Has the Tide Really Turned in Ukraine?
Plus: It's all about the gays
(Photo by Sergey Bobok / AFP / Getty)
In the past month or so, the dominant Ukraine narrative in the media has shifted from “heroic Ukrainians repelling a mismanaged Russian invasion” to “badly outgunned Ukrainians unable to hold back Russian advances in the East” (resulting in much gloating from the likes of Glenn Greenwald). While commentators have stressed that Russian war goals have shrunk dramatically—from capturing Kyiv, toppling the Ukrainian government, and replacing it with a puppet regime to capturing and holding all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and expanding Russia’s puppet statelets in those regions—a Russian victory in Eastern Ukraine would still be very bad news. It would reward Russia’s war of aggression and enslave hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions, of Ukrainians to a brutal occupation that explicitly seeks to eliminate their cultural identity. It would also force Ukraine to make concessions (something that France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz were clearly encouraging, with all the talk of letting Vladimir Putin save face). Even the Biden administration seemed to be shifting the blame to Ukraine for not heeding early warnings of Russian invasion.
But now, the momentum seems to be shifting toward Ukraine again. Macron and Scholz (along with Italy’s Mario Draghi and Romania’s Klaus Iohannis) have just visited Kyiv and loudly proclaimed their solidarity with Ukraine and commitment to Ukrainian victory. A Zelensky spokesman has denied any pressure on Ukraine to negotiate. The Biden administration has reaffirmed its support for Ukraine and approved another $1 billion in military and humanitarian aid, on top of the $5.6 billion sent since the invasion began. Germany and France are announcing their imminent or current delivery of heavy artillery systems to Ukraine.
Meanwhile the latest reports from Donbas stress that Russian progress in the East, accomplished by relentless shelling (much of it in urban areas), is extremely slow if not stalled; it’s not a whole lot to show for all that firepower. In many cases Russian gains have been followed by successful Ukrainian counteroffensives.
One theory, from University of St. Andrews (Scotland) professor of strategic studies Phillips O’Brien, is that some of the doom-and-gloom reports have resulted from deliberate exaggeration by Ukrainian authorities of their predicament, with the intent of speeding up Western weapons deliveries:
Given that many Western countries have been slow in delivering on their promises, I can’t exactly blame the Ukrainians if they have, in fact, overhyped the danger of Russian victories.
Even with sped-up weapons deliveries, no one should expect a quick Ukrainian victory. If there’s one thing everyone agrees on, it’s that it’s going to be a long slog. But the shifting news stories should be a reminder to resist the temptation of narratives, whether it’s “Ukraine is kicking Russia’s ass” or “Ukraine is getting battered.”
It’s usually more complicated than that.
It’s all about the gays. Russian edition.
Back in April, I wrote about Russia’s super-weird “political scientist,” ultranationalist mad guru, or possibly postmodernist con artist Aleksandr Dugin. A few weeks earlier, I wrote about some Kremlin enablers in Russia (including the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill) portraying Russia’s war in Ukraine as a crusade against the gay menace coming from the West.
Now, here’s a bizarre social media moment that brings the two together.
Pro-Ukraine Twitter accounts have posted a screenshot from Dugin’s account on one of the Russian social media sites:
Make no mistake: The great Russia is conducting a battle to the death against the West, but what will be the price if we lose? Our immortal souls will be despoiled and cast into Hell if these satanists prevail! The West itself is founded on the principle of universal sodomy. Remember that the first act of the French Directory was the legalization of homosexuality; remember that British King William recruited boys from the oligarchs’ rebellion as his lovers, to say nothing of the Greek pederasty that inspired the British school system; remember too that the colonists in Roanoke went into the wilderness to commit bestiality with the barbaric natives. Defeat in the special military operation will mean that NATO soldiers, the majority of whom are mulattoes, will go from house to house all over Russia, brutally anally raping everyone on their masters’ orders! Of course it’s better to die in battle for the glory of God than to be thrown into this pit of vipers!
(Come for the homophobia, stay for the racism?)
This is, do not forget, a guy who may or may not be Vladimir Putin’s “whisperer” as some claim, but who headed a political think tank at Moscow State University until 2014, authored a textbook that became part of the curriculum at Russia’s military academies, advised several top members of the Russian political elite, and arguably played a key role in the launch of Putin’s “Novorossiya Project” in Eastern Ukraine that set the stage for the current invasion.
