NICOLE RUSSELL: Navalny's death shows freedom is the real flex

The murder by proxy of Alexei Navalny has taken no one by surprise, but that doesn’t dampen the grief and anger Americans and others should feel about it. Especially in light of Tucker Carlson’s recent trip to Russia, wherein he returned, championing the progress of Russia’s cities, eateries, and transportation.  Navalny’s death in a Russian prison in the Arctic — the regime says he fell ill — is a tragedy in many ways: If there is a silver lining, it is that it demonstrates so aptly, the farce of Carlson’s triumphant return praising a regime that’s been openly hostile to anyone who disagrees with it.

Navalny was of course, a Russian dissident, an outspoken political opponent of President Vladimir Putin. Navalny escaped death many times, twice after being poisoned. He was a beast of a man, shining a beacon of light and liberty into the darkest places of Putin’s regime, even while staring down Putin’s goons, a death warrant, and ten jail sentences. He worked tirelessly to expose Putin’s regime as authoritarian, cruel, and dictatorial. Even when he knew his free speech “rights” only went so far and that eventually, he’d die for speaking out. “On pain of death,” was not an arbitrary medieval idea to him.

One of the ways Navalny exposed Putin was to produce an incredible feature-length film that described Putin’s lavish $1.3 billion villa featuring extraordinary amenities like a a hockey rink, a helipad, a vineyard and more. In her beautiful piece on Navalny in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum writes of him and the film, “He seemed real to other ordinary Russians, and he told stories that had relevance to their lives. You have bad roads and poor health care, he told Russians, because they have hockey rinks and hookah bars.”

She’s right of course and the film enraged Russians, as it should. It should enrage Americans too, except it didn’t. Or, at least, Russia didn’t, not according to Tucker Carlson. While in Russia, Carlson interviewed Putin, a futile exercise in word salad and gaslighting from one of the world’s most exemplary propagandists. He also posted videos of various sites in Russia claiming they were amazing and wondering, aloud, as some kind of thought exercise, just why America’s infrastructure wasn’t as great as Russia’s.

At a metro station in Kiev, built by Joseph Stalin, Carlson marveled at its beauty, design and functionality. While he was quick to condemn Stalin or point out that people “may not like” Putin either, he  still fawned over the cleanliness and orderliness of the metro station.  “We’re only going to ask the question,” he said. “How does Russia, a country we’re told is a gas station with nuclear weapons, have a subway station that normal people use to get to work and home every single day, that’s nicer than anything in our country?” 

Carlson’s asking the wrong questions: Russia has a nice metro and they’ve been around forever. We have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights, and America hasn’t been around that long at all. Why doesn’t Russia have that? Why are they still jailing — and murdering — political dissidents? Doesn’t he wonder that?

Metro or subway stations in Chicago, New York City or Washington, D.C. are awful. Notice what they have in common? They're run by Democrat politicians. In America, where there is a local and federally elected government, and where there is shared power, and some offices are directly elected by the people, some cities thrive and others do not. Some government buildings are wonderful; others are not.

There are ways to fix this but none of them involve an apples to oranges comparison of a dictatorship and a free country. It’s neither accurate nor helpful. Asking why America’s infrastructure isn’t like Russian’s meanwhile Putin orders the poisoning and eventual murder of his most vocal opponent is like wondering why LGBTQ college students in the West keep marching in praise of Hamas.

In a monologue, Jon Stewart pointed out how strange Carlson’s comments were and explained what they mean in light of Navalny’s death. “The old civilization battle was communism versus capitalism. That’s what drove the world since WW2. But now they think the battle is woke versus unwoke. And in that battle, Putin is an ally to the right. He’s their friend. Unfortunately, he’s also a brutal and ruthless dictator. So they have to make Americans comfortable with that. I mean, liberty is nice, but have you seen Russia’s shopping carts? And Tucker would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling assassins.”

Americans and Russians alike should mourn Navalny’s death and they should not only refrain from praising the dictator who put him in an early grave, but from comparing America to Russia as if the latter was something to aspire to. Most people would take their freedoms, their right to vote and the right to disagree with their government — to petition their government, even, for a redress of grievances — over a beautiful subway anyway. Freedom is the real flex, not a nice metro.
 

Image: Title: Navalny
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