Sanity vs. Sickness: the Conservative Movement’s Dueling Reactions to Putin’s War on Ukraine

The confusion and bitterness that have entangled conservatives over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are the inevitable consequences of a festering problem I’ve been watching and dreading for a decade now: a long train of mistaken foreign policy decisions—and equally mistaken reactions to those decisions—that the American Right has never properly adjudicated.

There is a widespread consensus (with which I concur) that George W. Bush made a series of extremely costly and tragic mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but our movement never really had a sober, nuanced accounting of what those mistakes were and were not. Instead, in the absence of serious Republican leadership, the predominantly (and understandably) emotional reaction to those years of excessive bloodshed for seemingly little return grew and hardened over the years into an overcorrection in the opposite direction, taking the form of a false choice: we either bomb and invade and nation-build everywhere, or we withdraw America from the world and steer clear of any foreign conflict.

For some on the Right (mostly its populist, paleoconservative, or “New Right/post-liberal” factions), a disposition toward the latter extreme has made washing their hands of conflict so important, even in cases where nobody of consequence is seriously pushing for American military intervention, that they have adopted logical and sometimes even moral contortions to sustain it. From the uncritical recitation of Kremlin justifications for the invasion, to the presumption that Vladimir Putin is somehow more trustworthy or less objectionable than Volodymyr Zelensky, to the idea of some correlation between American concern for the outcome and negligence toward our domestic problems (an ironic flip side to Joe Biden’s attempts to scapegoat the conflict for the crushing gas prices his own policies have caused), to the simply obscene notion that a murderous KGB thug like Putin is some kind of Christian bulwark against wokeness, post-hoc rationalization is the only explanation I can think of for why anyone not actually devoted to the Kremlin would twist themselves into these knots.

The moral relativism associated with that last contortion deserves special focus. As sick as American culture and corrupt as the federal government currently are, morally there’s still no contest between us and the Kremlin, from their rigged elections, to the laundry list of political enemies Putin has had killed, to their persecution of Baptists and Evangelicals, to their torture of Jehovah’s Witnesses (on top of Putin’s support for legal abortion and the rampancy of Russia’s surrogacy industry). While the American Democrat Party is absolutely evil, and I have no doubt they would emulate the Kremlin a lot more if they could get away with it (we’ve seen signs of that in their abuse of the Justice Department and support of vote fraud, for starters), the fact remains that they have yet to even attempt to cross most of the lines that Putin not only crossed a long time ago, but can no longer see in the rearview mirror—not out of the goodness of their hearts, mind you, but because our people and institutions, deeply flawed though they are, still would make those things much, much harder to get away with here.

The “Christian Putin” meme seems to mostly originate with his regime’s hardline stance against homosexuality. But even there we should be very careful — pandering to prominent social mores is one of tyrants’ classic tools to stay on a population’s good side. And while I don’t presume to have complete knowledge of everything Putin has done on the issue, given his broader human rights record it would be beyond foolish to trust him to model proper Christian treatment of people in sin, and monumentally irresponsible to give the public the slightest impression that he might be a model for what conservatives would do if we had our way. When an evil, murderous tyrant supposedly uses a few good values for his own ends, he ultimately undermines those values by wrongly associating them with evil, murder, and tyranny in the eyes of onlookers in the rest of the world.

Further, I’m sorry to say, the rise of much of the above has correlated with, and no doubt been informed substantially by, a deterioration of far too many conservatives’ ability to discern the credibility of claims or the trustworthiness of sources, a forgetting of Chesterton’s advice that the purpose of an open mind is to eventually close it on something solid. Far too many minds (at least online) have instead closed on a Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Alex Jones-style view of the world filled with conspiracy theories in which world events are dictated by shadowy globalist cabals and bloodthirsty defense contractors, narratives that are right at home alongside the Code Pink/Howard Zinn/Noam Chomsky talking points and historical revisionism of the Bush years.

Unlike David French, I’m not about to pretend this reflexive contrarianism came from nowhere (or that it applies to unrelated issues on which the contrarians happen to be correct, but I digress). Nothing fuels contrarianism more than the chronic refusal of establishmentarians to admit or correct any of their mistakes, which drives people to look elsewhere for guidance—and sometimes find it in figures who merely trade one form of awfulness for another. But the fact that establishmentarians provoked the initial distrust doesn’t excuse contrarians for blindly trusting their new friends and thought leaders. You’re still functioning human beings with the ability and responsibility to apply morality, evidence, and common sense to the stories you’re told. Act like it.