It's all about the gays. Texas edition.
Meanwhile, closer to home:
The Republican Party of Texas passed its latest platform on Saturday, including two sections of anti-LGBT beliefs.
In the platform voted on by delegates at the party’s biennial convention, one section — called ‘Homosexuality and Gender Issues’ — states “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.”
Chris Halbohn called that line “an unnecessarily gratuitous addition to the Republican Party of Texas’ platform.” Halbohn is president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston, an organization that represents LGBT conservatives.
“We exist to advance that niche voice within the Republican Party, because there are plenty of gay conservatives out there, there are plenty of lesbian conservatives out there, and plenty of trans conservatives out there,” Halbohn told The Texas Newsroom Saturday. . . .
The Republican Party of Texas has been engulfed in controversy over its stance on LGBTQ+ issues, including excluding Log Cabin Republicans of Texas from the convention.
The party twice rejected the group’s application to have a booth at this year’s convention.
David Palmer, the public relations director of the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston, said there was no legitimate reason for the rejection.
(There’s also a plank which says that the party opposes “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”)
What the actual hell? This has a real “the 1980s called and they want their social-issues rhetoric back” feel to it. Did someone from the Texas GOP leadership steal Marty McFly’s DeLorean? Or overdose on Stranger Things? Did the Cold War-to-proxy war escalation of tensions with Moscow cause a time warp?
Also, this tidbit from the convention shows how “political correctness” has now become “anything to the left of the Westboro Baptist Church”):
Will this kind of ultrareactionary stuff hurt Republicans at the polls? The consensus seems to be no.
For various reasons, right-wing crazy doesn’t seem to backfire against Republicans nowadays in the same way that left-wing crazy backfires against Democrats. Still, it’s interesting to note that Donald Trump Jr. has criticized the Log Cabin Republican exclusion:
Don’t be surprised if Trump supporters try to spin this, at least for certain audiences, as “Yes, some Republicans in Texas are too extreme, but MAGA world is a force for moderation.”
Transgender issues: Yes, it’s more complicated.
Is it possible, as Reason’s Jesse Walker suggests, that social conservatives are mistaking public ambivalence about transgender issues for a hostility to LGBT rights in general?
That may well be the case. I don’t think most Americans would sympathize with the Texas GOP platform’s militant rejection of any acceptance of transgender identities. In a Washington Post/University of Maryland poll released last week, more American adults said they believe increased acceptance of transgender people is good rather than bad for society—by 41 to 25 percentage points:
At the same time, only a minority thought male-born transgender athletes should be able to compete in women’s and girls’ sports:
(In case you missed it, I wrote last week about the controversy over trans athletes in women’s and girls’ sports and reported similar results from an earlier Gallup poll.)
You would probably get similarly complicated answers if you asked people about how to approach gender transition by minors. For some time, the progressive position has been essentially “a child’s declaration of a transgender identity must be presumed valid,” and people who have tried to sound a cautionary note (such as journalist Jesse Singal) have been slammed as bigots.
Now, the New York Times has published a nuanced piece on the controversy by staff writer Emily Bazelon.
Bazelon explores topics the mere discussion of which has often been attacked as transphobic: for instance, evidence that some children and teens are adopting trans identities due to influence from online and peer groups and that some minors may be rushed toward transition by irresponsible clinicians.
On Twitter, Bazelon has been predictably accused of everything from “both sidesism” to parroting the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer to being part of a clique of “cis journalists” who ignore trans perspectives. Given the ugly and authoritarian forms the anti-trans backlash is taking on the right—including attempts to investigate parents for child abuse for allowing children to transition or even for taking them to drag shows—there is an understandable desire to rally around a beleaguered minority. But there really are issues on which “both sides” have legitimate points. Open discussion and debate are sorely needed. I hope Bazelon’s article will help move the needle toward such debate.
I think the GOP has lost its mind. Most Americans are not ready to trip back to the oppressive 1950s. Listen, I am a 71 year old grandmother and I do not believe that kids are being unduly influenced (I have grandchildren as young as 9). I actually think it is healthy for kids to be able to talk comfortably about topics that could be (and was) historically uncomfortable for many of us. A few days ago my 9 year old grandson made the following statement to me with utmost sincerity: “you know, I like girls but I could see myself crushing on a boy”. I love that my grandchildren discuss these issues with me without any hesitation. I wish I had had that freedom to speak when I was young. Whatever path they choose in life I will ALWAYS love them unconditionally.
