On Putin, Trump and Masculinity

U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R), joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

Something about Russian President Vladimir Putin vexes the Left.  More than any other world leader, many liberals identify Mr. Putin as irredeemable.  So bad is he, they argue, that President Trump lacks moral standing for expressing a willingness to work with the Russian leader.

The Left senses a commonality between Putin and Trump.  They sense a connection of significance, much more than the diplomatic chit chat of General Kelly and Russian officials.  To the left, something deeper is going on, something sinister.   

As a conservative who tries to understand the liberal thought process, I have sought  an explanation that allows one to see Putin as incorrigible, yet celebrates rapprochement with murderers who have killed myriads of their citizens, namely the Mullahs of Iran.     

Mr. Putin has a bad reputation; my goal is not to defend him.  Journalists who have written against him have been killed; opposition party officials have been harassed; he regularly battles neighbors who don’t adore his Russia-centric vision.  His foreign policy is amoral, as well.  In Syria, Putin’s support of Bashar al Assad, a dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians, was seemingly fashioned with the goal of making himself a player on the world stage; the destruction of a country as the means to his ignoble end.     

Yet, at the same time, Russia itself is largely a free country.  Its citizens are free to travel.  They are not brutalized and imprisoned for holding contrary opinions.  Individual freedom is strong.  Both Judaism and Christianity are flourishing.  Putin takes religion seriously and is wildly popular. Putin has won elections by wide margins and continues to win them, overwhelmingly.   

Since 1979, the Iranian regime has killed and imprisoned large swaths of its population it deems a threat to the Islamic power structure.  Since 1985, it has supported Hezbollah, which has killed many thousands more.  Iran is the world’s greatest financier of terror.   Iran’s leaders regularly call for the destruction of Israel and America.  When, in 2009, a “Green” democracy movement started, Iran’s leaders crushed it with brutal force.  Hundreds were killed and jailed.   

Is Putin uniquely bad?  Why was President Obama’s dance with Iran considered brave, yet President Trump’s accommodation with Russia defined as evil?

Jewish tradition says that there are two forms of human experience, the masculine and the feminine.  Everything humanity does flows from one of these two forces.  Perfection is reached when these two forces merge; the coming together of masculine and feminine creates life, and allows mankind to touch eternity.    

Nonetheless, in the world at large, masculine and feminine forces are distinct.  Power and control are masculine expressions.  Sensitivity and understanding are feminine values.  A nation’s borders and rules are its masculinity.  Its welcoming and generosity to the outsider are its feminine character.

The conservative mind seeks a masculine structure first and feminine magnanimity second.  First there must be language, borders and a unique culture, and then we can allow in anyone who wants to become part of the fabric of this nation.  

To the Liberal mind, expressions of masculinity are negative.  Anything that sets borders and limitation, anything that values discipline over desire, is wrong.   Every want is good and should be validated.  When there is no absolute good and evil, there is only what feels good and what feels bad.  Discipline feels bad, desire feels good, and that has become the foundation of Leftist values.   

When I grew up in Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn, masculine role models were not strongmen.  They were thoughtful scholars who earned the trust of the community via decades of selfless communal service.

But such is not the way of the world.  To most of humanity, masculinity is strength.   If there is a masculine figure in world leadership, it is not the men and women sitting on comfortable chairs in Brussels.  It is in the persona of Vladimir Putin, a man who fights for his national pride. It is in the bare chested strongman who hunts lions, swims rivers, and dives to the bottom of the ocean.  It is a man whose persona exudes strength, whose persona never shows weakness.  

This masculine personality is antithetical to the Left.  In my opinion, it is not the wrongdoing Putin committed that bothers them. It is the masculinity he has revived.  

Iran’s Mullahs are not masculine figures.  While they are ideological murderers for sure, but they aren’t overtly masculine.  Thus, they are given reprieve.  Thus, they should be given accommodation and should be understood.

President Trump is not a conservative.  Had the Left-leaning media embraced him from the start, he could well have nominated Merrik Garland instead of Neil Gorsuch.  He has never done anything like Putin does.  But he won the election by raising America’s masculinity, its national pride.  Mexico doesn’t want to pay for the wall? It just got 20 feet taller.  Slander me, I’ll sue you.  Reject my executive order, I’ll revise it but keep it essentially the same.   He doesn’t back down.  He is strong. And the Left hates strength.

Trump is not Putin.  But his masculinity echoes Putin’s masculinity.  Thus, there must be a connection.  Thus, there must be a secret alliance.   It must be, and so it is.  

The Judeo-Christian ethic is masculine.  God holds people accountable.  God says we must discipline ourselves, limit our desires, to have a full relationship with Him.   The pathway to heaven is through choosing good and rejecting evil.  It is not by crying victim, blaming others and shirking personal responsibility.  There are rules to follow, there are rules to morality.   

To me, this is the reason the Left is weak on Iran yet strong on Putin.  And why it cannot forgive President Trump.

The author of two books, Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt serves as Director of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC)