Republicans’ vision for America: Putin’s Russia

And unless we the people organize to stop them, their success will be inevitable.


(This is part 2 of a series exploring the U.S. Republican Party’s increasingly criminal undertones. Read part 1 here.)

Today’s Republican Party isn’t the party of Lincoln, or even the party of Eisenhower. As explained in part 1 of this series, today’s Republican Party is the party of Nixon—a corrupt, lawless organization that won’t hesitate to stoop to new lows to maintain and expand its political power. But rather than point to past examples, the Republican Party’s ideal vision for the United States—should it prevail in the coming presidential election and expand its ranks in Congress in the next midterm election—could be best understood by examining Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The government Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated they want is one in which the executive commands near-autocratic power with impunity, supplanted by a compliant legislature that rubber-stamps its actions, rigged elections that are effectively meaningless, and the super-rich using their bottomless wealth to bribe politicians, evade taxes and skirt regulations. Ethnic minorities, journalists, activists, undesirables, and anyone else who outwardly opposes the regime would be brutally persecuted by the state until they either stop making trouble for the regime or self-exile.

Both the top candidates for the Republican presidential nomination—former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—have been unabashedly outspoken about reshaping America in this way, and the most prominent Republicans in Congress have already demonstrated their intent to transform the U.S. into a autocratic state in which those with the money make the rules and where democracy is a relic of the past. It’s incumbent on both voters and the beltway press to put Republicans’ words and actions in the proper context, and connect the dots on how their vision for America is fundamentally at odds with both multicultural democracy and transparent, representative government.

The Powell Memo is key to understanding today’s GOP

While Republican presidents Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump flouted both domestic and international law in their own way, it’s important to understand where Republicans’ drive for power at any cost comes from: The Powell Memo of 1971 (PDF link).

52 years ago, before Nixon appointed him to the Supreme Court, corporate lawyer Lewis F. Powell authored a confidential memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the chief lobbying organization for the biggest multinational corporations. The memo encouraged the chamber to embark on a campaign to unite big business in a campaign to conquer the courts, the media, and educational institutions. Powell’s vision was an America in which big corporations not only benefited from policy, but played an active role in both crafting it and selling it to the public:

“[I]ndependent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations… Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by Labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination.”

The US Chamber of Commerce took Powell’s advice to heart: According to, the U.S. Chamber spent more than $11.4 million on political campaign contributions going back to 1990, and a whopping $1.8 billion on lobbying Congress since 1998. In the 2022 and 2020 cycles, the chamber ranked #2 out of all groups in total lobbying expenditures, and #1 in every single election cycle between 2012 and 2018. 

And while the chamber contributes to the campaigns of both Democrats and Republicans, the GOP benefits from the overwhelming majority of its largesse. Opensecrets’ campaign finance database shows that in every federal election cycle dating back to 1990, at least two-thirds of the chamber’s contributions were to Republican candidates for House and Senate, but that figure is typically a lot higher. In 2014, for example, 99.54% of all the chamber’s donations went to Republicans.

Powell’s infamous memo also provides helpful context to the stridently conservative Roberts Court, and the fierce determination from both Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Donald Trump in confirming 245 federal judges (PDF link) to lifetime terms between 2017 and 2021—including 54 appointees to the uniquely powerful regional appellate courts. On page 26 of the memo, Powell noted that the courts were an underutilized resource that could help big business reap big rewards for itself in the long term:

“Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change,” Powell wrote.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia: Republicans’ political endgame

In the late 1990s, following years of instability after the fall of the USSR, a cabal of billionaires derisively called “oligarchs” by the Russian populace funded Boris Yeltsin’s political party, Unity, which later became known as United Russia under Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin helped Russian oligarchs become exceedingly rich through various post-Soviet privatization schemes, and they used their immense wealth to prop up Putin—whom Yeltsin appointed as Prime Minister—in the newspapers and T.V. stations they controlled.

After Putin was elected president in 2000, he summoned business leaders to the Kremlin for a meeting. According to NPR, Putin established a set of ground rules: Those who helped him would become even wealthier, while those who opposed him would face retribution:

“I want to draw your attention to the fact that you built this state yourself, to a great degree, through the political or semi-political structures under your control,” Putin reportedly said in the closed-door meeting. ”So there is no point in blaming the reflection in the mirror. So let us get down to the point and be open and do what is necessary to do to make our relationship in this field civilized and transparent.”