I do not understand why trans people are such an issue for so many. They're less than 1% of the population, and yet everyone talks about them like they're everywhere. They're not! It's not like there is some huge epidemic of trans women defeating women everywhere in sports. It's not like there's some huge epidemic of trans women doing horrible things to people. By and large, based on how many there are, and how they're literally not hurting anyone, the proper response would be 'well, I might not want to live their lifestyle, but it's their lifestyle to live.'
The reason why the right doesn't face a backlash can be seen in the trans 'debate.' Moderates regularly grab activist perspectives, things that will never become law or are even accepted by a majority, and put them next to actual GOP platforms, leading people to think these are the same thing. They're not!
You can't be going 'well there are good points on both sides.' No there really isn't! There isn't an explosion of trans people in schools! There's not an explosion of CRT in schools. There isn't suddenly a huge change in people that is worth this much ink being spilled on the topic!
And we know this, because we can use the tried and true method for understanding human motivations: greed and self interest. If there WAS some kind of great benefit to trans women in women's sports, everyone would be doing it. If professionals thought there was a benefit, everyone would be doing it. If men thought there was a benefit, they would be doing it. It's the same thing with steroids: there was a tangible benefit, that's why they did it.
There is no tangible benefit to adopting an identity that will make half the country think you're Satan. The single reason one adopts the identity is because they think that they are trans, and that's their right as a human being. Why should we, or anyone, care about how they live their lives? That's not our business, and certainly not the business of the state to decide. Moreover, in the case of children, it seems to me that's between parents and their kids. That's how it's always been, and trans people didn't suddenly appear a few years ago, they've always existed, just like gay people always existed.
The real issue I think, is that lots of moderates are uncomfortable with things they don't personally like or agree with. But the problem is that these same moderates are entirely comfortable with people threatening or engaging in violence against this out group, because they themselves are not part of it. As plenty of POC can attest, there were plenty of white moderates who didn't want to rock the boat before the civil rights act was passed, because while they didn't like Jim Crow, they weren't uncomfortable with it existing, because it was the status quo.
The same holds true for people who aren't trans. Lots of people are not uncomfortable with trans people, but they're not uncomfortable enough with violence against them to actually, you know, want to do anything about it. As the saying goes, 'all evil needs to win is for good people to do nothing.'
By the way, this extends outside of this issue as well. If you want to know why the right doesn't get flak, it's because things like white christian fascism are known quantities to a lot of people. And if you're not personally affected, it's easy to feel like this isn't going to really come for you. People are comfortable with the idea of violence by the right for the same reason people shrug when reading about Ukraine; it's far away, it doesn't feel like it effects you, and even if it does, you'll get used to it.
While it's not as extreme yet, to use a reference, think of Germans living under Nazi germany who watched their neighbors disappear. Half my family is jewish, and basically none of the older ones didn't know someone who vanished. But what's always struck me is not the event itself, but that lots of people who were not partisan right wing nazis just sort of shrugged before, and also shrugged after. That's how this sort of thing gets worse: it relies on our sloth to make us go 'well, I know it's bad, but if I don't look at it, it won't bother me.' Everyone knew what they were doing, but everyone pretended that they weren't, or that it was something they couldn't do anything about, or that it was something that only happened to 'those' people.
So much of American life right now is being threatened because a minority, a true minority that is perhaps no bigger than 1 in 10, has leveraged its power over a political party and is now targeting groups that are no larger than 1 in a 100, in order to consolidate it's power and then attack others. We can't be 'both sides-ing' a bunch of people whose stated goal is a pogrom. We can't be like 'one side wants to round up and shoot trans people, the other thinks that they should have civil rights' and act like these are equal, because they're not. And this keeps happening. 'One side thinks teachers are all groomers and pedophiles, the other thinks they're not, let's act like these are both acceptable views.'
The problem with the right is that they understand that the inclination to both sides things in the name of fairness works in their favor. Ultimately, putting two things next to each other leads to people think they are the same in content and tone. At some point, you can't be 'above' things anymore. You have to take a side, because being 'unbiased' is a bias. It's also entirely unhelpful for understanding what's going on, with people intentionally taking advantage of people's desire to be 'unbiased.'