That applies tenfold for anyone in the public eye. It is of the utmost importance that conservatives in government, punditry, journalism, or advocacy not give the slightest indulgence to crackpots, conspiracy theorists, or demagogues, especially at a time when crying “misinformation” is one of our enemies’ most potent weapons. It would be the height of political malpractice to give leftists an opening to legitimately apply the label to us, to give either current followers or persuadable newcomers a reason to distrust us, or to lead followers astray by giving excessive credit to a crank like Paul, Buchanan, or Jones for something they might coincidentally get right, inadvertently leading the uninitiated to be less skeptical of the mountain of things they don’t.

If there’s any silver lining to this grotesque situation, it’s that the pro-Putin sentiment is, near as I can tell, all-but nonexistent among Republicans in Congress, except for the occasional idiot freshman House gadfly (this lack of elected support, naturally, has provoked all sorts of ranting on social media about the “neocon” boogeyman). Of course, aside from a few radio hosts like Dennis Prager and Mark Levin, there’s also no real concerted effort to stand up to this poison, untangle the years of confusion and negligence that led up to it, and reassert a sane, conservative approach to foreign policy.

Sadly, history suggests that paradigm shifts in how we approach the world beyond our borders tend not to come unless forced by dramatic tragedies. I pray that is not the case this time.

New at LifeSite: In Defense of Religious Conservatives’ Alliance with Trump

Last week, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf launched a vicious attack on Vice President Mike Pence, Hillsdale College, its president Larry Arnn, and by extension every conservative and religious American who supports Donald Trump. The attack echoed a slur we’ve heard far too much from the “respectable” wing of the Right, so I took the opportunity to respond at LifeSiteNews.

You can read the whole thing at LifeSite, but here’s the gist:

[B]ut while justifying [Trump’s] sins would be a moral compromise, neither Christianity nor conservatism has ever held that a man must be perpetually shunned or endlessly condemned for what he did or was in his past. We’re all sinners, and all capable of redemption […]

Yes, we’re supposed to seek the most virtuous leaders we can. But the Founders also taught, as in Federalist 51, that if “angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

This was one of first lessons drilled into me at Hillsdale: human nature is fallen. The Founders knew self-serving leaders would be such a constant of American history that they baked it into the Constitution, balancing the various parts of government so that ambition would be “made to counteract ambition.” They expected checks and balances to work through officeholders’ self-interest, not their high-mindedness.

In other words, they never expected selfless moral exemplars to be the norm, and understood that the task of good government doesn’t indefinitely pause just because we dislike the finite choices the democratic process has given us. The question remains whether to attempt to do good through a flawed vehicle, or accept an administration committed to massive evil.

Again, please read the rest at LifeSiteNews. For related reading in which I elaborate on all the above, you can check out my 2016 assessment of all the reasons for and against voting for Trump in the general election, my 2016 Stream article on what casting a vote is and isn’t about, and my Federalist Papers Project response to the attacks on pro-Trump Christians in the wake of the Stormy Daniels scandal.

Roger Kimball also wrote a great response to Friedersdorf at American Greatness. A snippet:

Conor Friedersdorf’s real objection is that Larry Arnn should engage in “moral compromises in order to achieve political outcomes.” But what is the “moral compromise” he has in mind? Is inviting the vice president of the United States to campus such a compromise? Is taking pride in seeing graduates of the college one presides over work for the president such a compromise? For no other institution or administration in history would this be true.

Friedersdorf, meanwhile, followed up his first two pieces of the subject with a compilation of messages he got from anonymous Hillsdale alumni — most of which just happen to mindlessly parrot his central attack. I suspect (and desperately hope, for the sake of Hillsdale’s intellectual seriousness) that either they were cherry-picked, or that #NeverTrump students were disproportionately likely to respond to his feedback request in the first place.

