February 28, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Decade of Russian infowars has made Republicans, well, weird

So weird as to appear virtually foreign to mainstream Americans.

Courtesy of Fox, via screenshot.
Courtesy of Fox, via screenshot.

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There’s a clip going around featuring Malcolm Trumbull, the former prime minister of Australia, describing for a home audience the few times he witnessed Donald Trump interacting with Vladimir Putin. He said: “When you see Trump with Putin, as I have on a few occasions, he’s like the 12-year-old that goes to high school and meets the captain of the football team – ‘my hero!’ It is really creepy. It’s really creepy. … It struck everybody. You could touch it. The creepiness was palpable.”


I’ll leave it to worthies steeped in international relations to discuss the ramifications of a former leader of one of America’s closest allies defenestrating Trump’s great claim that all the world respects him.

For me, I’m interested in that adjective, “creepy,” and its cognates – “strange,” “weird,” “not normal,” and so on – because I’m going to suggest two things. One, that we are hearing those words applied to Trump and the Republicans with greater frequency by Americans rooted in mainstream culture. And two, that the more their behavior is called “creepy,” “weird,” etc, the more they are going to appear, to Americans rooted in mainstream culture, to be virtually foreign.

When you think about it, that makes sense. 

As I said in yesterday’s edition, the Russian government has, more or less, been waging nonstop information warfare against the United States since at least 2015. During that time, Donald Trump and the Republicans have eaten, digested and metabolized practically all of it. 

These people are so far outside mainstream American culture that those on the inside might legitimately ask: “Wait, you’re not from around here, are you?”

Their views are nearly indistinguishable from Vladimir Putin’s. State governments run by Republicans are increasingly Russian in practice. (“They have banned books, censored speech, outlawed history, suppressed individual expression and, therefore, individual liberty,” I said. “If they have not used the power of the state to control their populations, they have empowered snitches and vigilantes to reach the same goal.”) The heart of the GOP’s impeachment inquiry is a Kremlin lie. “Basically, the Republicans have become synonymous for [the] Russians at this point,” said Texas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett.

I called this the transmogrification of the Republican Party. To see how thorough, complete and total that process has gotten, watch this clip. An MSNBC reporter asked Trump supporters for their thoughts on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s threat to democratic Eastern Europe. After watching it, you may be reminded of this piece I wrote in September, summarizing the Russo-Republican perspective: 

Ukraine is not a democracy. It is a corrupt regime undeserving of aid. Moreover, it’s an enemy. Among other things, it colluded with Democrat Hillary Clinton in a scheme to undermine US sovereignty and defraud the American people in the 2016 election. The plan was thwarted by the victory of Donald Trump. … The rightwing view insists, moreover, that Donald Trump, as president, attempted to expose Ukraine’s corruption in 2019 when he demanded an investigation into then-former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, according to this view, abused his office and corrupted US foreign policy in 2016 in order to enrich himself and his son, Hunter Biden.

That’s upside down, backward and prolapsed. 

It’s also weird. 

Consider that the president ordered and ate an ice cream cone recently. In response, Fox host Jesse Watters suggested not only that Biden has dementia, on account of people with dementia enjoying the taste of ice cream, but that he’s unmanly. “A grown man, especially the president, should not be licking ice cream in public.” (Watters also said a grown man should not eat soup in public. “It’s not a good look.”)

On the one hand, this was an attempt to “infantilize” the president. Jennifer Mercieca, an expert on authoritarian rhetoric, said it’s “another way of saying he’s weak and not a Übermensch. He’s not trying to be an overlord strongman. He’s trying to be a president. Ice cream is delicious and eating it is democratic. Fascists gonna fash.” (Watters wasn’t alone. The Biden-eating-ice-cream thing was all over rightwing media.) 

On the other, this is just weird. “I’ve said it before: rightwingers are the biggest weirdos,” one person said on Twitter. “It truly sounds awkward, like ‘decadent Westernized male degrades manhood with frozen treats,’” another quipped. James Surowiecki, formerly of The New Yorker and currently of The Yale Review, put the ice cream thing in context. “In the past four weeks, high-profile rightwingers have come out against adults eating ice cream, IVF, recreational sex, Taylor Swift, and the NFL. They’re so in tune with mainstream Americans.”

Surowiecki was joking, of course. The Republicans and their media allies are not in tune with mainstream Americans. They don’t like people having abortions. They don’t like in vitro fertilization. They don’t like birth control. They don’t like white female self-made billionaires dating Super Bowl-winning football players. And they don’t like grown men eating ice cream cones in public. (Or soup). They, like Mother Russia, don’t like things that don’t fit into a human society ordered vertically – with straight white Christian men dominating the top. 

These people are so far outside mainstream American culture that those on the inside might legitimately ask: “Wait, you’re not from around here, are you?” “The creepiness was palpable,” Trumbull said. 

He’s right and it’s getting worse.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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