Post #154: Switching Sides: America and Russia in US Public Opinion

Once upon a time in the US you could fairly predict what Americans believe about Russia. Their beliefs would parallel their views of the USSR during the Cold War, with Democrats being relatively more optimistic and uncritical of Russia than their Republican counterparts.  As one example, take the spring 2015 poll by Pew Research (www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/15/republicans-and-democrats-sharply-divided-on-how-tough-to-be-with-russia/). It shows that the liberal-conservative divide on Russia held firm, with Republicans far more hawkish than Democrats on the Russia threat, arms to Ukraine, support of NATO, and sanctions on Russia.

But switch to the present and all bets are off.  The two camps have changed places. Thanks to Trump’s embrace of Putin, grassroots Republicans have about the same regard for Russia as the Russians themselves.  Republicans join with Trump in doubting Russian hacking and the Russian threat to the US; on the other hand, they hope for friendly relations with Russia (www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/02/16/republicans-used-to-fear-russians-heres-what-they-think-now/).  Now it’s the Democrats who want to go after Russia with sanctions and a stronger NATO—one reason Vladimir Putin was evidently so anxious that a hawkish Hillary Clinton not win the election and continue Barack Obama’s confrontational policies.

If, as one writer suggests, Trump is the “Manchurian candidate” who has been duped by the Russians into serving as their unknowing agent in Washington, the Republican rank-and-file don’t seem to know or care (http://billmoyers.com/story/the-manchurian-president/).  They have become America’s “whatevers”: whatever Donald says or does is fine with them.  Assessing the relevance of the 1962 movie, Neal Gabler writes that “an admittedly paranoid movie may actually be insufficiently paranoid when it comes to our new reality. It isn’t just the possibility that we had a Manchurian candidate for the presidency. It is the possibility that we now have a Manchurian president, a Manchurian Congress and a Manchurian government.”

As in the movie, it’s up to the liberals to save the country—not from the communists but from the Bannons, Millers, and other conspiratorialists under Trump who, like Putin, want to make the world safe for white Christians, for big business (and oligarchs), and of course for Russia’s ambitions.

Liberals will have a tough time undermining a soft line on Russia. Barring some new revelation by the various investigating committees and the FBI of collusion between Trump’s surrogates and Russian officials last year, the administration will be free to pursue a pro-Russia policy.

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6 Comments

  1. Mel, I don’t get your argument. I rather doubt that the poll results reflect the underlying reason for a Republican turn around on Russia. My guess is that what we are seeing is simply the Trump effect. I just don’t believe that R voters who were previously opposed to Russia/Soviet Union are suddenly lining up for Russian nuclear, domestic, trade or foreign policy positions. This is a fundamental frailty of polling results. Since the Dems are not encumbered by blind fealty to The Donald, I suspect D opinion will stay on course whereas R opinion will be more volatile and will shift as he proceeds to Tweet himself into oblivion.

  2. As is oft said, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”
    But what happens if one of the investigating committees has the patriotic guts to subpoena
    Trump’s forever-in-process tax returns, which, I believe, they can do?

  3. If a Congress member could have done it–and s/he certainly has the right–it would have happened already. The “patriotic guts” evidently have been left on the floor.

    1. FURTHER COMMENT ON REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS SWITCHING SIDES: In addition to most R’s going “soft ” on Russia while all D’s are taking the hard-line position of Russia as enemy, there is another
      important but unrecognized factor underlying this re-alignment. International organizations concerned with the human interest, climate change, the necessary energy transition, and sustainability in general have been growing rapidly, more than doubling since 2000. Few if any have headquarters or even branches in Russia, which gets much or most of its revenue from gas and oil, and stands to benefit most–or be harmed the least–from global warming. In other words, Russia is essentially in climate-denying nationalist mode, which supports its economic interests, and matches the climate-deniers and America Firsters in the Trump administration. As recently stated in The Economist (March 4, p.7): “The old divide between left and right is growing less important than a new one between open and closed.”
      Putin clearly seeks to “Make Russia Great Again,” which is another reason for him to support Trump. The most cost-effective way to promote Russia in the world is to encourage relative decline of a polarized America headed by a predictably contentious and ineffective Donald Trump. If Trump is successful, Putin has an ally in the global ideological re-alignment. If Trump fails, Putin still wins!
      NOTE ON “THE TRUMP SCENARIOS”: Will Trump be successful to some degree, or become America’s Worst President Ever By Far, as many progressives fear? Six scenarios are posted on Mel Gurtov’s website for
      your consideration–an evolving exercise that would benefit from your feedback, e.g.: what is over-stated, under-stated, mis-stated, and/or missing? A new edition will likely be made available after the next major outrage to our human and national interest sensibilities. Contact: mmarien@twcny.rr.com or post in the Comments section. Thanks.

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