There’s No “Christian Case” Against the Pledge of Allegiance

At PJ Media, John Ellis has a post entitled “Why as a Christian I Don’t Pledge Allegiance to the American Flag,” but a more apt name would have been “How to Imagine a Conflict Where None Exists.” He argues that pledging allegiance would violate his conscience as a Christian, because “I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I owe my fidelity to a sovereign King named Jesus,” and “it’s impossible to owe fidelity to two potentially competing kingdoms”:

And let’s be honest, often, and increasingly so, the concerns of the United States government are at odds with the concerns of King Jesus. What happens to allegiance during those moments? From my perspective, Christian either have to compromise their allegiance to King Jesus or demonstrate that by “I pledge allegiance to the United Stated of America” they only meant some of the time, making their “pledge of allegiance” dishonest.

With countless important crises demanding Christians’ attention–like, for instance, only a third of Christians in this country ever hearing their churches speak out against the slaughter of preborn babiesthis is the crisis of conscience Ellis sees within the faith? This was important enough for a column?

To be clear, the author is obviously correct that Christians owe their allegiance to Christ above and beyond their allegiance to secular authorities. However, pledging allegiance to the flag is not pledging allegiance to any specific administration, officeholder, policy, etc. It’s not even pledging allegiance to the government itself; it’s pledging allegiance to the principles the country is founded on, and not only do those principles not conflict with Christian principles, they actually include appreciation for the Creator (as the source of our rights) and share several basic values with Christianity.

It’s completely possible to be 100% devoted to Christ and the flag simultaneously. In fact, the Pledge of Allegiance to which he’s objecting already explicitly says the nation is “under God,” so it doesn’t ask him to pervert or reverse his priorities in the slightest.

Ellis cites Massachusetts’ latest attack on religious liberty (forcing transgender dogma on churches) as an example of supposed conflict between allegiance to God and allegiance to America. But he misses the fact that by attacking religious liberty, Massachusetts is also attacking one of the constitutional principles the Pledge calls on Americans to support. So pledging allegiance to the flag doesn’t obligate us to support Massachusetts’ action, it calls on us to resist it.

For some much-needed sanity and perspective, let’s turn to one of the most beautiful commentaries on the Pledge of Allegiance ever spoken.

I desperately hope Christians don’t take the author’s misguided thinking as a reason to withdraw further from the political process; that will only give the secular radicals he fears less resistance to their efforts to extinguish religious liberty and stigmatize Christian values.

New at Live Action: Only 30% of Churches Speak Out Against Abortion?

With a legally-sanctioned death toll of almost sixty million innocent children, abortion is easily the single greatest American moral crisis of our lifetimes—both from secular and religious perspectives. Conscientious men and women of every faith —and no faith —should all be shouting from the rooftops, in one voice, to end the bloodshed.

But on Monday, Pew Research Center released the disturbing results of a survey (hat tip to Life News) suggesting that the majority of churchgoers haven’t even heard about abortion in their churches:

Roughly three-in-ten say their clergy talked about abortion […] Recent churchgoers also have heard a more conservative perspective on abortion; 22% say they have heard religious leaders speak out against abortion and just 3% have heard clergy argue primarily in support of abortion rights […]

White evangelicals and Catholics are more likely than white mainline and black Protestants to have recently heard clergy speak out against abortion. For both groups, the message is consistently conservative. A third of white evangelical churchgoers and roughly three-in-ten Catholics who have attended Mass recently say they have heard religious leaders argue against abortion, while very few (1% and 2%, respectively) have heard clergy speak in support of abortion rights.

A third? At most?

Those who twist the Bible to support violating God’s commandment against murder are bad enough, and even 1% is scandalously too many.

Read the rest at Live Action News.

New at Live Action – Obama Hypocritically Lectures Christians on Inclusion

On Monday, the New York Review of Books released a feature in which Barack Obama sat down with novelist Marilynne Robinson for a chat about the themes of her work, and a few strains of the president’s commentary were astoundingly hypocritical, even for him.

He can’t be that lacking in self-awareness…can he?

[P]art of our system of government was based on us rejecting an exclusive, inclusive—or an exclusive and tightly controlled sense of who is part of the community and who is not, in favor of a more expansive one.

Like, say, a certain class of people that you have enthusiastically chosen to deprive of their constitutional rights and subject to unthinkable violence based on nothing more than their developmental stage and that a major interest group supporting you wants them dead? How do any instances of “exclusion” – real and imagined alike – that Obama might have in mind possibly compare to gerrymandering children out of every American’s most basic protection as members of the community?

Read the rest at Live Action News.