by Gordon M. Hahn
A few years ago I wrote an article on the Obama-Trump ‘one-two punch’ to America’s political culture. I argued that Obama’s rule and the Trump reaction to it would damage America’s political culture of rule of law, comity, and practical compromise (https://gordonhahn.com/2017/08/18/the-obama-trump-one-two-punch-to-americas-political-culture/). Approximately a year ago I wrote articles about the authoritarianization or ‘Putinization’ of America and also looked at political culture among other aspects of American politics and their decay under mounting Democrat Party (DP) authoritarianization (https://gordonhahn.com/2020/05/16/russiagate-ukrainegate-the-democratic-partys-failed-coup-and-its-grave-consequences/ and https://gordonhahn.com/2020/12/29/the-authoritarianization-putinization-of-america-parts-1-and-2-complete/). Now we have very firm evidence of these trends.
For example, a new Pew Research opinion survey demonstrates that DP members and supporters now support authoritarian censorship by an overwhelming majority. Asked whether “(t)he U.S. government should take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limits freedom of information,” among Democratic and Democratic leaning partisans, 40% agreed in 2018 and now an astonishing 65% or just under two thirds of Democrats want the government to censor speech. Among Republicans (those whom DP partisans and supporters are now routinely calling ‘fascist,’ ‘white supremacists’, and ‘populist’ Trumpers) the percentages were 37 in 2018 and now 28 in 2021. When asked whether big tech companies should censor, 76% of Democrats answer affirmatively, while only 37% of Republicans do so (www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/08/18/more-americans-now-say-government-should-take-steps-to-restrict-false-information-online-than-in-2018/ and https://systemupdate.substack.com/p/video-transcript-the-mountain-of). It is important to note that this poll was taken in a context of continuing Big Tech censorship and similar censorship of the Republican Party and of its presidential candidate and his supporters during the 2020 elections on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other such fora and the Joe Biden administration.
By contrast, Russians, who we Americans are told are inveterately authoritarian, support government Internet censorship less than the DP, according to all available opinion polls. These are the same Russians who tend to support Vladmir Putin, as all Russian and foreign opinion polls conducted since his rise to the Russian presidency demonstrate. An April 2021 VTsIOM (All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion) opinion poll found that 65 percent of Russians would not consider censorship of the Internet a violation of their constitutional rights. This figure matches the DP’s support for government censorship. Although the Russian survey makes no distinction between state and non-governmental censorship of the Internet, by censorship Russians mean a state function of filtering or checking information. With this understanding, 60 percent supported censorship of certain types of “information.” The Russian survey dug down into what precisely Russians would not oppose having censored, and what they would tolerate censorship of included “information” on explosives and weapons, on recruiting into extremist organizations, and on suicides as well as pornography and violent videos and video games. There was no indication in the survey for support for censorship of ‘false’ information or opinions. Another 26 percent supported ‘censoring’ (again, filtering/reviewing) all information; a decline from 46 percent in 2014. Finally, 11 percent opposed all censorship (https://wciom.ru/analytical-reviews/analiticheskii-obzor/internet-vozmozhnosti-ili-ugrozy).
A 2014 survey conducted by Russia’s Levada Center polling agency, which the Russian government has designated as a ‘foreign agent’ for receiving funding from abroad, found that only 31 percent supported government censorship of the Internet, while 54 percent opposed it (www.levada.ru/2014/10/14/internet-tsenzura/). It is worth focusing on the date of September 2014 when the survey was conducted. This poll, therefore, was in the wake of Putin’s return to the presidency, his repeal of many of President Dmitrii Medvedev’s electoral and other reforms, and the general rise in Russian patriotic feeling in the wake of Ukraine’s Maidan revolt, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Kiev’s initiation of civil war against the Donbass, the rise of Ukrainian ultranationalist Russophobia, and Western support for Kiev.
We can conclude from these various surveys that Russians’ support for censorship approximates that level supported by America’s DP and does not greatly exceed that of Americans overall, and, if we factor in Russians’ preference for censorship that targets extreme content that represents a potential threat to lives, then the level of support for free political speech on the Internet is approximately the same in both countries but perhaps greater among Russians than in the DP. It appears there is no evidence that Russians support the censorship of opinions they disagree with or news reports they do not trust or find uncomfortable in any way close to the way DP members and supporters no support censorship of Republicans and conservatives.
It would behoove all American democracy-promoters – erstwhile DC think-tankers, college professors, USAID, George Soros and other ‘philanthropists’ – to turn their focus away from ‘rogue states’ and authoritarian regimes backsliding on democracy abroad and refocus on salvaging constitutional republican government in their own country. As matters stand now, the U.S. can no longer even pose as model of constitutional government and republican political culture no less an activist abroad. What was once the practice of a ‘mere’ double standard is a display of at best no standard at all and at worse the raising of an authoritarian standard flying above not just Red Square or the heavenly City but the Potomac so quietly flowing past Mount Vernon.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org. Dr. Hahn is the author of The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, forthcoming in 2021), Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018), The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.