The former British Prime Minister visited Republicans — his “fellow conservatives” — on Capitol Hill a few weeks ago and came away shocked that so many were rooting for Putin to crush the Ukrainian democracy and take over the largest country in Europe, much as Hitler did with Poland in 1939.
When asked later in the week at a meeting at The Atlantic Council how NATO and the West should respond to Russian disinformation and propaganda campaigns, Johnson was blunt about his meetings with GOP lawmakers:
“I didn’t think we’re as good on this as we as we should be, and we need to be countering these arguments. I have been appalled to discover how many people — I’ve just been here for a couple of days, it’s been wonderful and I always have a wonderful time Washington — but I’ve been amazed and horrified by how many people are frightened of a guy called Tucker Carlson.
“Has anybody heard of somebody called Tucker Carlson? What is it with this guy? All these wonderful Republicans seem somehow intimidated by his, uh, by his perspective and I haven’t watched anything of these [things] that he said, but I’m struck by how often this comes up.
“Some bad ideas are starting to infect some of the thinking around the world about what Putin stands for, what he believes in. It’s a disaster. He stands for a war of aggression, systematic murder, rape, and destruction. That’s what he stands for.”
As Johnson knew, however, the Republican flirtation with fascism and obeisance to famous rightwing media figures has deep roots. It nearly destroyed the United Kingdom when his predecessor, Winston Churchill, was Prime Minister.
Just four months before Germany began bombing England, Republican Charles Lindbergh — a man in his day as famous as Donald Trump — addressed the nation arguing that we should stay out of Hitler’s way:
“This brings us to an issue which must sooner or later be faced. … We are in danger of war today not because European people have attempted to interfere with the internal affairs of America, but because American people have attempted to interfere with the internal affairs of Europe. …
“Our danger in America is an internal danger. We need not fear a foreign invasion unless American peoples bring it on through their own quarreling and meddling with affairs abroad. Our eyes should not search beyond the horizon for problems which lie at our feet.”
Lindbergh, that generation’s Tucker Carlson, looked forward to a time after Hitler had defeated Europe — as it then surely looked like he would — and America could establish a good relationship with the dictator. Perhaps we could even reshape America’s government in the National Socialist image.
“[R]egardless of which side wins this war,” he said, “there is no reason, aside from our own actions, to prevent a continuation of peaceful relationships between America and the countries of Europe. If we desire peace, we need only stop asking for war. No one wishes to attack us, and no one is in a position to do so.”
From there he identified the people he thought were agitating for America to become involved in World War II, calling out Jewish businessmen, bankers, and Hollywood producers:
“The only reason that we are in danger of becoming involved in this war is because there are powerful elements in America who desire us to take part. They represent a small minority of the American people, but they control much of the machinery of influence and propaganda. They seize every opportunity to push us closer to the edge.”
Lindbergh’s Nazi connections went way back: in 1938, Hermann Göring awarded him the Service Cross of the German Eagle. For the next three years, even after Germany started bombing the UK, he continued to argue on behalf of Hitler.
He then, like Tucker today, went on an extended antisemitic rant about that generation’s version of the Carlson’s Great Replacement Theory.
In a 1941 speech in Des Moines, Iowa, Lindbergh again argued that Jews in America were pushing for us to waste our money and blood fighting the Nazi war machine, which would destroy our economy:
“History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”
He even put together an organization to prevent America from stopping Hitler. As he said just two months before Pearl Harbor was bombed:
“I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England regardless of how much assistance we send. That is why the America First Committee has been formed.”
Lindbergh wasn’t alone in his America First support of a fascist attack on Europe and Hitler’s slaughter of Jews, gays, socialists, and Gypsies.
So many Republican politicians had taken to the floor of the U.S. House and Senate to praise Adolf Hitler and his new German fascism that the nation’s then-bestselling author, Rex Stout, compiled their speeches into a book titled The Illustrious Dunderheads.
(My father, who joined the army out of high school to fight the Nazis, gave me a first edition of the book for my birthday fifty years ago that I still treasure and occasionally re-read parts of on the air.)
Just like today’s Republicans are afraid of Tucker Carlson, that era’s Republicans were afraid of Charles Lindbergh.
From Hitler’s first attacks on Austria to his invasion of Poland and his bombing of London, Republicans supported his actions. Their voices weren’t silenced until Germany declared war on us the week Japan bombed us at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.
Much like Tucker Carlson is forcing Republican candidates for president to take Putin‘s side of the Ukraine conflict — the most recent to fall being Ron DeSantis — Republican presidential hopefuls fell into line with Lindbergh back in the day.
In the election of 1940, for example, as Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote in her brilliant history of the time, No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, the Republican nominee for president rolled over for Lindbergh:
“Everything Eleanor heard on her cross-country trip convinced her that the [Wendell] Willkie campaign was gaining momentum. … In late September, the Republican challenger had shifted his strategy, adopting a more strident tone.
“If Roosevelt continued in office, he shouted to audiences at every stop, ‘you can count on our men being on transports for Europe six months from now.’ The specter of American boys fighting in Europe opened what one historian has described as a ‘wide crack in a dam holding back floodwaters of popular emotion.’ Willkie’s polls began to move upward; Roosevelt’s victory margin began to shrink.”
History, Mark Twain is sometimes quoted as saying, doesn’t repeat itself but it does often rhyme.
In the 1940s, Republicans appeasing a fascist dictator feared— and were led in the media by — a guy called Charles Lindbergh; today’s GOP follows — and fears — a guy called Tucker Carlson.
In the 1940s, two fascist nations — Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany — aligned themselves to conquer and seize the land and assets of nation after nation.
Had the world stopped them when Japan invaded China and Hitler marched into Poland, millions would have been spared the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.
Having learned that lesson, the nations of Europe and other democracies across the planet have united to help Ukraine resist Putin’s Hitler-invades-Poland-like campaign of terror and territorial seizure.
If they’re successful, we may avert World War III.
But what if we fail to learn the lesson of World War II about appeasing land-grabbing dictators and following demagogues like Lindbergh and Carlson?
If a handful of Putin-loving Republicans can kill our support for democracy and Putin succeeds in taking Ukraine, his senior officers and former President Medvedev (now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council) and former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov have already told us that Poland and the Baltic states are next.
Immediately thereafter, China will almost certainly cement its alliance with Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia and then try to take Taiwan.
At that point, all bets are off.