never understood if ordinary Russians living under communism experienced the same kind of disillusionment or continued to believe in the ideals espoused by their leaders. Years later I read a short story by the great Russian satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko, and discovered that the answer was “neither.” No one ever in Russia ever believed in Communism.
In the story, a Soviet bureaucrat notices a bit of litter on the street and berates the people standing around for not doing anything about this affront to the perfection of the Soviet system. The bureaucrat walks off, and the bystanders discuss the litter briefly, then walk off without doing anything about it.
For Zoshchenko, Russian leaders saw Communism as a series of phony ideals they could use to establish their power over ordinary citizens. And for these citizens the phony ideals were (at best) an annoyance to be endured and ignored. Of course, at worst Communism was a system of repression (as Zoshchenko knew from his persecution by Stalin’s Minister of Culture Zhdanov — and from the exile or execution of many of his fellow writers).
Soviet Communism was simply a new set of clothes for Tsarist autocracy, with a repressive leader supported by functionaries whom ordinary Russians tried to ignore if they could and to placate if they couldn’t.
And Putin’s reign today is simply a third phase of Russian autocracy, with assassins and hackers to complement the familiar bureaucrats.
Like me, most of the Republican leadership grew up in an era of anti-communism. Even the younger crop of politicians venerate Reagan and his tough talk against Gorbachev. So why have they all turned against a fledgling democratic republic like Ukraine or freedom fighters like the Kurdish rebels in favor of despots like Putin, Assad, and Erdogan?
To answer the title question:
While they don’t care for communist ideals, Trump and the Republicans were never advocates of a democratic republic either. Their role is to support autocracy, as much as photosynthesis is the job of a blade of grass. Their political DNA consists solely of the drive to accumulate power.
It doesn’t matter to Republican politicians if the chief autocrat’s office is located in the White House or the Kremlin.
When Sen. John N. Kennedy of Louisiana went with a group of fellow Republican lawmakers to celebrate the Fourth of July in Moscow (yes, Moscow) last year, they met with Russian counterparts in what the Russian press described as a “secret room.” Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of Russia’s foreign affairs committee, said Kennedy had promised to deliver a “tough message” about Russia’s interference in U.S. elections, but when it was his turn to speak “he had absolutely nothing to say.” (Julia Davis in The Daily Beast, “Why Are Republicans So Anxious to Play Putin’s Game on Ukraine?”)
And recently Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson openly stated his support for Russia (source):
Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? And I’m serious. Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.
After objections from supporters and opponents, Carlson retracted his comment:
Of course I’m joking. I’m only rooting for America [and] mocking the obsession many on the left have.
Then on Sean Hannity’s show, he essentially retracted the retraction:
I rooted against Russia when it mattered, by the way.
In other words, it doesn’t matter nowadays if one doesn’t root against a dictator who seeks to undermine our electoral system.
And what of Trump’s citizen army?
They don’t seem mind that at the international level “Making America Great Again” really means “Making America Grovel Again,” and at home MAGA signals a nostalgic return to the 19th Century system of Robber Barons, Racism, and Rape.
They don’t notice that the anti-impeachment comment they Like’d on Facebook was written by someone whose native language is not English and probably Russian.
They don’t know or don’t care that Russia is using disinformation as an attack strategy just as the Soviets used nuclear missiles in the cold war:
Russia is adopting coercive strategies that involve the orchestrated employment of military and nonmilitary means to deter and compel the US, its allies and partners prior to and after the outbreak of hostilities. These strategies must be proactively confronted, or the threat of significant armed conflict may increase. (“ Russian Strategic Intentions” a white paper from the Department of Defense and Chiefs of Staff)
Putin would rather “deter” using Internet disinformation than “compel” — it’s cheaper and more effective to set up a troll farm and buy a few Facebook ads than to fight an actual war. And he’s winning the social media combat without firing a single shot.
Back at home, the little Trumpskis don’t care that as the stock market is going up so are their healthcare costs, while their standard of living is going down.
They don’t care that Trump’s Secretary of Education defends fraudulent proprietary schools and attempts to keep victims under crushing loan debt.
They don’t notice that Trump’s businesses employ the undocumented workers that Trump’s wall is supposed to keep out.
To extend the title question: Why do Trump’s supporters accept a system that is helpful to foreign despots like Putin and harmful to their family and friends?
Trump’s base doesn’t believe in a democratic republic any more than Moscow Mitch does. They imagine that they are the functionaries of the autocracy, and they throw their meaningless power around like the bureaucrat in Zoshchenko’s story, unaware that the wheels on Trump’s bus go round and round on the base as much as on those the base hates.