A Gallup poll released on Tuesday shows 21% of Americans have a favorable view of President Vladimir Putin of Russia. That’s up 8 points from a similar poll conducted in 2015. Most of that gain comes from Republican respondents. Among Republicans, Putin holds a 32% favorability rating, up from 12% in 2015, while among self-styled independents, 23% hold a favorable view, up from 12% in 2015. As would be expected, Putin’s favorability among Democrats has taken a hit since the 2015 survey, dropping from 15% to 10%.
Among Republicans, the increase in Putin’s favorability represents a 167% improvement over his previous numbers. That is no accident. American politics is mired in ever more contentious partisanship. Putin is looked upon favorably by many Republicans and independents because the president they voted for is a fan, and because Russia, with every passing day, is looking to have been more and more instrumental in Donald Trump’s victory. If Putin was behind their guy, then they are behind Putin.
How else to explain a significant number of Americans holding a favorable view of the president of Russia? We are a country that supposedly cherishes ideals of freedom and opportunity, and Russia is the very antithesis of that. It always has been. From the days of tsars and serfs, to the oppressive regime of the Soviets, to the kleptocracy currently in power, Russia has never been a country with which we share core values. Even when we found a common enemy, that enemy had to be Nazi Germany in order for an alliance to be formed, but there was never any trust. Yet now, a sizable segment of the American population is just fine with a man who leads a country that practices censorship of the media; that harasses, jails, and even kills dissidents and opponents; and exists solely for the personal enrichment and power of its political and oligarchic classes.
This is where our polarization has taken us. We are so distrustful of each other, of the enemies here at home, that when a real enemy, Russia, interferes with our free and fair elections to influence an outcome favorable to them, their leader sees his poll numbers go up. It would be hilariously absurd were it not really happening.
Meanwhile, on the liberal side of things, the opposition to the Turdpol Kakistocracy is threatening to become a new tea party. Using that term, tea party, is an easy way to encapsulate a nascent political movement for the evening news. The reality is different, but there are disturbing rumblings that many of the same tactics from the Republican tea party era will resurface.
For one, Democratic senators, of which a whole pile will be up for reelection in 2018, are being threatened with primary opponents should they show an insufficient adherence to ideology. We’ve seen what happens when a party’s candidates and elected officials are forced into strict ideological purity with the current crop of Republicans in Congress and elsewhere. The lack of flexibility in the Republican Party, where much of politics has become a zero sum game, was a direct cause of the unprecedented obstruction President Obama faced while in office, hurting the Executive Branch’s ability to run the government well. The damage ideological purity caused within the Republican Party led them to be hijacked by extremists, and led to the election of Donald Trump. Having seen what happens to a country when one of its two major parties is ideologically inflexible, I’m not hopeful that having two calcified parties is the answer.
In fact, I’m fearful of a purge of politicians who have the audacity to actually attempt governing, and them being replaced by shouters and arguers who bring nothing but words. Nothing will be done to address the very profound problems facing the United States if neither party is interested in anything other than yelling at each other, but that is what we will get should the Democrats be victim to their own internal inquisition. What’s the point of every liberal senator in Congress showing unwavering support for single payer healthcare, as one example, and every conservative senator strictly opposed, and no one can meet anywhere in the vast middle ground? Nothing gets done, and meanwhile more Americans continue to die from treatable conditions because they’re not rich.
The divisions are getting deeper. After Trump is no longer president, it’s hard to foresee how we go back to the way things were. Trump is no master politician, but he has shown that ignoring and flouting the norms that allow our democracy to exist is a legitimate path to power. Considering that politicians are, first and foremost, concerned with their own self-interests, it would be naïve to expect the genie to be shoved back into the bottle. Our republic is teetering on the brink, and it will take courage beyond the capacity of that exhibited by normal politicians to bring us back.