In August, Roy Moore told an interviewer that the United States was “the focus of evil in the modern world,” because “we promote a lot of very bad things,” such as same-sex marriage. Told by the interviewer that Vladimir Putin makes the same argument, Moore replied, “Maybe Putin is right.” The interview has resurfaced on social media. This is not a strange, discursive gaffe. Like many of Moore’s controversial utterances, this is a more blunt and more extreme formulation of a recognizable strand of right-wing conservative thought.
Vladimir Putin has cultivated a role as the leader of an international far-right movement. Earlier this year, Franklin Foer detailed the ideological and geopolitical currents that allowed the Russian dictator to assume this role. “A 2013 paper from the Center for Strategic Communications, a pro-Kremlin think tank, observed that large patches of the West despised feminism and the gay-rights movement and, more generally, the progressive direction in which elites had pushed their societies,” he wrote. And so Putin “could become,” as the paper’s title blared, ‘The New World Leader of Conservatism.’”
The commonalities between Putin’s conservatism and Moore’s run deep. Its fixations center on the evils of Islamic radicalism and Islam in general, nonwhite immigration and the threat of “replacement,” and the decline of traditional Christian morality, especially the rise of gay rights. This is the conservatism of Trump, Bannon, and Steve King rather than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. (Even though, as we’ve seen, the two forms of reactionary politics are generally able to work together.) Steve King, one of the most ethno-nationalist Republicans in Congress, has repeatedly sought to bring together his ideas with those of far-right parties abroad:
It is especially the politics of Moore, who is driven by a pathological hatred for modernity in general and secularism in particular. Moore is precisely the kind of ally Putin has believed he could woo. Russian interference in the election, and the Republican Party’s growing determination to cover it up, represent a spectacular flowering of this global strategy. Trump’s campaign cooperated with a Russian attempt to interfere with the American election, including through the violation of American law. The precise depth and contours of that cooperation are yet to be known, but in general, Trump came to treat Russia like an allied super-PAC rather than a hostile foreign state.
Moore, naturally, takes the reasoning even farther. He is able not only to justify Russian actions and laud its leader for his strength, but to assail the United States as a fundamentally evil country. In a peculiar way, it makes perfect sense that nationalists are able to cry “America First” and then, in the next breath, assail their own country as a global force for evil.
Ethno-nationalists like Moore and Trump are not precisely the same thing as nationalists. When the two values come into conflict, the ethno- part supersedes the -nationalist part.