The truth is that democracy is in retreat worldwide and, as it ebbs, it takes with it the neighbourliness among nations to which we have grown accustomed. Every league table – the Democracy Index, Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit – tells the same story. After seven decades of steady advance, global democratisation stalled at some point between 2010 and 2015, and began to go into reverse. The strongmen in their sunglasses are not throwbacks, but grisly augurs of the future. As liberal democracy recedes, so does the peaceful international order on which it rested.
Conservative expressions of affection for Putin’s supposed moral clarity are perhaps louder than usual. That doesn’t mean they’re new. “While privacy and freedom of thought, religion and speech are cherished rights, to equate traditional marriage and same-sex marriage is to equate good with evil,” wrote former White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan in 2013, as he approvingly summarized Putin’s opposition to the latter. “No moral confusion here, this is moral clarity.”
But once again, Buchanan et. al need not align themselves with a murderous despot in order to take a principled stand for traditional marriage—particularly when considering that the Russian president’s positioning may be rooted more in strategy than in faith. “Putin is seeking to tighten his grip on Ukraine and Belarus, as well as expand Russian influence further into Eastern and Central Europe,” wrote Alexis Mrachek and Shane McCrum for the conservative Heritage Foundation in 2019. That feels a bit prophetic now: “He will undoubtedly continue to promote Orthodoxy in the process. This is simply an attempt to seduce former Soviet republics back under the sway of Russia.” The Soviet Union of Putin’s younger days was staunchly atheistic and used secularism as a tool to secure state worship. That ultimately failed. In some sense, Putin has subverted the approach to religion—leaning heavily on it as opposed to eschewing it—to arrive at the same end goal: state worship.
But Republicans should refuse to engage in the politics of personal destruction that Democrats routinely wage. Many Republicans may be frustrated that they don’t have more leverage, but elections have consequences. Mr. Biden won in 2020, and then President Trump’s claims of a stolen election in Georgia cost the GOP control of the Senate. Conservatives are paying the price again.