Is it sheer psychological attraction: two manly men drawn to each other, regardless of their strategic differences? Perhaps, but there’s philosophy involved, too. Some conservatives now believe they have more in common with Russia’s traditionalism than with the “suicidal liberalism” they see in the West.
Trump used an interesting word at his Chequers meeting last week: civilisation. “Freedom, sovereignty and the true rule of law”, he said, are Britain and America’s “priceless inheritance to a civilisation.” The language sounds Reaganite but there is a subtle difference in meaning. The Ronald Reagan school of conservatism taught that American ideals are universal, and can be applied the whole world over. This apparently benign notion is one of the reasons why America has historically plunged itself into other people’s business with little understanding of who it is dealing with or the potential consequences — leading to the Iraq invasion of 2003.
Trump is more of a stay-at-home kind of a guy. What unites Britain and America, he said at Chequers, aren’t just values but something more rooted in time and place: “a common historic heritage, language and heroes”.
Civilisations have a geographic and cultural character. They have boundaries. To Trump, American civilisation is not only confined to the borders of the United States, it is defined by those borders, which is why he is obsessed with policing them. “A nation without borders,” he famously said, “is not a nation” – and by that logic, America without borders would be, well, Mexico.
Russia has an important role to play in this world view. Reagan’s universal idealism was popular on the American Right when the US was in a global war with Communism, but when the Berlin Wall fell some conservatives decided it was time for the USA to stop being the world’s policeman. They wondered if America had in fact won a battle but lost a civilisational war at home. Crime was up; marriage was down; immigration was reshaping American identity. Russia, by contrast, seemed to rediscover its sense of purpose. Stripped of its own brand of universalism – Communism – it had returned to flag and faith. It had become a player in the clash between Christianity and radical Islamism. …
Conservative admiration for Putin is a symptom of its own loss of hope in what were once boilerplate American ideals. Conservatives are becoming sceptical of free trade. They question the integrity of their own security apparatus. They don’t think the US has a mission to remake the world. So, why not talk to Orthodox Russia?
hat-tip Stephen Neil