Putin offered the oligarchs a deal: bend to my authority, stay out of my way, and you can keep your mansions, super-yachts, private jets, and multi billion-dollar corporations (corporations that, just a few years before, had been owned by the Russian government). In the coming years, the oligarchs who reneged on this deal and undermined Putin would be thrown into a Siberian prison or be forced into exile or die in suspicious circumstances. The loyalists who remained—and the new ones who got filthy rich during Putin’s long reign—became like ATM machines for the president and his allies.

Corruption and graft became the de facto way of doing business in Putin’s Russia over the next 20 years. According to a 2017 article in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs by University of South Carolina associate professor Stanislav Markus, billionaires that saw their wealth balloon from the selling off of government resources became even richer under Putin, who steered vast sums of wealth to his benefactors in the form of contracts and kickbacks:

“Public procurement in many sectors, including infrastructure, defense, and healthcare, has seen regular overcharging of the state treasury by private suppliers, sometimes at prices equal to double or triple times the market rate and with kickbacks to the state officials involved,” Markus wrote.

Putin’s tenure as president has also historically been rife with allegations of election fraud and undemocratic behavior in each subsequent election, including pro-Putin agitators stuffing ballot boxes, the jailing of political opponents like Alexei Navalny and popular governor Sergei Furgal, and mass arrests of protesters. And just as Ron DeSantis has done with Florida’s LGBTQ+ residents, Putin has also severely antagonized Russia’s LGBTQ+ community under the guise of safeguarding children.

Last December, Putin signed a law into effect building on a law passed a decade ago that effectively bans non-heterosexual relationships from being promoted as normal, issuing fines amounting to thousands of dollars for “LGBT propaganda” and “demonstrations of LGBT and information that encourages a change of gender among teenagers.” The prior law was effectively a “Don’t Say Gay” law, prohibiting any mention of homosexual relationships to minors, and was broadly written to where even just displaying a rainbow flag or having a Pride parade could result in imprisonment.

Putin also has rampant antipathy for the free press: In April, his regime sentenced journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison for treason, following Kara-Murza’s criticism of Putin’s war in Ukraine. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) currently ranks Russia 164 out of 180 countries in press freedom (to compare, the U.S. is ranked 45). There are at least 22 journalists and media workers imprisoned in Russia, which is the highest number since RSF started collecting data.

“Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, almost all independent media have been banned, blocked, and/or declared ‘foreign agents’ or ‘undesirable organizations,’ the organization wrote. “All others are subject to military censorship.”

Even though Russia’s constitution prevented a president from holding more than two consecutive terms, Putin has successfully maneuvered his way into maintaining power for more than two decades—in 2008, after Putin’s first two terms, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev appointed Putin as his Prime Minister, allowing Putin to stay in the Kremlin and remain Russia’s de facto leader. And even though Putin promised in 2018 to not run again in 2024 given constitutionally established term limits, he later amended the constitution in 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, to allow him to remain in his role until 2036.

When he was running for reelection in August of 2020, Donald Trump similarly flirted with the idea of running for a third term in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, saying he should get a “redo” of four years after accusing the FBI of spying on his 2016 campaign. If Trump won reelection, and embarked on an effort to stay in the White House in 2024, such an effort would likely be supported by the Republican National Committee. In 2020, the RNC didn’t even adopt a platform, instead opting to publish a document that simply stated “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.”

And as 147 Republicans in Congress demonstrated on January 6, 2021, just hours after Trump told thousands of his supporters to go to the US Capitol and “fight like hell,” there is little to no resistance within the GOP to Trump’s autocratic aims. Before the bodies of the people killed in the Capitol insurrection were even buried, eight Republican US senators and 139 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to overturn a lawful election and install Trump against the will of the people. Even as Trump became the first-ever former president to be indicted on criminal charges, several Republican presidential candidates have already promised to pardon him if elected.

Just as Putin and his party’s control of the Duma demonstrate, a fully Republican-run U.S. government would run roughshod on democracy, override the rule of law, bully marginalized communities with punitive actions, jail the protesters and journalists they deem to be the “enemy of the people,” allow big business to have a feeding frenzy over public dollars, and outright ignore the Constitution when it conflicts with their power-grab. And unless we the people organize to stop them, their success will be inevitable.


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