March 16, 2022

For more than a decade, Vladimir Putin has sought to sow division and undermine American democracy. Now that he’s distracted by the conflict unfolding in Ukraine, his successor has stepped into the spotlight: America’s political class.

Once wars united people, but not in modern America. Here, the vast majority of citizens share remarkably similar opinions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: that it should be condemned outright. Our politicians, however, seem blissfully unaware of this.

In Congress last week, despite strong pro-Kyiv sentiment among the vast majority of Republicans, pro-Trump acolytes constituted the largest faction of those who voted against supplying aid to Ukraine. Yet on this issue, there is little to distinguish them from the Democratic Socialists of America, who have called for America’s exit from the “imperialist” Nato. There are even some on the far-Left who believe the West’s sympathy for Ukrainians reflects our unredeemable racism.

And yet the past fortnight has revealed something more optimistic than the intellectual adolescence of America’s politicians. The key to repelling Putin’s campaign of division in the West has also become apparent: unifying around basic economic interests.

Much attention has been paid in recent years to Russian online interference in our elections. But it is tangible realities — such as oil, food, and the ability to build things — that will determine our ability to resist external autocratic forces. And it is here that energy policy becomes crucial.

Before Biden became President, America was well on its way to energy independence, and emerged as the world’s leading gas exporter. Far more than words or military threats, the US energy revival was a blow to Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. American production was a critical factor in weakening the price of the one commodity that keeps their economies alive.

Yet this weapon is being systematically dismantled. Since taking the White House, Biden has turned the Federal Reserve and other executive departments into enforcers of “net zero” policies. From the very beginning, Biden and his green allies have busily cancelled gas pipelines, ended new leases for offshore oil, and introduced new regulations that make it harder to build new fossil fuel plants. All of this was manna for Moscow.

Biden’s energy policies, so poorly timed amid the prospect of a looming Russian invasion, has also widened a deeper, more long-lasting schism that will reverberate for years to come. Perhaps more than anything else, it seems certain to expand both class and geographic divisions.

The decision by his administration to double down on green policies, while blaming Putin for their hefty cost, has exacerbated the already-wide divide between the coast-hugging financial and tech oligarchs and the oil drillers, truck drivers, factory workers and farmers labouring outside the big cities, particularly in the country’s vast heartland. America’s coastal elites may express moral outrage about the Kremlin’s behaviour, but for those living and working in energy-producing states such as Texas — whose energy boom represents a far greater threat to Putin than elaborate virtue-signalling — this is not a matter of morals, but of livelihoods.

Oddly, American progressives even seem to lack the sense of realism that their German counterparts, once models for the Left, have adopted. Despite all evidence to the contrary, our greens cling to their fantasy that renewables can magically recast the laws of physics, the length of a day or the oscillations in the wind. Meanwhile, Germany’s greens now realise that such a boneheaded energy strategy essentially turned their country into a satrap of Sino-Russian neo-Eurasianism and helped embolden Putin’s aggression.

So far, no sense of this reality informs the Left-wing Congressional squad, whose pronouncements now constitute the leading edge of Democratic thinking. They generally oppose military aid to Ukraine, and their response to the energy shortage is to propose shutting down our entire fossil fuel production. When the mid-terms come around in November, this will likely help the Republicans in the leading gas and oil producing states. Almost all are in the heartlands, Alaska or the Intermountain West; California, the last blue energy giant, has committed itself to wiping out its large local energy industry while importing oil from Saudi Arabia and, at least until recently, Russia.

But it’s not just the government seeking to wipe out the energy sector. Big Business, through its cherished ESG investment standards, is making it increasingly difficult to start or expand energy production. Following Lenin’s supposed dictum about capitalists providing the rope with which they can be hanged, our corporate elite, perhaps unwittingly, also supports China, whose economy is fuelled increasingly by Russian oil and gas, a tie that has recently been consolidated by a plan to build a new gas pipeline between the countries.

But while such divides threaten the ability of America to lead in the current crisis, the news is not all inevitably bad. Americans can be deluded and stupid but are also capable of change. For generations, many in the West have celebrated the notion of inevitable American decline, particularly in Europe. Yet the country has a history of responding to challenges, albeit sometimes taking longer to respond than ideal.

One has to remember that during the run-up to the Second World War, America was distinctly divided — but by the time it came to mobilise, even fascist sympathisers such as Henry Ford pitched in massively. Likewise, today, there is growing concern among Democrats that the party’s energy positions are untenable for the working and middle class. It’s not inconceivable that the Democrats, and the coastal enclaves, are forced into action by the reality of soaring food, car and energy prices.

When this happens, the party’s priorities must lie both in pumping more oil and gas, as well as learning how to manufacture goods outside China. Some Democrats, rather than tightening the relentless squeeze on the working and middle classes, might even consider introducing a modest carbon tax, expanding remote work, and restoring our nuclear power industry, as even some greens now support.

This is also good politics. Some 80% of voters, and an equal percentage of Democrats, favour the use of both fossil fuels and renewables, while support for the net zero Green New Deal hovers around 20%. “Climate catastrophism”, notes the liberal strategist Ruy Teixiera, is a political “loser”, particularly among working-class voters of all races.

For the Republicans, meanwhile, the war in Ukraine also poses a challenge due to the still considerable influence of Donald Trump, who views Putin as “a genius”. Although Trump’s views are out of step even with the bulk of his own supporters, Democrats see an opportunity to link the Republicans with Putinism, and make Biden the staunch defender of democracy.

Of course, moving America in one direction is a fraught enterprise in these times of extreme polarisation. But preventing a deepening civil war here is critical if the world is to stop the likes of Putin from returning us to the Middle Ages. Foreigners may find our political divides diverting, but only the US, if it can get its act somewhat together, has the resources, the human assets and military power to fend off the unrelenting assault of the autocratic powers.

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